Do Girls Need Guns?

A controversial new book says every woman in America should own a gun.

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If self-defense expert Paxton Quigley had her way, every woman would be toting a gun around like the latest It bag or iThing. Why? Handguns are the best way for women to protect themselves from violence and rape, says Quigley, who has taught more than 7,000 women how to pull the trigger. For her new book, Armed & Female: Taking Control, she talked to dozens of female victims of violent crime, many of whom said a gun could have prevented the attack. We met up with the petite, blonde, 55-year-old gun guru in Manhattan to see if her argument is bulletproof. You decide.

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Q: What convinced you that women need guns?

A: I came from an antigun family — I'd never touched a gun. But 20 years ago, when I was living in L.A., a friend called me at 2 a.m. "Please come over," she said. "Something horrible has happened." When I got there, a police officer opened the door. He told me, "Your friend has been raped." My friend said she'd heard a window breaking and had called 911 and tried to run. But the rapist overpowered her. Later, at the hospital, I asked her, "If you'd had a gun, could you have stopped the attack?" She said yes. I thought about myself living alone and decided: This is not going to happen to me.

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Q: So you went and bought a gun?

A: I made an appointment at a shooting range, then canceled it out of fear. I'd grown up surrounded by the cultural belief that guns are bad; the issue is as heated as abortion. But three weeks later, I went to the range. I hated it — the noise, the recoil of the gun. Back at home, I had a headache and fell into a deep sleep. But when I woke up, I felt excited, strong. I called my friends and they said, "Don't buy a gun — you'll shoot yourself in the foot." So I stopped talking about it, and bought a revolver.

Q: You believe that guns prevent rape. But what if the rapist has a gun, too?

A: Then you better be the first to shoot. You have to know you will shoot. If you don't truly believe you can shoot, then you shouldn't have a gun.

Q: Why not carry a Taser or pepper spray instead?

A: I don't recommend Tasers for women. Unlike a gun, there's a single shot. If you miss, you have to reload. Also, some models are known to have difficulty penetrating thick clothing, such as a leather jacket. As for pepper spray, you have to get very close to the attacker to spray his face. You can't defend yourself from a distance.

Q: A study showed that 70 percent of gun shops posted a rise in female buyers last year. How many women own guns?

A: It's hard to know, since men often buy guns for women. But out of an estimated 200 million guns in the U.S., about 17 million belong to women. Many women live alone; they need protection.

Q: But more than 3,000 children reportedly die from gunfire each year.

A: Many reports include "children" as old as 19, a lot of whom are gang members. There are very few 3-year-olds who are shot. If a toddler picks up a gun, it's unlikely he could pull the trigger.

Q: Rather than arming everyone, why not disarm everyone, and ban guns?

A: Bad guys can get guns. Banning them isn't realistic. With the military out there, millions of guns are around.

Q: Forty states allow people to carry concealed weapons, and a few towns let you carry a gun openly, yes?

A: Yes. I once went to Paulden, Arizona, where you can "open carry." You could go to the market, or gas up, wearing your holster. It felt like the good old Wild West. It was kind of a neat feeling.

Q: There was a jump in gun-buying when President Obama was elected — the so-called Obama bump. Why?

A: Pro-gun folks were scaring a lot of people, claiming Obama would ban guns. People tried to make it political. You can see what both sides try to do. I just think guns can prevent rape — and a lot of women do not ever get over rape.

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