Armed and Female

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.