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Armed and Female

There's nothing intrinsically masculine about guns — just look at Fort Hood's Sgt. Kimberly Munley.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

November 7, 2009 - 12:00 am

A recent article in the Telegraph discusses the rise of “ladies-only gun camps.” Why ladies-only? The article doesn’t say, but I know that similar training efforts have been sex-segregated because some women feel a bit intimidated by the inevitable “let me show you how it’s done, little lady” behavior that some guys exhibit — as if there’s something intrinsically masculine about shooting a gun.

Of course, there isn’t. Nor should this be a surprise. The tragedy at Fort Hood was ended by a female police officer. What might have been an even bigger massacre in Colorado Springs two years ago was stopped because an armed woman named Jeanne Assam stopped a mass murderer with a rifle and 1,000 rounds of ammunition in the lobby of a church.

While gun ownership in America has traditionally been associated with militia duty — which men were required to do and from which women were excluded — throughout our history, at least some women have been armed and quite proficient. Unsurprisingly, the closer to the frontier you were, the more common this was. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s account of his travels in 1819 Arkansas describes his surprise at one small settlement where he attempted to engage the lady of the house and her daughters in polite conversation:

In the course of the evening I tried to engage our hostess and her daughters in small-talk, such as passes current in every social corner; but, for the first time, found I should not recommend myself in that way. They could only talk of bears, hunting, and the like. The rude pursuits, and the coarse enjoyments of the hunter state, were all they knew.

William C. Smith’s account of frontier Indiana during the War of 1812 describes how wives hunted:

Some of them could handle the rifle with great skill, and bring down the game in the absence of their husbands, especially when, as was often the case, the deer made their appearance near the cabin. They would have shot an Indian, if need be, without a moment’s hesitation.

Still, it does seem as though women have bought into the “guns are yucky” idea more than men in recent years — and that’s really quite surprising. When it comes to the traumatic personal crimes of violence, rapes outnumber murders about six to one — and the physical strength of men so exceeds that of women that if there is a gender identity to guns, we ought to think of guns as more of a feminine accessory.

Some years ago, my wife and I were living in California. We managed to persuade our police chief to issue concealed weapon permits after a robbery attempt. (If you live in California and have ever applied for such a permit, this should give you some idea of how persuasive we can be.) We went through the class taught at the police academy. While most of our class consisted of civilians, at least one of the students was a police officer in training who ended up in our class because of a motor vehicle accident. By the time we had completed our training, my wife and I had both dramatically improved our marksmanship (along with learning the laws concerning use of deadly force).

A few weeks later, we were visiting some friends in central Nevada. John was a military police officer at the Naval Air Station in Fallon. He was a nice guy, but he had a rather traditional view of women. We went out into the desert, and after doing some 500-meter rifle shooting, we set up targets for handguns. John, not surprisingly, thought rather highly of his marksmanship skills with the Colt Government Model .45 (still the U.S. military standard at the time). He shot a pretty decent group at 10 meters — all seven rounds in a circle about two inches across. My wife picked up the same gun, and when she was done, there was one large ragged hole. You could see John’s entire view of women catching fire and going up in smoke.

I’m not sure that there’s still a need for “ladies-only gun camps.” Increasingly, a generation of young women is growing up in homes that encourage girls to learn to shoot. When my daughter and son both reached about eight years of age, my wife and I took each of them out to the range. We did this to show them the fearsome and destructive power of firearms. We also did so to take away the inevitable mystery associated with a tool that features so prominently in our entertainment media. A few years later, I took my daughter to submachine gun at Front Sight.

Guns aren’t a major part of the lives of either of our children, but they know how to safely handle guns and to shoot — sometimes leading to some very amusing consequences. When my daughter was away at the University of Idaho, the young man who is now her husband proposed going shooting on a date. Let’s just say that he was more than a bit startled at what a crack shot she was!

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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