Why do women want to be shooters? As a former New Yorker who has spent a decade in Weston, not far from Newtown, I am in shock. My daughter was a member of a premier soccer league based in Newtown, and I spent many hours in this pastoral, quiet town.
I drive past the Wooster Mountain Shooting Range, where Nancy Lanza reputedly used to shoot, every time I go to Danbury to drop my dogs off at Wags Doggie Day Camp and Boarding. Come to think of it, when I go to the Weston town dump on Godfrey Road I see the discreet sign for the Weston Gun Club. I never gave much thought to shooting ranges and gun clubs. Until now.
This is why I prefer New York City, where I lived for 20 years, to bucolic and boring Connecticut. Never would women in New York take up firearms for fun -- or so I thought.
I was wrong. Dead wrong. I have been away too long.
In a 2011 New York Post story, Stefanie Cohen writes, "Forget cocktails at Pastis. The new girls' night out is packing heat." The Westside Pistol & Rifle Range in Chelsea is the setting for these popular nights out, which are always sold out.
A CBS News story in August cites a Gallup poll in which 23 percent of women reported they are gun owners -- up from 13 percent in 2005. Based on polls and gun sale statistics, an estimated 15 to 20 million American women pack heat.
"Packing heat." Where did this term originate? I wonder. A Google search shed some light on this:
Heat/heater is slang for "gun" and to pack has an informal meaning "to carry, deliver, or have available for action." So "packing heat" means that you are carrying a gun (and are ready to use it).
Another word for gun is "piece." There's a club called Keeping the Piece Women's Shooting Club.
And then there's Lock-n-Load Ladies, An All Female Shooting Club, in California. The website is in shocking pink, with purple script and a silhouette of a shapely woman taking aim with a rifle. The club is sponsored by local gun stores.
A website called Girls Guide to Guns -- http://girlsguidetoguns.com -- is "dedicated to women who dig fashion and fire power."
The copy on the site is nothing short of absurd: "Think of us this way: If one day Vogue and Guns&Ammo Magazine fell madly in love, got married and had babies, we would be their favorite child. Hit us with feedback in the comments section of the posts. Until then, happy shooting!"
The rifle used by the Newtown shooter was a Bushmaster AR-15, a .223-caliber semiautomatic that is three feet long and under six pounds, making it very easy to use. It doesn't have to be recocked after it's fired; you just keep squeezing the trigger. The brand caters to the market in this country for military-style firearms for civilians -- military wannabes.
The company's website promotes its brand as perfect for women: "With a Bushmaster for security and home defense, you can sleep tight knowing that your loved ones are protected. Bushmaster offers everything you need to ensure the safety of you and your family. Our high-quality pistols, carbines, and rifles are extremely reliable, easy to shoot, and include lightweight carbon models that are perfect for women."
What possessed a woman like Nancy Lanza to covet a Bushmaster? Did it make her feel powerful and even sexy? And why did she not take precautions to keep her troubled son away from her guns and ammo? We will never know, but what we do know is that the shameful depiction of military assault weapons as glamorous and fashionable and sexy must stop.
Elisabeth Titus is a Weston writer.