Blogging from Work.

It’s Saturday. I’m in the office. Yesterday was Hellday – on the road at 4:00AM, home at 6:00PM – and this included 350 miles of windshield time. I’m trying to get caught up on drawings and quotations, but I’m taking a little break, and what do I find, courtesy of Blognomicon?

Lil’ Annie: Go get your gun

When “Little Sure Shot” Annie Oakley became one of the first women superstars as a renown markswoman on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the late 1800’s, her fancy shooting opened the flood gates to the idea that women had a place behind the trigger of a gun.

Although much has changed since the days of Oakley, women and guns remain somewhat of a taboo subject, while in recent years, the popularity of firearms with women has reached an all time high.

According to a survey taken by the National Rifle Association in 2004, over 17 million American women own some type of firearm.

Slowly, guns have been finding their way into the female populace for reasons ranging from hunting to a sense of security to self-defense.

There is a certain image that is associated with female gun ownership, one of strength and power, (See this piece from 2003. Ed.) but there is also something provocative to it as well. The appeal of firearms among women may be the impression of toughness that exudes from them; something that that says, “keep back.”

Women are perceived as more delicate and helpless than their male counterparts, they are the targets of more violent crimes and therefore carry a greater fear of coming into harm’s way.

When Smith & Wesson introduced their LadySmith model in 1989, they used the slogan that the handgun would “manage to be elegant without sacrificing any of their practicality.”

Taking their message to women a step further, they tread upon a woman’s propensity to nurture as a mother figure by reminding women of their responsibility to not only protect the family, but also protect themselves as caretakers of their loved ones.

Anti-gun mom turned firearm-advocate

Fellow gun-toting female Marcia Grann O’Brien, editor for the Narragansett Times, who has raised three children and is now a proud grandmother, was a self-proclaimed “huge anti-gun mom” when her own kids were growing up.

“I wouldn’t even let my boys have posters with guns in them,” said O’Brien, a Rhode Island native who lived in New York and then moved back to the Ocean State in 1993.

Oddly enough, it was her passion for the anti-gun movement that spurred her eventually love affair with firearms.

In 1995, O’Brien was in an editor’s meeting and got wind of a potential story idea surrounding a group of women who frequently gathered at the Warwick Range to practice shoot. O’Brien decided to cover the story out of a sort of morbid curiosity.

“I wanted to see who those crazy women were,” she joked. “I said to myself, ‘if you are going to do a story on this, you at least need to shoot a gun.'”

She chose the .22-caliber revolver for her first shot.

“I was hooked the first bullet out,” said O’Brien. “I loved it. I can’t tell you how wonderful and exhilarating it was trying to hit that bulls eye.”

Within a week, O’Brien was a gun owner, with her first purchase being her first love, the .22-caliber. She then moved onto a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and finished her collection with a .45-caliber Eastern European semi-automatic. Shortly afterward she also obtained her Handgun Carry Permit.

“My kids get a huge kick out of it,” she said when thinking back to her days as an anti-gun mom, calling her transition “beyond bizarre.”

Although O’Brien sticks to target shooting and does not partake in hunting, she said she is not against the idea.

In terms of self-defense, O’Brien made clear that she would absolutely use her weapon to protect herself if she saw no other alternative.

“Running away is always the first choice, but if you can’t get away, then you shoot,” she clarified. “I feel much safer carrying.”

In O’Brien’s opinion, regardless of women’s slight presence in the gun world compared to that of men, she finds that a women’s touch makes for a superior shot.

“Women are better shooters because they don’t have a macho thing to prove. So when you instruct them, they listen.”

Local gun clubs

Eric Gould, president of the local Wincheck Gun Club in West Greenwich said he has noticed more female members frequenting the club in the last couple of years, although not as many as he would have expected due to its growing popularity.

According to Gould, most of the women he notices inside the club are members’ wives who are either there to keep their husbands company or maybe fire off a few rounds for fun.

Although the numbers aren’t staggering, Gould estimated that roughly a half a dozen single women have, in recent years, attended the club’s firearm training class that they hold once or twice a year.

When the club hosts training classes for West Greenwich police cadets, Gould said he has noticed “quite a few” young women in attendance.

He also said that he has even noticed a handful of “little girls” when the club puts on their firearm education classes for children, as parents want their kids to know gun safety at an early age.

Although, many of the women go to the club’s safety courses in order to obtain a permit to carry for protection purposes, according to Gould.

While statistically, women appear to get involved with guns for safety issues, Gould argued that those women who shoot for sport and those who shoot for safety are, in his experience, “all across the board.”

“I’ve seen nurses who want to know how to shoot a gun, especially those who work in the city,” said Gould, “but I also know a woman who loves to go deer hunting.”

“You see a lot more women buying motorcycles, too,” he said, noting that women have been moving out of their set gender roles for some time now. “They are becoming much more self sufficient.”

Hunting, sport, and the Constitution

Pat Thompson, regional coordinator for Women in the Outdoors, a program that promotes basic gun safety, preservation of the hunting tradition and educational outdoor opportunities, picked up her first firearm 15 years ago and has never looked back.

Thompson has shot sporting clays competitively in Texas and New York State shooting contests, and she now devotes much of her time to the Women in the Outdoors, coordinating events around Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Like many women, Thompson began shooting as a way to spend time with her husband, who would shoot skeet with his friends often. According to Thompson, her and husband “did everything together,” and therefore she would find him reluctant to join his friends at skeet shoots because he felt it was taking time away from her.

After seeing an advertisement in the newspaper for shotgun lessons, Thompson decided to give it a shot, literally.

“I really, really enjoyed it,” she said, “and it turns out that I was halfway decent.”

As Thompson got more involved with competitive shooting, she became concerned that her constitutional right to bear arms was coming under attack, so she took the road of caution.

Using her already extensive knowledge of firearms, Thompson became certified in shotgun instruction and took several hunting safety courses in order to prove she was a responsible, safety-concerned gun owner.

For her, hunting became the next step in her gun career, although she explained that she never thought of herself joining the hunting community. After deciding to keep her husband company on a hunt, Thompson brought her gun along, but didn’t anticipate using it… that was, of course, until she laid eyes on her soon-to-be first kill.

“I saw a deer coming through the woods and I picked up my gun and just fired,” she recalled. “It was the most natural thing in the world to harvest an animal.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Thompson is also an advocate of women carrying firearms to protect themselves.

“A lot of protection against predators is confidence,” stated Thompson, “predators lean toward women who appear to be weak or unsure of themselves, an easy target.”

She finds that women who are in possession of a handgun carry themselves differently, deterring potential threats before they happen as well as offering women a means to defend themselves if a dangerous situation arises.

See also my piece How do You Convert a Gun-Phobe? and its follow-on, along with this nearly identical piece from 2004 about the conversion of author Diane Wagman. Excerpt:

Guns are bad. All my life, it’s been that simple. At my son’s preschool, if a child pointed a banana and said “bang,” he was admonished to “use the banana in a happier way.” As far as I was concerned, the 2nd Amendment gave us the right to protect ourselves against invading armies, not the right to buy a gun and keep it under our beds.

So what would make someone like me change my mind? I met this gun enthusiast. As research for my new novel, I asked him many questions, all the while voicing my disgust. My character might use a gun, but I never would. “Come to the range,” the gun guy said. “I’ll teach you to shoot.”

First lesson, respect your firearm. I got a little talk about how powerful it was. I learned how to hold it. To load it. And finally to fire it. It was terrifying. The gun was so heavy, I couldn’t keep it steady. It took both index fingers to pull the trigger, and then there was a flash of flame, a loud crack, a substantial kick. It was much harder than it looked in the movies.

I occasionally hit the target, but I also managed to obliterate the metal hanger that held it.

I have to admit: I loved it. I had a fantastic time. The power of that gun for me, a 5-foot, 3-inch woman, was immediately, shockingly seductive. The thrill when I hit the bull’s-eye (once) was as great as making a perfect tennis shot.

I’ve said it before: If we want to preserve our right to arms, we must get more people to the range. The only way to convince them that a right to arms is important is to make them understand what it is the other side is trying to take away. And because women make up over 50% of the population, but are a tiny minority of gun owners, educating women should be our top priority.

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