Gunning for it: Are Women with Guns Fantasy Figures or Empowered?
It’s hard to know where to start assigning blame for the popularization of women in gun culture. Do we say it’s when Tomb Raider was first launched in 1996 (which then spawned Angelina Jolie in booty shorts clutching two pistols with deadly abandon) or should we move further back in time to Sarah Connor’s kick ass moves in Terminator 2, or shall we just resign ourselves to the fact that as long as there have been firearms, men AND women have both been involved with them?
A little digging actually reveals that a magazine entitled Women and Guns was launched in 1989 and still continues today (in fact they’ve just had their 23rd anniversary issue) so this clearly is a continuing trend, yet for some reason the role of a woman with a gun continues to be one that pervades our culture with a certain amount of uncomfortable feelings. This isn’t helped by the film industry and their fascination with equipping women with machinery- director Jean-Luc Godard is unhelpfully quoted as saying, ‘All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun’.
Maybe the issue with women and guns is that women are traditionally the weaker sex and a gun levels the playing field, or could it even be some bigoted view that women aren’t capable of using a gun correctly as they won’t be able to handle it?
Women in gun culture is an uneasy place as they straddle both male fantasy roles, male bigotry and the somewhat uncomfortable feeling that a ‘lifegiver’ is now a harbinger of death. However, considering violent crime and assaults against women are rising year by year, is it so shocking that a women should take up arms to defend themselves?
My perspective on gun culture may differ from that of many Americans, as I’m a British citizen, and guns are very rare in the UK. The majority of our police force doesn’t carry a gun, and we don’t even really use tasers here (which are illegal to all but law enforcers) and the police are instead equipped with a truncheon (yes, I’m aware that’s basically a stick). However, as laughable as that may seem, in 2006-2007 there were 59 firearm related homicides in the UK. Compare this to the USA’s homicide level in 2010, where 8,775 murders were caused by firearms. To me it seems a simple equation- make guns less prevalent in a society and crime will be lower. However, I know that a gun used safely and correctly can be a valuable tool, and that retraining minds that follow the 2nd amendments ‘right to bear arms’ to the letter will not be an easy task.
The first time I shot a gun I screamed- there was something so fearsome about holding a weapon I knew could kill someone that I literally didn’t know how to handle it. My hands were sweaty, forehead clammy and I shook as aimed on the gun range. Eventually this fear quietened down, and whilst I still find guns fearsome, they no longer debilitate me and I can withstand the sound of shots. TV programs lack the actual feeling of holding metal in your hands, and action scenes make it look like gun play is easy. Shooting a gun is the easy part, it’s the accuracy, upkeep and control that take you from a child to a pro.
I felt more confident when I was holding a gun in my hand and I could see why having one at home would give you a certain peace of mind. I’m unlikely ever to become a karate expert, so this piece of machinery might well come in handy.
I spoke to the NRA about whether they thought it was usual for a woman to own a gun, and if they’d seen any shifts in behavior.
‘ In recent years, more people – especially women – are placing a higher premium on personal safety. The interesting thing about women is that they typically own a firearm to be safe, for self-defense reasons. But after training they realize, “You know what, this is fun.” Then they branch out to target shooting and hunting’,
shared Stephanie, an NRA representative.
I wondered if this was practical- did they just let women ( or men) buy a gun and then go home untrained? My experience on gun ranges has made me aware of how male dominated they are, and a little chauvinistic spirit exists as well- I was always handed the pink mufflers to wear.
‘The NRA developed Women On Target in 2000 in response to persistent calls from women who wanted to learn how to hunt and shoot, preferably in the company of other women,’ Stephanie countered. ‘ Women On Target® provides both instructional shooting clinics as well as hunting excursions. Annual participation in Women On Target instructional clinics grew from 500 participants in 2000 to over 9,500 in 2011.’
I think it’s great the NRA are actively getting involved in training female gun owners, and that the numbers of participants is rising shows that a) more women are educating themselves on how to use their hardware and b) women really do like to shoot.
I wanted to reach out to more women and see their reactions to gun use- of they viewed it as a safety option or if they just did it for kicks.
LA based TV writer Meghan Pleticha shared her personal story with guns.
‘Guns have always made me nervous. It freaks me out when I think about how cops just have guns on them ALL THE TIME. Plus guns can kill people. Or at least the people who use guns can people. The point is, I always had such intense nerves about guns that I also always wanted to shoot one. The first time I tried shooting, I cried.
It wasn’t the actually shooting of the gun-although the small explosion and deadly bullet did light up my adrenaline-it was the gun shots going off all around me. When I had imagined going to the gun range, I thought it would be like the movies: just you and a target. What I hadn’t considered was that there would be other people there, shooting guns EVERWHERE. (By “everywhere” I mean like, towards specific targets.)
Anyways, once I stopped crying it turns out I was a decent shot. The reason people love shooting things is because it’s fun. There are explosions and you feel like a bad ass. I’ve been a couple times now, and every time I get a little more comfortable with handling the gun and the shots around me. It still makes me nervous how easily I’m able to get a hold of a gun though-I know I’m not going to go on a shooting rampage, but how do I know what the other people at the gun range are capable of? But it’s fun, and it’s empowering-not just because shooting a gun is powerful, but because it’s fun to try out “manly” things and find out what’s going on in that boys’ club ‘.
Her experience seems to reiterate my own- that acclimatizing yourself to guns takes away the fear of guns, but also that you can see how real life gun play isn’t as glamorous as it’s portrayed to be. Her depictions of a gun range as a boy’s club unhappily ring true, but is this the case for everyone?
Ann Young, a social worker from Los Angeles was fascinated with guns as a child, and found her real life experience every bit as good as she’d hoped.
‘I shot my first gun while on vacation in Hawaii in 2009. I passed by a shooting range and went in. I had always wanted to try guns but was always a little bit scared. I grew up in a quiet and relatively boring small town, so I had no exposure to guns besides the guns I saw on television or the movies. I think that’s why I had a fascination with guns – because I knew what it could do, but only through a TV screen in the comfort and safety of my own house.
I recently found a firing range by my apartment, and have been frequenting this range a little more than expected. The population at the gun club ranged from rookies (me) to sharp-shooting firearm fanatics. I found that most people I talked to at the gun club liked guns for two reasons: for self-defence and for sport. I never considered guns for self-defence, maybe because I have never been in a situation where I’ve needed one. The last time I went to the gun club, an instructor said to me, “Pistols are lethal, but not lethal enough. When a man is outside your bedroom you don’t want to keep shooting and wait for him to die. You wanna take one shot and finish him off, to protect your husband..and your BABIES.”
I currently do not own a gun, and if a man was outside my window, I would most likely hide and call the police. I’m not sure that I would want to use a gun in that situation even if I had one. For me, the allure of guns lies in its hypothetical destructive potential, knowing that I could destroy something with a single shot. But for now, the only thing I’m comfortable destroying is a target on a piece of paper’.
Ann’s experience is not uncommon; it’s the attitude of people at the gun club and their fanatic fascination with guns that we really need to address. Hobbies are all well and good, but when we’re looking at weapons that can kill people it’s important to take a stand back. Yes, most things can kill people- alcohol, drugs, cars, but generally these are accidental or slow deaths, where a gunshot wound can hardly be seen as accidental (unless you’re very unlucky.
I wanted to hear from people who were professional gun users, as both Ann and Meghan come from a novice perspective.
Judie Lipsett Stanford, Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary has been a gun owner for many years, and uses hers in a rural setting, which she believes differs highly to those who use guns in a town environment.
‘It’s hard to explain gun ownership when you live in a rural setting versus a city setting, because people living in the country have their own set of needs and reasons why they might own a gun compared to those of people living in a city. I live 6 miles away from the nearest town, on an 8.5 square mile ranch. My home is about two miles inside this ranch and it takes between 10 – 15 minutes to get from our house to the main road. We are somewhat isolated, and our circumstances reflect that. I was around 7 or 8 years old the first time I saw someone handling a real gun. We were visiting my grandfather, who lived on the ranch, and he had a gun rack in the back window of his truck that always held a shotgun and a rifle. I don’t remember being scared or curious about the guns presence; they just “were”. I would soon learn that the shotgun was for killing snakes, and the rifle was for killing other “varmints” that were nuisances or would threaten the livestock (e.g., skunks, foxes, bobcats, coyotes). My grandfather also had a pistol in a belt holster, but I never actually saw him wear that.
Rather than tell me what would happen if I played with his guns without permission, my grandfather didn’t forbid me to use them. He explained what each gun was for, told me that they were to never be pointed at anything or anyone that I didn’t mean to kill, and then he showed me what each gun could do. I was shocked to see him kill an animal that I had previously regarded as “cute and furry”, but he also explained to me the devastation that could be caused by those animals, whether it be by disease or predation of “our” livestock. It made an impression.
I didn’t personally own a gun until 1995; I was 28, and that was the year that I took over the ranch’s management. I inherited a .22/250 rifle from my brother, but after taking over the ranch I soon purchased a 9mm Glock with holster; I found that carrying a rifle was a bit unwieldy when riding on a 4-wheeler in the pasture. The ranch foreman, who was also a deputy sheriff, had actually chastised me when I told him I was riding without a gun; his main reason was the fact that we are close to the Mexican border and drug traffic activity was not uncommon. For me, owning a gun has never been about empowerment; it has been for protection of the livestock and myself when I am at the ranch.’
Judie’s stance on gun ownership is less about whether she feels it protects her from dangerous ‘people’, more about how it factors into her life as a ranch owner.
‘I think that anyone who is in my situation — male or female — should own a gun. My reasons for owning a gun could not possibly be alleviated by taking a self-defense or empowerment class (picture me judo-chopping a bobcat, here!), and I don’t ever carry a gun on my person when I am not on the ranch.’
‘I don’t have a gun strapped to me 24/7, I am not the person you can count on to kick-ass when I see a mugging, nor can I imagine myself taking action in an armed robbery. I don’t personally feel the need to carry a gun when I am not at the ranch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think others should be able to exercise their legal right to do so. I see a gun as a tool — just like a hammer or a pickaxe. I know what this tool is capable of, and I know when it is appropriate to use it.’
It seems there are mixed feeling on the role of gun use and its representation in popular culture is fairly flawed- as indeed is any representation of gunplay as cinematic shots don’t really explain the reloading, the aiming or even the safety features of working with guns. Sure, some shows such as Dexter or CSI might aim for a more believable display of gun safety exercises, but the actual sound from the gun and the impression it leaves on the one that fires it is never really addressed.
Women and guns have been both glamorized and vilified, as a quick internet search will bring up hundreds of images of bikini clad gun toting girls- and a more disturbing trend- gun toting girls that INJURE themselves. These videos prove very popular- averaging over 1 million YouTube hits and though the injuries aren’t fatal (hit in the head with the gun/ shell hits them in eye) the popularity of them is somewhat disturbing and leads you to question whether women and guns are really accepted, as there doesn’t seem to be the same sub genre of YT videos for men.
We’ve also seen a rise in gunplay tailored towards women as a recreational activity, with one of the most recent exploits being the Machine Gun Vegas ‘Lady Killers’ package. This odd sounding event is targeted towards women who’ve been wronged (insert Tammy Wynette country song here) and is all about ‘freeing your inner rage’.
The shooting package involves 25 rounds using an Uzi machine gun and imagining you’re gunning ‘for wayward husbands and ex-boyfriends. The terms used are fairly violent, suggesting that ‘To finish him off, ladies can switch their handbag for a handgun for 20 rounds, including a Sig Sauer 226, Glock 17 or Springfield XDM 9mm’ They say this is perfect for Femme Fatales and you can get this amount of stress reduction for a mere $89.95.’ With a rise in gun crime and post marriage violence, I don’t know how clever it is to create such a package, but them, Vegas is hardly known for its classiness.
This kind of event is indicative of the larger problem though- if guns have become so ‘safe’ that people create outings around them, it suggest that we’re moving into a world where gun ownership will become more every day. This then starts a vicious cycle- if everyone you know has a gun; maybe you need one as well? Gun manufacturers have realized that guns are appealing to a larger women clientele nowadays and first introduced the Smith & Wesson LadySmith in 1989. Today there exist many guns that are more suited for female user, with everything from smaller grips to an easier load mechanism. You can also invest in all sorts of accessories from pearl handles to pink holsters should you wish to do so.
I appreciate why we have seen the sexualisation of women with guns- it’s the combination of something ‘fragile’ (term used loosely here) with something powerful, and this juxtaposition is undeniably attractive in its own way. It think the real issue here is accepting that when you see Angelina Jolie kick ass in a film its every bit as unrealistic as when Bruce Willis goes hell for leather- both would probably be quickly smacked down by any karate expert or NRA champion. As long as we can appreciate that the glamorization of female gunplay is aesthetic rather than actual, that’s something we can live with, but as it currently stands people are blurring the line between on screen and reality and that’ s dangerous place to exist.
Women and men who use guns deserve respect and in return they need to respect themselves enough to become properly trained. It can be empowering to own a gun and have that peace of mind, but if you film yourself shooting in a bikini or wave it around when drunk you’re doing your whole sex a disservice.
Note 1: I have not included the opinions of any men in this feature; this is not because what they say isn’t valid, but because I’m analyzing female gunplay from a feminine perspective.
Note 2: Why is an article about women and guns on a gadget site you may ask? Well, guns are pieces of technology, so question answered.
Note 3: Is my opinion going to be skewed having been brought up with an anti gun culture? Yes, quite possibly- feel free to question my opinions in the comments below.
Update 3/12/2012: NRA News Interviewed me for my opinion on the article. Check it out below!