I've Got Two Tickets to the Gun Show

Somehow we just keep drifting back to the case with the compact Ruger 9mm, like it's calling my name.
Publish date:
July 17, 2012
guns, shooting, women owning guns, shooting stuff

I don't have clever captions for these.

The Llama 45ACP is too big. The Kahr P380 is too small. The Ruger SR9C fits in my hand just right -- it's like that portion of porridge Goldilocks couldn't help but devour down to the bottom of the bowl. Ed and I are at the pro store attached to our local gun range. It's not the first time we've been there, but it's the first time I've seriously been looking for a potential purchase of my own. In fact, we're actually there to look at guns for Ed -- his birthday is rapidly approaching. We're considering whether or not to replace his .45 auto with something else, something bigger, something smaller -- just something new. But somehow we just keep drifting back to the case with the compact Ruger 9mm, like it's calling my name. I grew up with family who hunted. Shotguns and rifles have always just been around. Handguns were a part of the environment, too. I ate the food my uncles hunted and shot at the targets my uncles propped up for me. As an adult, gun ownership has never been a moral question so much as it has been a fiscal one -- because guns aren't cheap. I almost forgot about how much I liked shooting, because it wasn’t a part of my life. And then I married a gun guy. Now we've got two handguns in the house all the time. I know where they are and how to use them. And, as Ed considers getting involved in competitive pistol shooting, I am considering getting myself a gun for the range – not only because I want to be supportive of his hobbies but because, well, guns are fun.

That sounds frivolous; yes, guns are used in violent crimes to perpetrate some truly awful things. Members of my family have been victims of gun violence. And I’ve had a gun pointed at me in a threatening way (I was a teacher, it was fairly wild). But the way guns were presented to me early in life has stuck with me: guns are powerful tools.

I admit, this one is pretty.

The whole “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” mantra is trite and clichéd as all hell at this point. And yet, I cannot help but find it true. I don’t buy into the other line, about how an armed society is a polite society, but I’m wary of the idea that banning guns will solve gun violence.

Unfortunately, I’m also wary of gun culture itself. There’s a weird tension involved in being a woman who likes guns but who also cannot even deal with the rhetoric so common to gun enthusiasts. I’m apparently a pretty radical lefty (who is surprised whenever someone calls me radical), so going to the gun show all too often feels like entering hostile territory.

When you roll up at the gun show, you can get a discounted membership to the NRA with the price of admission. You’ve also got to declare any weapons or ammunition and prove they are safe -- unloaded, magazines and clips removed, and tied so the weapons cannot be fired. It’s kind of like going through customs to get back into the US but they don’t make you pay for that jewelry you’re bringing back.

That’s just the entry point, though. Once your hand is stamped, you’re part of the crowd. And it is a crowd, complete with all ages of attendees. The last time I went to a gun show, I got stuck in a narrow aisle behind a guy with a stroller.

The gun show is an illustrative microcosm of gun culture as a whole. People are polite to me because I am a woman (gross). There is not the assumption that I don’t know how to shoot -- but there is the assumption that I have certain preferences and shoot a certain way (also gross) because I am a woman. There’s a lot of pink guns marketed specifically to women (gross and yet).

Guns don’t come in a lot of different colors off the rack -- black or silver or a two-tone finish is standard. But there are pink guns -- pink camo and pink laminated wood and pink pink pink.

Whenever I see them, I hate myself a little bit because I do actually think they’re pretty.

There are life-size cardboard stand-ups of Sarah Palin. And pink T-shirts that declare the wearer is a “babe in arms.” There’s always an old-school pin-up illustration of a woman with a gun on those shirts.

This shirt makes me tear my hair out in frustration at the casual violence.

The T-shirt that always really kills me (well, not literally), has two checkboxes. One option is gun owner. The other option is victim. Guess which option is checked off.

That right there is the essential failure of gun culture -- the performative belief that one cannot be a victim if one is armed. That right there is what gives me hives (also not literally). Guns are tools -- and our tools cannot in and of themselves protect us. And the over-confident (dare I say macho?) posturing that seems so part and parcel of gun ownership for so many people reads like a recipe for disaster. Violent disaster.

(There is, of course, the oft-quoted statistic that any gun you own is more likely to be turned against you in a defensive situation. That study, from 1986, doesn’t get examined a whole lot. But when you read the actual paper, well, come to find out the majority of the deaths they are counting are suicides. So that’s not as reliable statistic as people think.)

This is just ridiculous. And, um, pretty.

My interest in and appreciation of guns, though, often sets me at odds with the people with whom I share political ideals. I’m never going to tell anyone they shouldn’t be cautious around firearms, but the out-and-out loathing for guns as some kind of symbol for all of America’s ills doesn’t actually work for me. And so I am left trying to find a place where I can be a responsible gun owner and still talk about the problems of gun violence. It leaves me trying to find a place where I can be a woman with a gun without being some kind of fetishized symbol of conservative feminism (not just a frightening oxymoron -- seriously, it’s a real thing).

That place has to exist -- the number of women gun owners has been on the rise since 2001. There are about 5 million women in the US who own guns. And they are all kinds of women. Including yoga instructors. Not that yoga instructors aren’t hardcore -- they’re just really zen. Women who shoot are the hot new thing in gun trends.

The 380 is the smallest caliber many people will carry for self defense.

There has to be some other option, some other way for women to talk about guns, than the current marketing presents. There has to be some more nuance to the conversation -- and breast cancer awareness ribbons on your grips doesn’t cut it. The currently available positions on gun ownership are too polarized -- either guns are evil or guns will save you when your back is against the wall. We need to get away from the idea that any of us are going to be Rambo. That movie was not a happy movie. We need to stop modeling our gun culture on its messages. We need to talk about racialized and sexualized gun violence, poverty, and paranoid stockpiling. We need to talk -- as gun owners -- about how, yes, guns make a lot of people nervous and how the second amendment does not say we should be giant douchebags about gun ownership.

We’re doing a range day for Ed’s birthday. A bunch of friends -- a bunch of friends who are women, who are into shooting -- are planning to join us. I’ll use Ed’s Glock19 until I decide whether or not that Ruger really is the one for me. Maybe I’ll see if I can find some pink grips for it. Maybe. And then, I’ll see you at the gun range.