A growing number of women are buying guns for protection and sport.
*Last name has been changed to protect the subject’s identity.
Sally McCallum lives with her husband Josh in Corvallis, Oregon, where she spends her free time canning fruits and vegetables, maintaining the bee colony in her backyard, and sewing. Few would believe that McCallum’s other hobby involves taking her .22 caliber pistol out to a nearby prairie and blasting holes into fruit and soda cans.
For McCallum, shooting is a social activity.
“Most people who [shoot] say [they do it] for safety, or to make stuff blow up, but really my favorite thing about shooting a gun is it’s something my husband and I really enjoy doing together,” McCallum says.
Sally McCallum wants her husband to buy her a ‘bean bag’ shotgun as a gift. If he doesn’t get it for her, she’s happy to purchase it herself.
McCallum isn’t alone. More and more women are picking up guns and heading to the shooting range. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, between 2001 and 2010 the number of women participating in hunting grew by nearly 37 percent, and women participating in target shooting increased by almost 47 percent.
While some shoot for sport, others are buying guns for protection. According to a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Southwik Associates, 80 percent of women who own guns purchase them for protection.
Cheryl *Donovan is one of these women. She bought a .38 caliber handgun this past winter after an unknown man repeatedly stalked her. She has caught him staring into her house from her porch three times now. Following the first trespassing she took the advice of her ex-husband, Dave, and purchased a firearm.
Donovan was nervous. She had always felt uneasy around guns. Dave, a Vietnam War veteran, first introduced her to them; he kept a rifle under his pillow at night as a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She never thought she would own a firearm, but when she saw the stranger peeking through her window she felt she had no choice. She lived alone and she wanted a way to protect herself.
Donovan didn’t just buy a gun. She knew she needed to know how to properly use it, so she took safety classes and learned about laws related to gun-use. She also bought a laser that attaches to her gun to help her with her aim.
“I learned a lot about bullets,” Donovan says. “If someone is all of the sudden in my house or something I’m probably going to be really freaking scared. My hand will shake or something, so I bought a gun that has a laser on it.”
Donovan still hasn’t entirely wrapped her head around the fact that she is now a gun owner.
“That I might actually shoot someone blows my mind,” she says.
Donovan knows that any intruder has to show intent to harm in order for her to legally take action, but she plans to rely on her instincts if she feels it is necessary to ensure her safety.
“I have met hundreds of women who have been assaulted or abused by men in their lives, and I am not going to let that happen to me,” she says.
Wanting to fight back is one thing, but knowing how to safely do it is another.
On April 28th, Cabela’s held an event at the Empire Gun Club called “Ladies Day At The Range”, where women of all ages could shoot target practice with a variety of guns. Cabela’s employees, along with members of the gun club, were on hand to teach them about the firearms and how to safely use them.
Thirty-six-year-old Jolene Davis was one of the many women who enjoyed the event. Like McCallum, she has been around guns most of her life. Her father taught her how to safely use them at a young age, and, by her estimate, she and her husband own about 10 or 11 handguns, among other firearms. A war veteran who served in the Navy, she hunts game and shoots targets on a regular basis. She also has her guns for self-defense.
“I am a firm believer that if you break into my house it is fair game,” Davis says. “I believe in protecting my house and my family.”
“You can hardly open the newspaper anymore without hearing about a women that has been attacked,” she adds. “More and more people are wanting to protect themselves, and you can’t really fault that.”
Both Davis and her husband are active in the gun community, and she, like so many others at the event, professed the importance of safety.
“My father was always an advocate on teaching, even if we didn’t want to shoot, how to handle one and how to do it properly,” Davis says. “People need to know that those of us who own guns legally aren’t the ones to fear.”
Through the classes she has taken, Donovan has learned what Davis did as a youth. She has the wherewithal to use proper gun safety if she has defend herself. And she wants to think before she acts.
“When I go to bed at night, I don’t have a bullet in it,” Donovan says. “Mine is a semi-automatic, so I would have to put a bullet in the chamber before I shot it. I do that purposefully because I want myself to think before I actually do something.”
Elena Balduzzi, co-chair of the Offender Management Committee within the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force, says the prevalence of sexual assault throughout Oregon may cause women to feel the need for additional protection.
“If [the usage of guns] is for recreational use, that is one thing, but if it is for self-defense, that speaks to perceptions that women are vulnerable to being attacked,” Balduzzi says. “That is a perception that is located in some reality.”
Protection against violent crimes isn’t the only reason women are rushing to gun stores. Many women collect and shoot guns as a hobby. McCallum, an in-home care provider for adults with disabilities, falls into this category.
“I have never been afraid of guns,” she says confidently.
McCallum grew up in Wyoming, a state with an active gun culture. Her father first introduced her to guns when she was around four years old. She learned how to shoot safely, and she has always associated gun-use with entertainment. She is the proud owner of a .22 caliber long-barrel pistol her dad gave her as a Christmas gift six years ago.
“Everybody knows I have one,” McCallum says. “I bring it into a gun shop and people are very impressed that I have it. I think it is still really uncommon to have females say, ‘Yes, this is my weapon, I have it, and I know all about it.’”
McCallum uses her .22 caliber gun for recreational use only. She has never hunted before, and she doesn’t think she could kill a human being even if she was being threatened. When she lived in Wyoming she would go out to a popular open area for target practice, shooting fruit and cans.
“We would wake up one morning and my dad would say, ‘Hey, let’s go target shooting today,’” she says. “We would go out into the prairie. It was an easy drive out into the middle of nowhere and you would spend the afternoon.
“It was always a fun thing. It was always exciting to go out there and have a good time. It has never not been fun.”
McCallum has shot a wide range of guns, and she says each time she goes target shooting is a new experience.
“The sport isn’t the same every time,” she says. “It’s not. You are shooting different targets. Your targets are smaller or larger or further away or you have a different caliber. You can make it as challenging or as easy as you would like.”
Her husband shoots with her, and he enjoys the sport as much as she does. As she was quick to point out, though, she owned a gun before he did.
It’s clear that owning and shooting guns has ceased being a strictly masculine pursuit. Women are picking up guns for the same reasons men do: out of fear and for fun, for need and for want. In McCallum’s case, she may just go buy herself that bean bag shotgun after all.