Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Changes in Firearms Ownership among Women, 1980-1994

Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Changes in Firearms Ownership among Women, 1980-1994

Article excerpt


Since the mid-1980s, pro-gun groups, especially the National Rifle Association and Smith & Wesson, have promoted gun ownership among women. They claim that the purchase and ownership of firearms by women has greatly increased. This claim has been accepted by most journalists and repeated in dozens of stories about the feminization of gunnery. The main themes of these stories are that: (1) the ownership of guns by women has been and is continuing to increase notably; (2) the number of women owning guns is now quite high; (3) the traditional gender gap regarding firearms is closing; (4) the acquisition of handguns is heavily stressed as a reaction to a rise in crime in general and the violent victimization of women in particular; and (5) the women arming themselves tend to be unmarried women living in metropolitan areas.

This Article examines: (1) what pro-gun groups and the mass media report about the ownership of firearms by women; (2) the reliability of the figures used by pro-gun groups and the mass media; and (3) the best available information on how the ownership of firear-ms by women has changed since 1980. The Article concludes that pro-gun groups and the media have exaggerated the rate of gun ownership among women.


Pro-gun groups have touted twin themes: (1) that women should arm themselves for self-protection; and (2) that many women have already armed themselves and many more are planning to do so. The mass media have debated the wisdom of the first theme but, with few exceptions, have accepted the truth of the second. The typical news story describes women who buy handguns and take firearms training courses because they have been the victims of crime or are afraid of becoming victims.(1) Most of these women are unmarried and live in large cities.(2) The typical artide asserts that the level of ownership among women is already high, that their ownership is rapidly increasing, that women account for a large number of trainees, gun sales, and new permit holders.

To help fulfill this supposed surge in demand, the stories also frequently mention that guns especially designed for women are being marketed and advertised in women's magazines and that a wide range of gun accessories for women are available. This standard story has been repeated dozens of times in virtually every women's magazine, the major newsmagazines, most leading newspapers, and in many other prominent news sources.(3)

The NRA and virtually every article in the media assett that gun ownership in general and handgun ownership in particular is rapidly increasing. Time magazine called the change a "gender revolution"; others describe these developments as "a boom," "soaring," and a "surge."(4)

In support of media claims that the number of women owning guns is increasing is a frequently cited Smith & Wesson survey which found that gun ownership among women increased by 53% from 1983 to 1986.(5) Media claims that many more women are planning to buy guns and that this group of potential gun owners has greatly expanded is also supported by the Smith & Wesson/Gallup surveys. In particular, the Smith & Wesson/Gallup surveys found that there were 15.6 million potential female gun purchasers in 1989 and that this figure was 100% higher than in 1983.

These central claims are bolstered by supporting assertions that: (1) more NRA members are women; (2) more women are taking training courses; (3) the success of the magazine Women and Guns indicates greater female interest in guns; (4) retail sales to women are up; and (5) gun permits issued to women have increased.(6)

Pro-gun groups are, as expected, doing all that they can to further this supposed development. For example, Smith & Wesson and other manufacturers have developed guns especially designed for women and have widely advertised these products in women's magazines. …

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