The following review is by David S., and is reprinted here with permission.

Another kickstarter-funded film, though receiving somewhat less fanfare than Kris Koenig’s “Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire, saw its theatrical release this past Friday. So, finally had a chance to watch this documentary by Cathryne Czubek; it takes an interesting look at female gun ownership in America; and if anything, it perhaps does too good of a job not espousing a particular message; however, the majority of the movie is dedicated to pro-gun anecdotes . . .

If I were to sum up the purpose of this film in a sentence: this is a film to show your girlfriend (or anyone for that matter) who seemingly can’t comprehend why anyone would ever want to own a gun. We can explain as best we can, but there are few things which break the anti-gunner white male gun owner trope better than a diverse set of women talking about why they own guns.

A summary:

The film is divided into 6 sections, though the titles don’t necessarily bely an exact meaning for each.

1) A Girl & A Gun

  • An overview of the perception of guns in society; “the great paradox of the armed woman — she takes us away from all of our preconceptions about what guns mean. So when we see a woman with a gun, we don’t know what to think. Who is she really?”
  • Meet Robin Natanel, a Tai Chi Instructor, shopping for a 20 gauge shotgun at a Bass Pro shop.
  • [Springfield, MA] Meet Deb Ferns, co-founder of Babes With Bullets handgun training camps, USPSA shooter, author.
  • [Las Vegas, NV] A quick look at the “lady gun market” at Shot Show (“I just like being a girl, but I don’t like looking like a man.”)

2) Gun Girls

  • [Tuscon, AZ] Meet Emily Blount, 19, competitive skeet shooter who got involved in shooting to be closer to her dad. (Regarding her competition gun: “It’s my best friend, my first boyfriend — really!”)
  • [San Francisco, CA] Meet Violet Blue, TED columnist/writer/blogger: “I love guns because of the things they represent, its a lot more than shooting a target when I go shooting — it’s me owning a space in my life; it’s owning my freedom, it’s owning my power, its owning my womanhood.”
  • [Holliston, MA] Back to Robin Natanel, now shown teaching her Tai Chi class; we get some background as to how she became a gun owner, after a bodybuilder ex-boyfriend broke into her home while she slept.

    “I never really thought about it, that the police only come after the bad thing happened, until now. I didn’t at first go for a gun, my first choice was a taser or a stun gun, but oh no – in this state, its illegal to own a stun gun or a taser. I can shoot him dead, but I can’t zap him. Just so that I’m clear about that, and the policeman says ‘it doesn’t make sense to me either.’ So the gun license takes a month to get, so you apply you pay you fingerprint you picture, all these things – and then they tell you ‘okay, well I’ll call you in a month if you’re lucky.’ And I said ‘what? What am I going to do until then? This guy is after me now!’ And he just looks at me and says ‘the best I can tell you is to get a bat.’

  • A look at the first female American superstar: Annie Oakley

3) Mama Bear

  • [Plainfield, NJ] Meet Stephanie Alexander, Victims’ Advocate and mother of shooting victim. Was a former drug user, dealer, and (illegal) gun owner. Tells us about her daughter being shot.
  • [New York City, NY] Meet Margit Sawdey, a nurse and recreational shooter; touches a little on why she appreciates/enjoys guns, but doesn’t want to own them in a 2 room apartment with young sons.
  • [Auburn, AL] Meet Peggy Dodd, mother/housewife/gun owner. Represents the other side of that, educating her kids on firearms safety.

    “I don’t feel any differently about it than I do being a woman with a food processor. It’s always been part of my life.” […] “When I was a teenager, there was a little bit of that I can do this, I’m empowered kind of thing. But as an adult, people don’t pick on me anymore, I don’t lose my temper, I don’t wish that I could shoot anybody or hurt someone — you fill a milk jug full of water and you hit it with a .50 caliber bullet it is very dramatic and quite exciting to watch. It just explodes. For me it was a way to get my mind off of what was bothering me.

4) Fear and Loading

  • [New Jersey] Meet Aieshia Johnson, Stephanie Alexander’s Daughter and shooting victim. She’s confined to a wheelchair due to the shooting. Interestingly, though her mother is an anti-gun advocate, she does own and carry (likely illegally, given that it is NJ) a gun.

I know that now I’m in a vulnerable situation. I could be walking down the street, and somebody could push me out of my wheelchair, snatch my pocketbook. […] In this day and age, even if I wasn’t in a wheelchair, I probably would still carry a gun. Last Valentines day, that was my Valentines day present to myself, a .25. […] The only place I probably don’t carry is therapy. If I feel as though my life is threatened, before you even get to me, I’ve got something that will back you the fuck up off me. […] The good thing [about guns] is that they can protect you. The bad thing is that if they get in the wrong hands, look what happens. (Referring to her wheelchair.)

  • A look at the use of fear in marketing firearms to women. “How fearful should you be? I think that’s a question that comes up for all of us all the time — especially women. Are you being paranoid, are you being sensible? How do you make that choice?”
  • Back to Natanel attending an “Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment (A.W.A.R.E.) class. From the teacher: “just having a gun won’t save your life; owning a gun won’t make you safe any more than a owning a piano will make you a musician — you have to have lessons, and you have to practice.” Natanel: “I walk a fine line with all of this, to take life – even though you’re saving your life. It’s still a fine line for me.”
  • [Blanchard, OK] Meet Sarah McKinley, widow and mother. Husband died on Christmas day due to complications from chemotherapy. Recently used her husband’s shotgun to kill an intruder who spent 20 minutes kicking in her doors while she sheltered in the bedroom with her 10 week old son, dialed 911, and waited for police – the intruder successfully broke in a few minutes before police arrived. Really powerful shots of her standing on her property with her handgun in one hand and her baby in the other. “Someday I’m going to have to tell my little boy that I killed a person. But I just hope that he can understand that I did it to protect him.”
  • More on the increase in female gun ownership after WWII. Makes points about the Black Panthers and women’s liberation movement; the rise in female deployment to combat zones (‘7500 in Vietnam, 41,000 Gulf War I, 250,000 who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan – and that’s a game changer. The woman soldier, in combat, represents something different entirely. What does that do to our ideas about women and guns?’

5) War Within

  • [Springfield, VA] Meet Rosemarie Weber, a Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sargeant. Speaks about her service, the allure (and risks) of the power of guns, introduces us to her handgun collection.
  • [St. Gabriel, LA] Meet Karen Copeland, inmate at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. She’s been in prison for 14 years, since she was 20, for murdering her girlfriend with a rifle. She speaks a little about her background and the incident — and says if she had had a knife, she wouldn’t have been able to stab her nearly as easily as she was able to pull the trigger.
  • Segment on Hollywood stereotypes on women and guns. She’s either a victim of something (usually raped), or someone killed her family, or she’s a magical assassin.

6) Recoil

  • [Lawrenceberg, TN] Meet Crissy Springer; Nurse, Mother — who is wrapping a rifle as a christmas present for her 8 year old son. Takes him out to shoot it the following morning. Tells us the story of her brother, who at 14 went out in the woods with some neighborhood boys deer hunting, and was accidentally shot in the neck and killed. Their dad sold all of his guns and stopped hunting, but Crissy didn’t. She explains how it makes her very safety-conscious, and explains how being in the woods, hunting, makes her feel close to her brother.
  • More of Stephanie Alexander, attending a Brady Campaign meeting in DC.
  • Natanel attending a non gun-based self-defense course. “In the end, my inner strength has nothing to do with that gun. But in the beginning, it had everything to do with that gun. I realized that just my presence can deter; I can use my voice, that’s always with me. Its just made me feel, I can’t even think of a word – like full – like, okay I’ll use the word powerful, but in a full way, not in a power way.”

7) Conclusion

A diverse set of opinions I can’t really do justice to summarizing. So instead, I’ll just include the closing quotation from Katharine Gates, author of Deviant Desires:

It’s complicated, it’s deep, and it’s very very wound up in socialization and sexuality, and gender, and power, and all these sorts of things. And we have many many different complicated and ambivalent feelings about them. But every now and then, there’s nothing better than running through the woods half-naked, screaming at the top of my lungs and shooting an assault rifle.

Should you see this movie? Yeah. If you have anti-gun friends, consider taking them. They won’t feel attacked, and neither will you. Hopefully the film can serve as an “in” to be able to make some progress in the dialogue with them. If nothing else, I have a new response to the claim that the NRA (and gun ownership) is all about old white men. Feel free to ask me any questions you have — and you can catch the film yourselves either in theaters or on demand. (Not on Netflix until September, unfortunately.)

The primary criticism of the film is that it doesn’t take the “next step” of connecting these stories into a cohesive thesis for or against female gun ownership, and I believe that is fair in some ways. If you’re looking for the pro-gun version of Bowling for Columbine, this isn’t it – but it isn’t anti-gun at all either — simply a compelling snapshot, without political ends, of female gun ownership.

5 Responses to Movie Review: A Girl & A Gun

  1. The trailer actually looks good. My initial reluctance was that it’d likely be just another female ‘grievance’ moaning-session about how ‘unfair’ life is, but I’ll gladly be wrong. I’ll look for it.

    • I did worry about that myself a bit going into it but the film doesn’t spend any breath on fairness/inequality except in two parts — one, in discussing how fear is especially used in marketing firearms to women (the “nobody ever raped Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Wesson firearms education class clip in the trailer isn’t much longer than that in the film — and two, when discussing Hollywood stereotypes of gun-wielding women.

      Otherwise, the film is almost entirely the personal anecdotes of these women; and while many speak of the relation between firearms and their womenhood, fairness doesn’t really come up.

      As far as I’ve seen, this is part of much liberal criticism of the film — it doesn’t take any of these pieces and try to make it into a larger story about women’s role in society or in gun culture, any further than saying the market is finally recognizing and catering to the demands of female buyers.

      Some may consider this a flaw; however, while being apolitical won’t get either side excited — it is precisely the reason why it is a movie that can appeal to pro-gunners and anti-gunners alike. Fortunately for us, when the story of gun ownership is told without political chicanery – the right to keep and bear arms, and fundamental human right to self-defense, is self-justifying.

  2. “..running half-naked though the woods…shooting an assault rifle.”

    Well….that’s not at all what I was expecting a woman to say about guns.
    Not that I have anything against it, mind you, I just wasn’t expecting it.
    Hmm, it’s either a woman thing, or we men are just an unimaginative lot.

    “Hey sugar-bumps, are you trying to give me a hard-on?” Johnny Depp

  3. Just so that everyone knows.. If you have a certain Internet/Phone/Security/Cable service provider, it is available in your On-Demand menu… a little pricey, but in my opinion totally worth it if the movie is not being screened in a theater near you.

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