Girls and Guns? A Loaded Question

Why do women want to be shooters? As a former New Yorker who has spent a decade in Weston, Conn., not far from Newtown, I am in shock. My daughter was a member of a premier soccer league based in Newtown, and I spent many hours in that pastoral, quiet town.

I drive past the Wooster Mountain Shooting Range, where Nancy Lanza reputedly used to shoot, every time I go to Danbury to drop my dogs off at doggie day camp. Come to think of it, when I go to the Weston town dump on Godfrey Road I see the discreet sign for the Weston Gun Club. I never gave much thought to shooting ranges and gun clubs. Until now.

Go to the NRA Hunters’ Rights  website and check out the number of shooting clubs in sleepy Connecticut – 50, a number that puts the state within shooting range of Alabama (66) and Georgia (70). Florida and Texas are in a league of their own, as I expected.

This is why I prefer New York City, where I lived for 20 years, to bucolic and boring Connecticut. Never would women in New York take up firearms for fun.

I was dead wrong. Turns out I have been away too long.

In an article in the New York Post, “Hot Shots,” Stefanie Cohen writes, “Forget cocktails at Pastis. The new girls’ night out is packing heat.” The Westside Pistol & Rifle Range in Chelsea is the setting for these popular nights out, which are always sold out.

A CBS News story, “Packing Heat: Statistics Show Number of Female Gun Owners On The Rise,” cites a Gallup poll where 23 percent of women reported they are gun owners, up from 13 percent in 2005. Based on polls and gun sale statistics, an estimated 15 to 20 million American women pack heat.

There’s been an upcropping of genderized women’s gun clubs to go along with these statistics. There’s a club called Keeping the Piece Women’s Shooting Club in Kentucky.

And then there’s Lock-n-Load Ladies in California. The website is in shocking pink with purple script and a silhouette of a shapely woman taking aim with a rifle. The club is even sponsored by local gun stores.

Then there’s a website called Girl’s Guide to Guns, which is “dedicated to women who dig fashion and fire power.” On the site, you find out how to make a holiday wreath out of shotgun shells or how to make your own bra holster.

The copy on the site is nothing short of absurd, “Think of us this way: if one day Vogue and Guns & Ammo magazine fell madly in love, got married and had babies, we would be their favorite child. Hit us with feedback in the comments section of the posts. Until then, happy shooting!”

Another site, The Well Armed Woman, claims to be “Where The Feminine and Firearms Meet.” Again, the image is of a women who is “Empowered, Smart & Strong.” And armed, of course.

The rifle used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown shooting was a Bushmaster .223-caliber, a semi-automatic that is three feet long and under six pounds, making it very easy to handle. It doesn’t have to be re-cocked after it’s fired; you just keep squeezing the trigger. The brand caters to the market in this country for military-style firearms for civilians – military wannabes.

The company’s website promotes its brand as “perfect for women”:

“With a Bushmaster for security and home defense, you can sleep tight knowing that your loved ones are protected. Bushmaster offers everything you need to ensure the safety of you and your family. Our high-quality pistols, carbines, and rifles are extremely reliable, easy to shoot, and include lightweight carbon models that are perfect for women.”

Bushmaster Firearms has a Facebook fan page and  47,440 fans. Days after the Newtown Shooting, a fan in Maine posted the names of the victims, with this comment: “The Bushmaster .223 is apparently quite effective.” Another fan added, “When your (sic) looking for a weapon to do the job on 6 and 7 year olds, the occasional teacher and possibly your mother, look no further!”

What possessed a woman like Nancy Lanza to covet a Bushmaster? Did it make her feel powerful and even sexy? And why did she not take precautions to keep her unstable son away from her guns and ammo? We will never know, but what we do know is that the shameful depiction of military assault weapons as glamorous and fashionable and sexy must stop.



  1. I think this article is wildly inappropriate, given that women are some of the main targets of sexual and physical assault. I have yet to read any news reports of ANY women shooting up an elementary school or a theater. This article seeks to take empowerment and self defense out of womens hands, and even goes so far as to scorn someone who is “Empowered, Smart & Strong”.
    All accounts of Nancy Lanza show that she was a loving mother, responsible with her firearms, and sought to instill the same values in her children. It is not the fault of the mother what her mentally deranged and evil child did.
    I am not even pro-gun, I do not own a gun nor will I ever, but I think it is unfair to paint the mother of the perpetrator as the one to blame here, and I think it is inherently sexist and misogynist for that thought to cross ANYONES mind. When is it Adam Lanza’s fault? When does the person who committed the crime actually take the blame? Why are we groping around and landing on his poor mother (a victim in this situation) and women’s self defense groups??!! What kind of backwards thinking is this?
    Take this kind of thinking back to the kitchen and put it in the garbage. Women are not the ones to blame here, and definitely not women who are prepared to defend themselves against psychotic white male twits who think it’s a grand idea to shoot their own mothers in a school.

  2. I have to agree with the above comment. I agree that using stereotypical images and messages to sell and promote guns is offensive and wrong, but the idea that women would seek to empower themselves in a violent world is not so off the mark. I am a gun owner and keep it extremely safe, and I know how to use it if the need arises an I don’t feel this lessens my feminist principles in the least. Women are right to take responsibility for their safety and if shooting is a part of that, so be it. And shaming Adam Lanza’s dead mother? Come on, Ms.

  3. Michaela,
    Adam Lanza will never be at fault because he is a cis white male adolescent. Therefore, all his negative life choices are the fault of his single mother.

    As for this article, it pretty much missed the mark.

  4. Is this seriously a post for Ms. Magazine? You really thought that guns were a guy thing?? Men and women are just different, right? Guns are too big and loud and scary for sweet little ladies! I have heard that women sometimes drive cars, too! And vote! What is the world coming to?!? Seriously, it is 2012. This post is really disappointing.

  5. I agree with Michaela and Sha.

    The packaging and messaging of products market to women in this way is nothing new and nothing particularly unique to firearms. You could easily drop in vodka or purses or power tools and not particularly change the messaging.

    Women’s clubs makes a lot of sense, in the same way that women-only gyms and home improvement classes aimed specifically at women make a lot of sense. Women are left out of these domains and to enter a traditionally male space can be very intimidating.

    I don’t think the increase in female gun ownership has a lot to do with marketing weapons as sexy–or at least not specifically as sexy for women; I do think men get the message about power and masculinity through video games almost exclusively marketed to them. It seems more likely that the interest is there and manufacturers are trying to get more of this market by making products and advertising for women. Even within the article, the blogs and magazines that had this advertising had to be specifically sought out, it’s not like a hot pink AR-15 was being advertised in the back pages of Vogue.

  6. Darksiren_22 says:

    This is an offensive post and I agree with the above comments. I am disappointed Ms Magazine.

  7. I absolutely disagree with all of the previous comments. Anybody who believes that these gun companies are empowering women or fighting the prevalence of rape is absolutely blind.
    Every modern woman’s worst fear is an armed rapist; the guns above, being marketed to women, could just as easily fall into the hands of a rapist. By marketing guns to women these companies are simply trying to make us forget all the violent criminals that may be using these products to terrorize us. It absolutely disgusts me that these companies want me to believe a gun will make me feel powerful and sexy, when in reality a gun could just as easily be used to take these feelings away from me.

  8. First, anyone who thinks that they not only can but *will* protect themselves and absolutely *not* do anything wrong (like harm a bystander, harm someone who meant no harm like a family member, break the law in the process of “defense”, etc.) is delusional to the point of potentially dangerous. Those with a ton of training and much of it specific to stress and combat situations (like police, military or even people who do competitive combat shooting) *still* have trouble when it’s a real life situation instead of merely training. So those who think that doing a bit of target shooting and having a handgun or rifle is “enough” have bought into a fairy tale sold by gun dealers and gun groups. And they’re totally ignoring the very real risk of weapons being used against them – because they often are (whether as a result of the weapon being insecurely stored or as a result of the user being overpowered and having the weapon taken away).

    What’s REALLY offensive though is women-specific marketing in the weapons industry. I don’t really care if it’s a protection specific item like pepper-spray, weapons magazines or even some of the guns. It’s still a serious thing capable of serious injury – yes, even “just” pepper spray. Don’t sugar coat that with a pretty pink, with glitter, or other Barbie-like crap. Quit pretending that just because I’m a woman, I need it all dumbed down and super girlie so that I “can” use it or “will” buy it. Quit making it look like a toy. If I choose to buy a weapon – be it a gun or something like pepper spray – I want to know it will work if/when I need it to work, not that it’ll match my purse or look good. As to woman specific ranges, if I can’t shoot *with* men, odds are, I wouldn’t be able to shoot when I needed to shoot for self-defense…

  9. I’m not sure what is more offensive; the article, including its shaming of Adam Lanza’s mother when she was his first victim, or the assumption that women take up shooting because they’d fall for that awful advertising, or the awful advertising itself.

    I’m female, if I lived in America I would probably go target shooting with a firearm, as I live in the UK, I do target archery. I’d do something like that because I happen to find sports based around accurately hitting targets enjoyable. I also dislike most pink and girly things. Sugarcoating weaponry is not a way to make sure people treat weapons as /weapons/, as items capable of inflicting harm on people. Things like that are serious objects, which should be treated with respect. They should neither be marketed to the macho fetishisation of violence (the wannabe-badasses) or girlified and dumbed down for women. Not only are we not in need of things being dumbed down for us, a weapon is a weapon, even if it’s pink.

  10. Elizabeth Titus says:

    Thank you for all your comments! I respect the opinions of others, and try to listen and learn. I think I missed the mark in certain ways here, and I appreciate your pointing out how I did this.
    I’ve learned just how polarizing an issue this is! I’ve even had a family member, my older brother who lives in Richmond, VA, tell me that he has good friends who disagree with me on the guns issue.
    As for Nancy Lanza, I just don’t know. When she was not included in the funerals in Newtown, and not even included in the number of those dead, I listened to people in Newtown. The more generous ones felt she should be included. Others said no, because if she had kept her guns locked up this would not have happened, plus, why have your troubled son take up shooting. Now I see that she was a victim, and her negligence is tragic, but she is not the killer. RIP, Nancy.
    I think the main point I should have made is this: the brutality of the Newtown massacre has brought the issue of assault weapons to the forefront, and I respect the hard work done by Joe Biden and our president and Nancy Pelosi, and pray for resolution!

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