The Woman’s Gun Pamphlet: A Primer on Handguns (1975)

TL:DR Because I had then lost this document, and so I do not lose it again, I am posting a PDF of The Woman’s Gun Pamphlet: A Primer on Handguns.

The pamphlet is notable for being published in 1975 by an anonymous “group of women who have spent our lives living in danger of attack from men.”

Thanks to Kathy Jackson (a.k.a., “The Cornered Cat”), a thought leader on women in gun culture, for finding her copy and sending it to me.

For more on the reasons I needed this document recently, please read on. . .

I have been furiously working on a revision of my article on the evolution of American gun culture for an upcoming issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. As noted on “Light Over Heat,” I received some excellent feedback on my original draft from an anonymous peer reviewer. One critique was that I needed to flesh out the seeds of Gun Culture 2.0 that were planted in the 1960s and 70s. So for the past week, I have launched myself down this intellectual rabbit hole like a drunk New Jersey high schooler at (Class) Action Park.

In tracing the roots of Gun Culture 2.0, I want to avoid the temptation to make it a story about the National Rifle Association (NRA). I generally downplay the importance of the NRA (perhaps too much) in my work to counteract every other scholar who overplays the centrality of the NRA.

For example, I was recently re-reading Caroline Light’s book, Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense. (If you replace “history” with “critique,” you get a better idea of where she is coming from.) In any event, at one point Light writes, “Armed citizens such as Arizonan Carrie Lightfoot . . . have helped bolster the NRA’s appeal to women.” Lightfoot founded The Well Armed Woman in 2012 for reasons she explains on her website. To reduce Lightfoot’s work to bolstering the NRA’s appeal to women both slights her efforts and gives too much credit to the NRA. Sure, the NRA brought Lightfoot on board once she was already established, as they did with Colion Noir and Chris Cheng on NRATV. But all were significant figures in the gun culture outside the NRA prior to their formal association.

To bolster my own argument about the roots of Gun Culture 2.0 outside the NRA, I have been looking at women’s self-defense in the 1970s. As Caroline Light herself recognizes, a movement for self-defense empowerment for women was developing out of the Second Wave Feminism of the 1960s. Model Mugging was founded in 1971 and the Women’s Self-Defense Council in 1975. Roe v Wade was decided in 1973. The struggle for women’s bodily autonomy was a thing during that time period, as it is still today.

These are the roots of what sociologist Martha McCaughey would later call “physical feminism” in her book Real Knockouts. And this is the context within which The Woman’s Gun Pamphlet was born in 1975.

As civilian gun training became more popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some adherents to physical feminism continued to incorporate armed self-defense. After all, the legal justification for use of deadly force in self-defense includes not just the possibility of death but also grave bodily injury, which includes rape, as McCaughey points out.

As is often the case, the NRA played cultural catchup after it noticed women’s growing interest in physical self-defense. It capitalized on it with programs in the 1970s like Women in the NRA and the 1990s’ “Refuse To Be a Victim.” This led to a critical response in which anti-gun people argued that women were being “seduced by the NRA’s ads” and were victims of the NRA’s “patriarchal double-dealing” (McCaughey 1997, 140). McCaughey’s response: “We cannot blame or credit NRA advertisements for the entire self-defense movement.”

This is a good reminder in general, even today, as many seek to equate gun culture with — or, more accurately, to reduce it to — the NRA.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to include a screencap of one of the pages of The Woman’s Gun Pamphlet which strongly resonates today as we see movements for and against women’s bodily autonomy today.

11 thoughts on “The Woman’s Gun Pamphlet: A Primer on Handguns (1975)

  1. On your reference “women being seduced” by gun ads – of the NRA and others – in the 199s…

    I can’t find a reference now – I only spent about 10 minutes with a search engine.

    Sometime in the 1990s a senate or house hearing on gun ads included a speaker, or it may have been a senator, who basically said that women are incapable of understanding gun ads that are targeted at us. When he got called out, he realized he had just call all women infantile idiots and shut up. At least for a little while.

    I’ll keep looking, I remember being A) pissed off, and B) amazed he would say such a thing out loud.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Of course the 1990s were not the only time that attitude prevailed…

      There are several gun stores I won’t do business with because they were insulting. (You’re a woman, you can’t understand anything about guns.) And not just from the 1990s. The last gun store to insult me did so about 4 years ago. I won’t give my money to idiots.

      Like

    • I’ve heard the same story about women walking into a bicycle shop and being treated in a demeaning manner, i.e. that unless a guy “mainsplained” both the technological and social aspects of bicycles to women, it would be over their heads. Notwithstanding that some of the nation’s finest bicycle racers, both on and off road, are and have been women, as have been bicycle designers, etc.

      Seems guns and bikes (and motorcycles) bring out the worst sexism.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Light Over Heat #31: The Diversity and (Possible) Future of American Gun Culture – Gun Culture 2.0

  3. Pingback: Light Over Heat #31: The Diversity and (Possible) Future of American Gun Culture | Gun Curious

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