I want to preface this by saying clearly that there are more and more women entering the shooting world, and that this piece is written from the viewpoint of one woman with only her own experience to draw on. However, I’m a trauma therapist and I talk to a LOT of women, so my perspective is probably different than that of the average person.
A lot of women talk to me about guns. There is a lot more interest among women about gun ownership and shooting than many people realize. I think, though, that women, for the most part, come to shooting from a different perspective than men. It’s probably no surprise that we tend to think about things in “gun world” differently than men.
I believe that women can be one of the biggest populations that could shift and influence the acrimony on subject of guns that currently exists. But in order for that to happen, there needs to be an understanding of how women are different when it comes to guns.
Number one: Women generally come to guns as a means of self defense in my experience. Very few women come to shooting out of the desire to be a tacticool badass operator type. As such, women tend to be more interested in smaller, manageable handguns than things like black rifles and packs dripping with MOLLE. Even I, who love running around in a field with a rifle and trying to hit things, don’t really get the fascination with all the tacticool stuff, though I’m slowly learning about what a lot of it is for.
Given the rate of harassment and sexual assault of women in this country, a lot of women don’t feel safe. Women think a lot about safety…a lot more than men do. That’s because women experience more violence, both verbal and physical. A woman often comes to the gun world after having experienced an ex’s harassment, an assault, a home invasion, or a close call of some kind. As such, she’s already in a defensive mindset, and maybe even scared of men. I’ll get back to that later.
Number two: Women are concerned about kids – their kids, and other people’s kids. Unfortunately, the things that make a gun usable in a bad situation – having it on your body, having it in an accessible place in the home – are also the things that make that gun accessible to kids.
When women are faced with something that could hurt their kids, they’ll often opt not to have it at all. The safety of their kids comes first. It’s also hard for a woman with kids at home to find the time and money to do the regular practice needed to become competent with a firearm, so women will often opt out because of this, as well.
Number three: Gun training environments can be intimidating for women, because they’re mostly full of men. As a woman who shoots rifles, I can attest that in the first eight months I was seriously working on my rifle skills, I never saw another woman in a rifle bay — not one single time — though I was shooting two or three times a week. Women just weren’t around in that environment. I live in a very gun-friendly and gun-heavy city and state, and there still isn’t a women’s carbine club.
Most women won’t elect to enter an environment that’s full of men, let alone armed men, by themselves. I have explained this over and over to shooting friends who reply in astonishment: “But that’s almost the safest place she could be, because it’s supervised!”
True, but you actually don’t know that until you’ve been part of the shooting world for a while. When you don’t know anything about guns and everything is new, the initial hurdles can seem very steep. I think it helps if a woman has a friend to go with for a while, or a partner, but not every woman has someone she can access that way.
Number four: I hate to say this, but it’s simply true that some men you encounter in the shooting world aren’t the best ambassadors. As a woman who has often been the only woman in a training course – carbine and SIMS in particular – or the only woman there on her own initiative (i.e. not there because a male partner wanted her there), I can tell you that I’ve had a handful of experiences of dealing with men who initially assumed I couldn’t shoot, and then became upset when I turned out to be competent.
For instance there was the guy in a carbine course who kept fussing at me about making sure I kept my barrel in a safe direction, even though I was already careful to always keep my muzzle downrange. He then proceeded to negligently discharge a .308 round in the staging area. Nice.
Believe it or not, there are men in the shooting world who are only comfortable with a woman shooting if she shoots a smaller caliber and isn’t as skilled as he is. Now, I imagine that this kind of insecurity happens between men, too, but when you’re the only woman in a shooting environment, it’s just one more thing you have to deal with. “You don’t really belong here” is a sentiment that I’ve encountered more than once.
All that said, I find that a lot of women talk to me about firearm ownership and I encourage them to take classes from good trainers and visit a high quality range to check it out. I’m always glad to be a source of information and help for women interested in firearms, and I hope more of us continue to explore that interest.