A group called The Well Armed Woman has 3,000 members, in 107 chapters across 37 US states. Their website’s motto says, “Where The Feminine and Firearms Meet.” TWAW was founded in 2012 by Carrie Lightfoot, a Scottsdale, AZ firearms instructor. For $50 per year, women can join the group to learn about handguns and how to safely practice with them at shooting ranges in their areas.
Lightfoot’s website (www.thewellarmedwoman.com) features chapter listings, events, and many instructional videos to help women select guns, target shoot with safely, and perhaps most importantly, to defend themselves using revolvers or semi-automatic pistols.
Recent Gallup Poll data suggests that the number of US women who own a firearm nearly doubled from 2005 to 2011, rising from 13% of the nation’s gun buyers to 23%, a similar number for women who identify themselves as target shooting enthusiasts (1). And while TWAW members say the group is “non-political” and more about teaching gun safety, responsible gun ownership, target practice, concealed carrying, and defensive use, you can join the National Rifle Association, via a link to the NRA website.
So this leads to the Dead Elephant in the Parlor Question: Are more women carrying concealed firearms, in their purses, bags, backpacks, or in body holsters? Based on the average woman’s not-unreasonable fear of sexual assault by a stranger, being mugged or carjacked on the way to or from work or school, or being assaulted by a current or former boyfriend or husband, the answer has to be a resounding yes.
If so, then the number must be, as criminologists like to call it, a “dark figure,” meaning unknown to any degree of accuracy. The number of Carrying Concealed Weapons (CCW) permits in the US varies by state and the willingness of the elected county Sheriff to issue them. Many states are pro-gun and their counties issue CCW permits by the thousands. Many states, while not necessarily anti-gun (always a tough balance for politicians seeking re-election), dole out the permits in their counties with less vigor and more control.
This even varies geographically within a state. As an example, in my state, California, due north and far east of San Francisco it’s relatively easy to get a CCW permit. From Los Angeles south down to San Diego, it’s quite difficult, even with what seem like legitimate reasons. So the question still remains: How many women carry concealed firearms, legally or not, with or without the required permits? I’m guessing a lot, yet how many people (okay, mostly men) don’t ever consider the idea that the woman standing next to them at work, at a bar, on a college campus, on a bus or subway, at the ATM, or on the street, are packing heat?
Gun-based sexism is easy to rationalize: women don’t usually like guns; women are afraid of guns; women think guns are noisy, dangerous, and unnecessary; women think men who obsess about guns are phallically-challenged idiots, etc. But the shadow issue here is that there are plenty of women who own guns, have practiced to proficiency with them, and carry them (legally or otherwise), for the express purpose of not just punching holes in paper targets, but punching holes in any man unfortunate enough to attack them. While the statistical reality is overwhelming that men engage in more lethal gun violence and are the victims of more lethal gun violence, the leading cause of death for women at work (per the Department of Labor and OSHA, since the 1980s) is still homicide. For women who have been victims of carjackings, street robberies (or while working as a store cashier), who have been sexually assaulted by a date rapist, stranger, or former intimate partner, were battered by a bad man in their lives, or who are simply fearful of an attack by anyone when they live or move through their world alone, their gun is a welcome companion.
A recent study reasserts what has been said before on this subject: that women are three times more likely to be murdered in a home with a firearm in it, then one without it (2). This same statement is made by anti-gun or gun-control groups as to the dangers of guns in the household in general, to kids who find them, or family members in a raging conflict.
But it seems unlikely that most women who carry firearms with or without a CCW permit or have one (or more) in their homes, care much about the consequences of being stopped and searched by a cop or being disarmed or shot by a crook or a horrible ex-boyfriend. They are willing to take those risks, and carry their guns, and use them.
Truth told, most male police officers don’t even like to search real crooks who happen to be women. “Can I get a female officer for my location for a search?” is a common plea over the police airwaves. Rare still is the officer who would ask a woman during a regular traffic stop if she was in possession of a firearm, in her car, truck, or purse. Although this question is asked with regularity by cops who stop men, on foot or in cars, day or night, in all parts of a city, good or bad. Just like most people don’t think women can use lethal violence, few cops would conduct a patdown for weapons on a woman they stopped for other reasons then a fresh crime or pursuit.
(When I teach officer safety and tactics classes, I tell the officers, troopers, and deputies they must get into the habit of asking everyone they stop if they have a gun. Those who do tell me they encounter women in the field who are armed on a startlingly regular basis.)
While the national numbers of women who have killed in the workplace or actually pulled the trigger in a gangster-on-gangster drive-by shooting can be counted on two hands, I’m guessing guns in the hands of scared but determined women have saved them from assaults or murders is a much higher number than we know. Ask the adult women you know outside your family if they own or carry a firearm. Their answers may surprise you.
(1). “Group caters to well-armed women.” Staff written. USA Today, September 30, 2013, 6A.
Dr. Steve Albrecht, PHR, CPP, BCC, is a San Diego-based speaker, author, and trainer. He is board certified in HR, security, and coaching. He focuses on high-risk employee issues, threat assessments, and school and workplace violence prevention. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration (DBA); an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 17 books on business, HR, and police subjects. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht