Jan 09, 2013, 03:08AM

Gunslinging Gals

According to the NRA, women are the fastest growing population of gun buyers.

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I keep a 20-gauge shotgun next to my bed. It’s simple: I live, alone, in the country. Although I can see the lights from the closest house a half a mile away, I could be mugged, raped and chopped into pieces and no one would ever hear a sound.

The gun gives me a somewhat sense of a false security. That’s because I don’t keep it loaded. I have two shells stashed in my nightstand along with a fingernail file, Chapstick, journals and other non-deadly items. I often wonder if threatened by an intruder if I’d have the steady sense to even load the weapon in time. I suck at shooting clays so there’s also the likely possibility that if successfully loaded, I’d be more likely to blow the crap out of my Victorian dresser than harm the perp.

So why the gun?

There’s always been a love affair with armed women in American history. Deborah Sampson dressed as a man and fought as a soldier during the Revolutionary War. In the late 1800s, proper ladies were laying down their needlepoint and picking up their guns. Women were turned on by sports like trapshooting, and were then being featured in popular illustrations. Gun molls in the 1920s were in vogue, and during the Great Depression were sensationalized by the infamous Bonnie Parker, of the dashing couple Bonnie and Clyde. One colorful female icon of her day was Calamity Jane. She outshot most grown men by the time she was 13. A consummate self-promoter, Calamity was successful not only in her Wild West tours, but also as a secret scout for General Custer. More recently, Maine novelist and militia leader, Carolyn Chute, appeals to New England’s independent bent, believing that women have the right to protect themselves since the government is no longer “of the people.”

And what about the gunslinging modern woman? The image of a modern woman protecting hersef is reinforced by the gun industry and the media. Men are in possession of most of the nearly 300 million guns but women are beating a path to ownership. 

The National Shooting Sports Foundation keeps track of the increase among women purchasing firearms. Their last survey in 2009 found that gun-store owners calculated a 73 percent increase in female customers. Although the foundation is more interested in the statistics of new female hunters, they did report that the number of women buying guns for defense increased 83.2 percent.

But do these gals know how to pull the trigger? Especially under life-threatening situations? Many female owners are learning this skill. Diane Danielson, who runs the NRA’s shooting clinics for women, says recent statistics show her classes growing. They also reflect what her participants have told her. “Many of them find themselves alone for the first time in their lives. Some are widows, some are single mothers, some are just looking for a way to protect themselves, and this is why they’ve come to the program to learn to shoot,” Danielson said.

My philosophy is if you’re gonna shoot you might as well look good. Camo is not just for the good ole boys anymore. Laura Browder, author of Her Best Shot: Women and Guns in America, said during an interview that she remembers when Women’s Wear Daily pronounced “gun barrel grey” the new color for spring and sees lipsticks in the shape of bullets. Prios, a women’s hunting clothing brand created four years ago, has seen a 100 percent growth every year.

Despite this growing role of firearms in a woman’s life, the question remains, “Do guns keep women safe”? According to a decades-long analysis done by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine published in 2011, the answer is a resounding “no.” The study states that living in a home with a gun doubles the risk of being murdered or committing suicide. Just living in USA makes women 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than our counterparts in the other nations included in the 25 highest income earners.

I’m just a country girl and my shotgun has become a part of my psyche. I’ve only grabbed it in the middle of the night twice in 11 years, both false alarms. I load and unload it every now and again for practice, but will it keep me safe? For now, it’s staying where it is. Locked but unloaded.

  • saw a great tweet that pretty much crystallizes the recent gun/shooting outrage... "*lives in a culture of cutthroat competition, violence, and capitalism* HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN??" people buy guns because other people have guns. sad.

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  • Is this supposed to be satire? If so, great article. If not, Kathy, you embody many of the problems with the gun culture in the U.S.A. Low information peppered with flights of romanticism

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  • @Texan This is not a satire. i simply included the historic romanticism of women and guns in America as a point of interest. I own a gun for sport shooting and my family are responsible citizens who own guns, not for defense, but for sport and hunting. As a recent NPR commentary stated:"If sportsman would let their voices of conscious be heard above the homicidal fusillade, then some sensible prohibitions could be enacted, for those who have the potential to reduce the gun carnage in the USA, are precisely the people who own guns and are the good sports."

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  • I apologize, I must have misread your article because I had the impression that you only occasionally and slowly were abl;e to load a weapon let alone handle it as an experienced hunter. When you admitted to the gun providing a "false" sense of security, I took it as your admisssion that you are part of the problem. Although mass shootings are the topic of the day, the real concern is the number of "accidental" and passion/fear killings by gun owners who do not fully understand how to load and maintain their weapons. As for your point about hearing from reasonable citizens who own guns for sport and hunting as opposed to defense, I couldn't agree more. I didn't realize that you fell into this category since you only mention Your gun as a weapon of defense (see entire first paragragh)and while doing so, freely admit that your are just as likely to hit furniture as an intruder. (a truly scary thought) As for the historic romanticism of women and guns, if this were true, why were women mostly banned from shooting clubs, war and most fox/animal hunting groups? Why were women like calamity Jane and Annie Oakley often derided as manly as opposed to pin-up material? Don't you think at least part of the allure of Bonnie was that she was committing her crimes with her lover? While that may be a romantic notion, it is one about a couple who shoots together, not only women. I would argue that these women held the public's interest because of the novelty of accomplished female shooters, not because of some sense of romanticism. In these less chauvinistic days, a sharpshooting monkey would probably create a similar buzz. Finally, the stats you site are just as relevent as the stat that 80% of car accidents occur within 2 miles of the home; Sounds alarming until you realize that people do 80% of their driving within 2 miles of their home. The uptick in female ownership sounds impressive until you realize what a relatively small group we were starting with.

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