Women sharpshooters explain their love for the AR-15 rifle

PARK CITY, Ky. -- In the hills of western Kentucky, Eve Haney fires an AR-15. Haney is a 62-year-old grandmother from Tallahassee, Florida. She's competing in a shooting match organized by A Girl and a Gun, a national group of female gun enthusiasts.

"I didn't realize how competitive I was. But I am," Haney told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. "I like to see my scores, and I like to hear the 'ping ping ping' of the steel."

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From left, Eve Hanley, Laura Torres-Reyes and Robyn Sandoval

CBS News

Fifty-seven-year-old Dr. Laura Torres-Reyes, a retired Air Force colonel, and 42-year-old Robyn Sandoval, a mother of three from Austin, Texas, also compete.

"Is it more fun than empowering or empowering than fun?" Strassman asked the women.

"Empowering and fun," Torres-Reyes said.

But all of them used to hate guns.

"Were you scared of them?" Strassmann asked.

"I was petrified of them," Torres-Reyes said.

"I didn't want them in the house," Haney said.

For Sandoval, the turning point was Hurricane Katrina. 

"First responders were unable to respond and families were kind of left on their own," she said. "I wanted to be my children's first responder. I wanted to protect them."

But the AR 15 is no ordinary gun. A descendant of the M16 designed for U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, it's now wildly popular among civilians, who own an estimated 5 to 10 million of them.

The AR-15 has become the weapon of choice for many homicidal loners. In Las Vegas, gunman Stephen Paddock modified his AR-15s into a version of a fully automatic assault rifle.

"When you first heard about Vegas, what went through your minds?" Strassmann asked.

"This man chose a horrible thing to do. It's on him," Haney said.

"How do you get into the head of someone that's that insane? I just can't even, I can't even go there," Torres-Reyes said.

"Do you think there should be general civilian access to the ARs?" Strassmann asked.

"I do. Because it's our right, it's our Second Amendment right. It really goes down to that," Torres-Reyes said.

"I like having access to my AR. We have one for home defense," Sandoval said.

"Is it a legitimate question to ask if there's a need for that?" Strassmann asked.

"It is absolutely a legitimate question. And I think that in terms of debate and speech, we need to talk about these things," Torres-Reyes said.

None of them knew how to protect societies from killers armed with AR-15s. Striking that balance has been the most elusive target in America's gun rights debate.