Feminists across the country can finally breathe a sigh of relief, because the NRA is here and ready to arm women against the evils of the world—or at least that’s what the notorious guns rights organization claims in its “Real Empowerment” ad, one in a series of clips created under its “Freedom’s Safest Place” campaign.
The minute-long video features Dana Loesch, a conservative radio host, outspoken gun owner and “feminist,” warning “every rapist, domestic abuser, violent criminal thug, and every other monster who preys upon women” that their “next target will be armed, trained, and ready to exercise her right to choose her life over [theirs].”
Loesch’s words are provocatively direct and threatening, but it’s unclear as to who the video is really trying to scare. On the surface, she seems to be actively discouraging cruel predators and criminals from attacking potentially armed women. However, the video’s ominous tone proves to be more effective at exploiting the valid concerns of those who fear for their lives and safety on a daily basis.
For instance, intercut with clips of Loesch are black and white scenes of public spaces buzzing with rapidly moving pedestrians and cars. Though aesthetically interesting, they never quite connect with Loesch’s words. Wouldn’t the video’s message have been better conveyed by displaying a diverse range of women proudly wielding a weapon or visiting a gun store? Yet, instead of doing just that, the NRA chooses to stick with a series of images that seem to communicate two very polarizing messages; either it teaches men to fear—not respect—women for the weapon they may be carrying, or it reminds women of how often violent aggressors stay hidden in the crowds, ready to attack.
Loesch’s message also doesn’t stand up to statistical fact: Women aren’t really “flocking to gun stores.” According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), 73 percent of gun dealers had noted an increase of female customers in 2011. This was even the number many media outlets used when reporting on this alleged phenomenon. But The Trace, a non-profit that describes itself as a “news organization dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States” vehemently dismisses the methodology and “anecdotal” evidence used in the NSSF study. The General Social Survey (GSS), on the other hand, tells a different story. It found that between 1980 and 2014,”personal ownership of firearms has not appreciably changed for women.”
So if the numbers reported by the GSS are true, then the NRA is clearly grasping at straws. After all, chronic gun violence and mass shootings haven’t helped faltering rates of gun ownership in recent years. By specifically targeting women, 72 percent of which support stricter gun control measures, this video is making an earnest, albeit misguided, attempt at courting its biggest opposition.
Though it’s unlikely that these efforts will do the NRA much good, the large amount of resources it has invested into making the Second Amendment more attractive to women should not be ignored. Programs such as its “Refuse To Be A Victim” seminar also use a crime-victim narrative to attract new members, while the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum continues to raise thousands of dollars for its cause.
Granted, the NRA has never been known for being a champion of gender equality—or the truth. But there’s something underhanded about marketing female victimhood under the guise of empowerment in order to sell more guns: Whereas Loesch expects dangerous men to be afraid of the multitude of women now in possession of a firearm, she fails to mention how often guns kill—and don’t protect—women who are being stalked, threatened, or abused.
As Ms. has noted previously, women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in our peer nations. Two-thirds of intimate partner homicides involve guns. One in three women who are murdered are killed by their partners, and if there’s a gun in an abusive household their risk of dying shoots up 500 percent. An analysis published by the Annals of Internal Medicine found that in areas with less gun restriction, women were more often victims of homicide; a fact Christy Salters Martin, an accomplished boxer, learned when the gun she had legally purchased for her own protection was used against her by her own husband.
Despite the flood of information that prove their intentions to be disingenuous, Loesch is eager to use vaguely feminist sentiment as a recruitment tool. “This is what real empowerment looks like,” she says, giving viewers the most intimidating glare she can muster, “millions of American moms, grandmothers and professional women taking our lives and our family’s lives into our own capable hands.”
Never mind a woman’s intelligence, self-respect or ambitions. According to the NRA, empowerment—real empowerment—is an experience privy to those clutching the grip of a gun.
Nicole Pina is an editorial intern at Ms. and a rising junior pursuing an English degree at Yale University. She spends most of her time either reading medieval poetry or editing other people’s essays on medieval poetry. When not subjecting her friends to a rant about the lyrical virtuosity of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, she works as an editor at her college’s multilingual magazine and helps host a feminist radio show.