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.



Elizabeth Titus has been a journalist, an English teacher, an advertising executive, a communications director (15 years at American Express in New York City), and a freelance writer and communications consultant. Her work has appeared in publications including Narrative, The Humanist, and Women’s Voices Now. She volunteers with groups that support the education of Afghan and Indian girls and women and has sponsored an Afghan woman in the U.S. through high school and college. She is also an active volunteer with PennPAC, working with other graduates of the University of Pennsylvania who donate their time to nonprofits. She was connected with Days for Girls via Catchafire, a digital platform that "strengthens the social good sector by matching professionals who want to donate their time with nonprofits who need their skills.