In the wake of the Newtown school shooting tragedy last December, as the debate over gun control raged throughout the country, the National Rifle Association was faced with a major PR dilemma. Wayne LaPierre is hardly one to change hearts and minds; the NRA’s CEO and executive vice president comes across as often abrasive and sometimes delusional.
So to bolster their cause, the NRA and other gun-rights advocates elevated a slightly more sympathetic figurehead: the woman. A subtle shift occurred. Increasingly, the national conversation about guns revolved around females. We met new archetypes — the housewife who needs a rifle to protect her kids against intruders, the student who needs a handgun to protect herself against a potential rapist.
“Guns make women safer,” Gayle Trotter of the politically conservative Independent Women’s Forum said in her January testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee. “For women, the ability to arm ourselves for our protection is even more consequential than for men because guns are the great equalizer in a violent confrontation.”
But it wasn’t only about safety and self-defense. In April, thanks to a partnership with the firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson, the NRA re-launched its online “Women’s Network,” where visitors could watch videos in the “Armed and Fabulous” or “Refuse to be a Victim” categories. The website Girl’s Guide to Guns (“Think of us this way: if one day Vogue and Guns & Ammo magazine fell madly in love, got married and had babies, we would be their favorite child.”) flourished, in part thanks to its lovely and photogenic CEO and founder, Natalie Foster. At gun shows nationwide, firearms and shooting accessories were increasingly targeted toward a female demographic.
Titillated by the concept of girls and guns — pink revolvers are such a novelty! — media outlets trumpeted statistics suggesting that female gun-ownership is increasing. But it’s hard to say if that’s actually true. A February New York Times article titled “The Rising Voice of Gun Ownership is Female” contained this caveat: “It is difficult to pinpoint how many gun owners in the United States are women — the federal government does not break down background checks by demographic, and most manufacturers do not release information on sales. But Peggy Tartaro, the editor of Women and Guns magazine, a nonprofit publication of the Second Amendment Foundation, said she had found estimates varying from 12 million to 17 million.”
A 2011 Gallup poll reported that 23 percent of American women personally own a gun.
In a new documentary available now through iTunes and a dozen more video-on-demand services, we get to meet a cross-section of those female gun-owners. A Girl and A Gun, the first feature-length film from Cathryne Czubek, aims to “give voice to those American women, young and old, who have been affected by firearms or believe in the right to responsibly and legally possess firearms.”
Make no mistake — this film is not meant to be an addition to the NRA’s publicity arsenal, nor does it espouse an anti-gun position. It remains quite ambivalent, simultaneously celebrating its subjects while also stressing that, as a representative of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence puts it, “fear is profitable for the gun industry.” By focusing on the personal stories of a handful of gun owners with radically different backgrounds and experiences, A Girl and A Gun reminds the viewer that perspectives on firearms are as diverse as the people who own and shoot them.