Ladies are taking there safety into their own hands. Gun ownership among women is growing but what are the reasons for this? Here’s GQ’s take on the issue. Did they get it right or are they way out in left field?
Picture the “gun owners of America,” and it’s all too easy to imagine bearded white guys toting long-barrel shotguns into pheasant country. But these days, a curiously large proportion of U.S. gun owners are women, and more gun owners than ever are arming themselves for self-defense. Who is the new American female gun owner, and what’s she taking up arms against?
On any given day, there are an infinite number of objects you might find in a woman’s bra, besides her breasts. Maybe a credit card, some folded-up cash, or a tampon; a tube of lipstick if she’s feeling fancy. Because of the never-ending, one-sided battle between women’s clothing and functional pockets, the bra has over the years become a repository for the small, important items women want with them at all times.
Which is why the bra of 42-year-old pharmacist Lola often contains a gun. To be specific, a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm. Less than one inch thick, the $449 Shield is a matte black semi-automatic double-action pistol with an eight-round magazine (plus the ability to have a ninth bullet in the chamber).
Lola carries in every place it’s legal to do so, whether that’s in her bra or in a waist holster—which, in her home state of Florida, is just about everywhere except courthouses, schools, government buildings, airports, career centers, and post offices. And it’s her preference for the Flashbang Bra Holster that first caught my attention: Under her Internet nom de plume, “Lola Strange,” Lola stars in an instructional (and delightful) YouTube video about her holster of choice. In the video, Lola says that one reason she—along with her husband, Hank—loves the Flashbang holster is that it offers a little “lift” in the cleavage department. “I can always use a lift.”
For most of her life, Lola believed “guns were just something you saw on TV, and it was always the bad guys who had them.” But three years ago, Hank took an interest in learning how to use a gun for self-defense, and he encouraged his wife (and two teenage sons) to do the same. Today Lola never leaves the house without her Smith & Wesson. “Having a gun alone isn’t going to save your life,” she says. “But at least that gun gives you the opportunity to have some kind of equal ground with whoever.”
I’ll say what Lola won’t. A gun isn’t just a weapon—it’s also an unambiguous way to signal to someone that they should fuck off and leave you alone. And if you’re a woman in need of an unambiguous way to signal that someone should fuck off and leave you alone, history, data, and the plain old common sense that comes from living in the world suggest that someone is probably a man.
A Woman in Arms
Jamie Haswell | Fort Worth, TX | Owns a Taurus 9mm pistol and a Sig 238-.380 pistol
“I keep one in my nightstand in a locked box with code access, and one on my person at most times. Different states have different carrying laws, but when legally permitted, I carry one in my purse. I may carry it in my car as well. If I am going to a large event, I would prefer to have it on me, and if I’m going somewhere that is not considered ‘the safest area,’ I like to have it on me there as well.”
I didn’t grow up around guns; as an adult, I’ve never liked them. I get nervous around them. But I have a distinct feeling that any fascination I ever had with guns—any faint arousal I’d felt as a teenager watching the hyper-violent action sequences of The Matrix or Angelina Jolie, all pouty lips and short shorts, double-fisting pistols in Tomb Raider—disappeared one night in my early twenties. That’s when a particularly volatile boyfriend showed me a short, grainy video of him, taken the summer before, brandishing a chunky silver handgun a little too zealously. Waving it around, cocking it gleefully like a John Woo protagonist.
I remember squeezing my eyes shut, jerking away; something about the image of my boyfriend with a gun in his hand tripped an alarm. We’d been arguing lately, even as we’d started making plans for where we’d live when college was over—and a few times, instead of bickering back at me, he’d just grown silent and loomed. An uneasy thought unfurled: Did I trust this guy I loved, this guy who knew the key code to my apartment and knew where to find me at any given hour, with a gun? Did I want to build my future around someone who looked so turned on by the weapon in his hand?
We didn’t stay together much longer after that; I wrote him a long letter and collected my things from his place, and I wish I could say that was the end of it. A month later, I stood shivering in the doorway of my building at 3 A.M. in a bathrobe, telling a police officer why I’d called 911 from under my bedcovers to report a man standing on my back porch.
Our school would later initiate a no-contact order to help keep my ex-boyfriend out of my life until after we’d both graduated. But there was damage already done: For two decades, I’d believed home was a place I could expect to feel safe, and that when someone said they loved me, it meant I wouldn’t have to wonder if they’d harm me. Now I wasn’t sure anymore. In other words, I’d been initiated.
Just about every woman’s felt it at one point or another—that flicker of fear for her safety around angry men, and especially angry men with guns. And with good reason: Simply being female increases a person’s risk of being stalked or sexually assaulted by someone of the opposite sex. Between 1980 and 2008, 90 percent of homicides, and 92.1 percent ofgunhomicides, were committed by men. In mass shootings since 1982, that figure rises to 96.5 percent, according to research done at Mother Jones. For all the strides we’ve made toward equality, there’s still a more violent sex.
Which may be why the makeup of the gun-owning population of the United States is changing—and could look and act a lot more like Lola.
In September, The Guardian and gun-research publication The Trace published the results of an extensive new survey from Harvard and Northeastern universities—which its researchers describe as the “most authoritative since 1994″—on gun ownership in the United States. “Fear of Other People Is Now the Primary Motivation for American Gun Ownership, a Landmark Survey Finds,” The Trace‘s headline boomed. Today two-thirds of gun owners list self-defense as their main motivation for owning a firearm, and The Guardian story notes that “the proportion of female gun owners is increasing as fewer men own guns.” While the rate of personal gun ownership among American men has been steadily decreasing for decades, gun ownership among American women has stayed curiously consistent, hovering between 9 and 14 percent of women from 1980 to 2014. Today, the Harvard-Northeastern study found, nearly half of gun owners whose gun collection consists of a single handgun are women—and according to the NRA, the number of women who registered for classes on how to use a pistol nearly doubled between 2011 and 2014.
So is it the ownership of a gun that makes women feel better equipped to deal with the everyday dangers of living while female? Or is it simply the knowledge of how to use a gun—how to harness the threat of violence and turn it to point away from you, not towards—that women find comforting? If it was the latter, I reasoned, it couldn’t hurt to find out.
A Woman in Arms
Christine Chen, 33 | San Gabriel Valley, CA | Owns a Beretta 92FS semi-automatic pistol
“My boyfriend introduced me to target shooting three years ago, and he taught me the importance of self-protection. I bought my gun a year later when I wanted a home-defense handgun. I don’t have a concealed-carry permit, so the only time it’s ever out of the house is to go target shooting twice a month at the local outdoor range.”