The number of American women who own guns is on the rise. In 2011, Gallup reported 23 percent of American women are gun owners, up from 13 percent in 2005. Recently, I had a chance to interview a variety of women about their personal experiences with gun ownership, as well as their opinions about curbing gun violence. Here’s what some of them had to say:
“In my experience working with women who own guns, there is something both intimidating and comforting about them,” said Maria White, director of the award-winning documentary short The Debutante Hunters. “They are some of our most knowledgeable, skilled, and disciplined gun owners.”
“Guns have always been a part of my life,” wrote Elisabeth, one of 24 women gun owners who responded to my informal request for information. “I’ve never been afraid of them.”
Owning a gun became more important to the 24-year-old when her apartment was burglarized. Twenty-one percent of the women who wrote to me reported similar episodes where they felt physically threatened. This percentage is in line with the national statistic of women who say they’ve experienced rape or attempted rape.
Like Elisabeth, most of the women who responded were raised in families of responsible gun owners. Two-thirds were taught about guns as children by their fathers or other relatives, while one-third learned to shoot later in life.
“Everyone in the family knew how to fire a gun, just in case you ever needed to. We also all learned how to drive a stick shift, just in case we needed to,” wrote 65-year-old Sandy. “You always treated every gun as if it was loaded. By the time you were six years old you knew what one sounded like when it went off next to you, and you knew the amount of damage one bullet would do.”
“I learned to shoot when I was six years old,” wrote Gwen, a 44-year-old graphic designer. “My dad caught me in his closet looking at his rifles, so he took me right outside and had me shoot his 12-gauge. I hit the target, but it threw me back on my butt! He looked at me and said, ‘Gwen, guns are powerful and dangerous. You have to treat them with the respect they deserve.’”
Teaching six-year-olds about firearms is a far cry from parents today who agonize over letting kids play with toy guns.
“I’m sure some would shout that having a gun in the house with kids is wrong,” wrote Neena. “I’m sure some would even say that we shouldn’t even be talking about this with our kids. Maybe so, but this is the way we chose to handle it—with responsibility. With awareness. With education. With safety at the front.”
Training and safety were emphasized by the women.
“It’s very important for women to learn the proper way to handle a gun and to realize the power a gun has,” wrote Lisa, the mother of a West Point cadet. “Too many women are scared of guns and get them and have no idea what to do with them.”
“Knowledge is power! And safety is essential,” wrote Victoria Amormino, co-owner of Pistols & Pumps. “I strongly feel that anyone owning a gun should have training and go through a permitting process. We don’t let people drive cars without proper testing and licensing. I think the same is for guns.”
Christel, a 41-year-old business owner, detailed the process to obtain her concealed weapons permit. “The background checks for the concealed permit were intensive,” she wrote. “They included a waiting period, finger prints, references, and a handwritten note from a doctor.”
More than 60 percent of the women believe education is a key to curbing gun violence.
“We have demonized guns through the years and have made so much of the population afraid of them,” wrote Kari, a 53-year-old teacher. “Do we need to have gun safety classes in high school? Why not? We have D.A.R.E. programs in the schools. We teach kids the proper way to use a baseball bat. We are taught how to drive a car. We learn early on that fire will burn you. All these things can be used to kill.”
“There is no surer way to get kids sneaking around and playing with something behind their parents’ backs than to make it taboo, mysterious, and dangerous,” wrote Diana Prichard. “I believe most accidental shooting deaths in children could be prevented simply by providing firearm education and experiences for children from young ages.”
“I believe that it is my responsibility as a parent to teach my children to respect life,” wrote Anne Burkholder. “I also believe that it is my responsibility to teach my children how to both respect and operate a gun.”
“Proper basic education would go a long way in people’s perceptions about guns,” wrote Marie Bowers. “If every citizen, or at least every woman, knew how to shoot and defend herself, I think we would see a decline in gun violence.”
Carin, a 34-year-old Californian, agrees. “If more women went to the range and shot a handgun or a shotgun, they’d probably feel more empowered and safer than if we passed more laws that criminals will choose to ignore anyway.”
Only one of the women suggested banning high-powered weapons; the rest addressed root causes of violence.
“Gun violence has nothing to do with assault rifles or the media circus that has been presented,” wrote a 37-year-old mother of two. “As a teacher who deals with young children on a daily basis, I see this as a parenting issue.” She cited violent video games, movies, and the absence of meaningful parent interaction with children as problems.
“I don’t believe gun violence has much to do with guns. It has everything to do with our relationships with people and our disregard for life,” wrote Val Wagner. “Do I need a large clip to have a successful hunt? Definitely not. Will it bother me if they are outlawed? Definitely not. Do I think it will curb gun violence? Definitely not. The root of the problem is not the gun. And until you fix the problem, the band-aids will keep falling off.”
“The issue is the depravity of man’s heart,” wrote Adelia, mother of two. “The legal, responsible gun owner is not the one committing the crimes we hear about.”
“Some perpetrators obtained guns legally. Others stole them,” wrote 53-year-old Theresa. “Many people along the path leading to this violence appear to have dropped the ball.”
“Enforcing existing gun laws would do wonders to curb gun violence in America,” wrote Amy, a 39-year-old mother of three. “We have over 20,000 gun laws in existence—creating more isn’t going to help.”
“Even the most ragamuffin militaries in the poorest parts of the world possess high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons,” wrote Diana. “It’s short-sighted and naive to believe nothing could happen here that would require us to protect ourselves against our own government, and arrogant to think that we will never need security inside our borders beyond what our military is immediately able to provide in any given area.”
Which brings us to the Second Amendment.
Women surveyed in recent polling to explore gun debate gender differences reported “their most important goal was keeping children safe, followed by reducing the culture of violence.” I concur, but these goals and gun rights aren’t an either-or proposition.
“The Second Amendment is critical for women, CRITICAL!’” wrote Annie Carlson of Morning Joy Farm. “Having access to and knowing how to operate a gun levels the playing field in a game of deadly consequences. This changes my status from victim to defender and gives me the ability to save my life and the lives of my children. Our farm is 25 miles from the nearest police protection. If a criminal wanted to act, the crime would be over and done before any hope of help would arrive. And when help arrived, they would be using guns.”
“I’m 65 years old,” wrote Sandy. “I don’t think I could physically hold off an attacker. I know I would probably die trying, but is that what you want your aunts and grandmothers to have to do? Die trying?”
“There is no difference in applying the law to male or female,” wrote Adelia. “I’m just as capable of defending my home against threats, both foreign and domestic, as a man.”
“We have the same rights as men,” wrote Sarah, a newlywed from California, “and there have been many people who have sacrificed for our rights.”
“The Second Amendment is important to me as a woman because it gives me the right to protect myself in a world that’s not so nice or safe anymore,” wrote 41-year-old Amy.
“Disarming women and making us feel bad about protecting our families with a weapon should never be up for debate,” wrote Windy Borders, co-owner of Pistols & Pumps. “By tapping into the emotional side of a woman, you are discounting her confidence, her ability to train, educate, protect—her ability choose.”
Guest contributor Aimee Whetstine blogs at everyday epistle. Her writing has been syndicated on BlogHer and featured on other outlets. If you’re a woman who owns a gun and would like to share your story with Aimee, please contact her at aimee (at) everyday epistle (dot) com or @everydayepistle on Twitter.