Weapons of mass possession
As gun ownership among women grows, a
faceoff heats up between those on opposite sides of the firearms issue
By Lorna Collier
Published May 5, 2004 (Chicago Tribune, Womanews section)
Kelly Champlin grew up so opposed to guns that when her new husband, a
Marine, wanted to bring a shotgun into their home, she told him, "Over
my dead body."
But after her husband brought her to a shooting range, Champlin changed
her mind. She found she loved shooting. "I was hooked," she says.
Today, Champlin, 34, is a competitive shooter, a certified instructor
and president of the overwhelmingly male Pine Tree Pistol Club in
Rockford, where she teaches gun safety and skills, including "Ladies
Only" classes, begun three years ago in response to demand by local
women. She and her husband plan to give their 5-year-old son his own
child-size rifle this summer.
Champlin is one of an estimated 11 million to 17 million women in
America who own guns--a number that could be on the rise, as more women
than ever are taking up target shooting and hunting.
The National Rifle Association's target-shooting classes for women
"have been skyrocketing" in popularity, according to Stephanie Henson,
manager of the NRA's women's programs department. The number of women
attending clinics from 2000 to 2003 soared 788 percent, to 4,403 from
496, while the number of clinics offered jumped 1,008 percent to 144 in
2003 from 13 in 2000.
In January 2003, the NRA began publishing a magazine for women, Women's
Outlook, which has been growing in circulation 15 to 22 percent each
month, says spokeswoman Kelly Hobbs. The magazine has 50,000 current
subscribers. The NRA doesn't track the gender of its 4 million members,
This is happening as organizers get ready to hold the second Million
Mom March on Mother's Day in Washington D.C. The rally's purpose is to
promote gun-control legisltion, especially the assault-weapons ban,
which is set to expire in September.
A counterdemonstration in Washington on the same day is being organized
by the Second Amendment Sisters, a 5-year-old group with about 10,000
members that opposes gun control.
Bill Jenkins, 46, of Northfield, is an author and frequent speaker on
gun issues. His 16-year-old son was fatally shot during a fast-food
robbery in 1997. Jenkins will be speaking at the Million Mom March
along with his wife, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, whose pregnant sister and
brother-in-law were fatally shot Winnetka in 1990. The couple met at a
conference for families of murder victims.
Jenkins says that the rising interest in guns among women is the result
of manipulation by the gun industry, which has seen sales lag among men.
"The gun industry has tried to increase market share among women,
because they are desperately underrepresented in that population," he
says. "It has tried to increase fear among women, and has been making
products that appeal to women, making firearms lighter and more
manageable, making designer guns that are literally cute."
"It's propaganda," agrees Rose Woods, 47, executive director of Victims
of Violence, a Chicago-based support service for families and friends
of homicide victims. Woods' 16-year-old son, Nick Jaramillo, was killed
in a restaurant robbery in Chicago in 1996.
"They're using the old-boy mentality that women can't think on their
own, but ... we understand too much," says Woods, an organizer of the
first Million Mom March who will be attending this year's rally. "A gun
is not a security blanket. I wouldn't want it in my home, even locked
up. Kids can find it, kids can play with it. We're not living in Lone
But even the National Sporting Goods Association says more women are
participating in target shooting and hunting. Gun manufacturers since
the mid-1980s have been designing lighter firearms for women, while
gun-toting purses and fanny packs are also on the market. With the
advent of the Internet, women's pro-gun groups--with names like the
Second Amendment Sisters, Armed Females of America, Liberty Belles and
Women Against Gun Control--have gained steam.
Many see women arming themselves as a sign of strength,
self-determination, even of feminism.
In her new book "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" (Pocket Books),
journalist Caitlin Kelly--herself a crime victim--points out that
violence against women remains a pervasive problem, affecting about 1
in 3 American women in their lifetimes.
"Women living alone may say [having a gun] is my best choice; that's
the decision they've made to protect their families," says Kelly, 46,
who does not own a gun. "Power, to me, is not just, `I can be a lawyer
or a doctor or get into MBA school.' In the most profound sense, I want
to feel safe in the morning. To me, that's really a feminist issue."
Carol Oyster, psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin in
LaCrosse, co-wrote a book in 2000 called "Gun Women: Feminism and
Firearms in Contemporary America" (New York University Press). Oyster
is a hunter, NRA member and feminist.
"Feminism is about choice. To me, there's no difference in making an
informed decision about firearms or reproductive rights," says Oyster,
who, along with her 17-year-old daughter, Katherine, teaches hunting
safety. "My daughter talks to her peers about it as a feminist thing to
do. In our hunter-education classes, we are seeing more and more girls
all the time, 12 years old even, girls and moms together."
"I don't think a woman should have to depend on a man to protect her.
He can't be there 24/7," says Linda Ward, 57, a gun-owning retiree in
Evergreen Park. "There are a lot of single women now. If the bad guy
comes at you, you can't just tell him, `Play nice.'"
Peggy Tartaro, executive editor of Women & Guns magazine, says the
last 20 to 25 years have seen "a sea change" in women's attitudes about
guns, brought about by such societal shifts as the rise in
single-parent households and the women's movement.
Disputing both sides
But are women truly safer if they arm themselves, or are they trading a
hypothetical danger for a certain one?
Studies exist to bolster both sides, some claiming guns can stave off
attacks and reduce crime, others alleging guns can be more harmful in
the home than not having them, with disputes over which studies are
What is not in dispute is the number of annual gun-related deaths in
the United States, which in 2001 was 29,573, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
A little more than half the deaths were suicides (16,869); a small
fraction were accidents (802); and homicides (11,348) accounted for the
bulk of the rest, according to the CDC's National Center for Injury
Prevention and Control. (There were also 323 shootings by law
enforcement and 231 that were unclassified.)
Even gun-owning women don't believe merely possessing a firearm
provides fail-safe protection against criminals.
Jillian Galas, 25, a Waukegan computer consultant, owns about 15 guns
and is the Illinois state coordinator for the Second Amendment Sisters,
representing about 50 to 60 women in Illinois. She has been shooting
since age 5 but learned from a self-defense program in Texas that her
guns might not necessarily save her in the event of attack, especially
against a determined assailant.
Champlin warns against relying on a gun without proper training.
To author Kelly, some gun dangers are "specific and individual"--if
there are people in the home with substance abuse or emotional
problems, such as poor impulse control or depression, there should not
be firearms in the home.
But in a nation where women are frequently victims of violent crimes at
the hands of men in their lives, Kelly says, "I feel strongly that a
woman who is prepared to shoot to kill, who is well-trained in the use
of her weapon under stress--it's her choice to make."
Rallies, for and against
On Sunday, the second Million Mom March to protest gun violence will be
held in Washington, D.C., at the front of the U.S. Capitol. The first
march took place in 2000, with an estimated 750,000 women attending.
This year's rally is called the Mother's Day March to Halt the Assault,
and kicks off a campaign to renew and strengthen the assault-weapons
ban, which expires in September, says Jonathan Lackland, Great Lakes
regional director for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence United
With the Million Mom March.
Meanwhile, the Second Amendment Sisters, an Internet-based group with
approximately 10,000 members, will be holding a counterdemonstration at
Washington's Freedom Plaza. During the first Million Mom March, the
Second Amendment Sisters drew about 4,500 people to its counterrally.
More information about the two rallies can be found at: and
Copyright © 2004, Lorna