We’re Packing Heat, But Will It Keep Us Safe?

Image: Helen Mirren portrays a bad-ass operative in the movies Red and Red 2.

In the wake of yet another tragic school shooting, the thought of a gun might not appeal to you. Yet, more women over the age of 40 are buying guns, in part because peer evangelists like Carrie Lightfoot, and Debbie Ferns are leading the way. The primary message? Self-protection. Whether having more guns around is good for the country or good for you is highly debatable, but it’s a message that is resonating with many women.

For Lightfoot, a violent relationship a gun purchase and the eventual launch of The Well Armed Woman to educate, empower and equip women who want to buy guns. Debbie Ferns, along with champion sports shooters Kay Miculek and Lisa Munson, founded Babes with Bullets because, at age 45, she thought she should take care of herself rather than counting on someone else.

Image: Debbie Ferns of Babes with Bullets discusses women and guns.

And then there’s Tina Wilson-Cohen, a former Secret Service agent who founded She Can Shoot, the largest women-only firearms training organization. She has said that 90 percent of her 3,000+ members joined because they had been a victim of stalking, date rape or domestic violence.

The National Rifle Association and its member manufacturers are getting in on the trend, too—but as followers, not as leaders. For some reason, women didn’t like gun manufacturers’ old-school marketing featuring “gun bunnies” and being talked to as if they were children. So, in 2013 the NRA launched its “Armed and Fabulous” women’s online video channel. The featured women—many of a certain age—appear to be very happy to be “protecting our Second Amendment rights.” (Apparently, they have no idea what’s happening on the other NRATV channels.)

Meanwhile, today’s women gun-trapreneurs are doing it for themselves, educating gun makers on how to treat women like adults and how to design guns specifically for women. They’re becoming manufacturers and gun retailers, too, creating gun accessories specifically for women.

Aside from these visible signs of midlife women entering the firing zone, we couldn’t find much data specifically correlating gun ownership, gender and age. But there’s this: a 2016 story in The Wall Street Journal cited several older women shooting for the first time, motivated primarily by fear of crime. According to NRA data, nearly 23,000 people over age 65 took basic firearm training classes from NRA-certified instructors in 2015—four times the number in 2000.

However, men continue to be most likely by far to own guns, according to a major Pew Research study. About half of white men say they own a gun, while only 24% of white women and nonwhite men do, and only 16% of nonwhite women. A Crime Research Prevention study showed a 270% increase in female concealed-carry permit holders from 2008-2015, while a 2015 study by Harvard and Northeastern University researchers found that women now comprise 43% of those who own only a handgun.

The Harvard-Northeastern study also found that the proportion of female gun owners has been increasing as fewer men own guns. Between 1994 and 2015, the proportion of women gun owners grew somewhat from 9% to 12%, in line with historical U.S. women’s gun ownership rates ranging from 9% to 14% since the 1980s. What, you say, that isn’t growth! Actually, the total number of women gun owners is definitely growing as the U.S. population grows. Also, this study’s data stopped in 2015 and doesn’t include the many, many guns purchased in 2016 in anticipating of a Hilary Clinton gun control presidency.

It’s not all about self-protection. The National Sporting Goods Association reports that more women are becoming hunters and sport shooters, too. Women’s participation in shooting sports increased by more than 50 percent between 2001 to 2011, and by nearly 42 percent in hunting.

We’re in favor of midlife women learning new skills and being inspired by those amazing biathlon women of the PyeonChang 2018 Olympics. The jury’s out on whether having a gun is actually useful for self-defense—it’s hard to draw a conclusion from the very, very few known instances in which a women has used a gun to stave off a home invader or street criminal.

What we do know is that, U.S. women die at higher rates from suicide, homicide, and accidental firearm deaths in states where guns are more widely available. The more guns around, the more often women die. So, if you’re considering buying a handgun or something else to protect yourself, you should probably invest in jujitsu training, too.

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