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May 7, 2007

I Carried a Gun and Loved It

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In my early 20s, I applied to the Dallas Police Department. And though I ended up finishing college instead, I had been ready to go to work every day knowing I might have to kill. Being a woman with a gun gave me power and strength in a throwback environment where females were viewed, defiantly, as the weaker sex. The "good old boy" system in Texas assured that men could climb the workplace ladder with relative ease, while women -- subjected to pet names like "little lady," "honey," and "darlin'"-- were regarded as nothing more than secretaries and glorified coffee servers (even when they were executives or lawyers). As a woman in Dallas, I was bombarded with giant highway billboards advertising strip club after strip club. I often felt that, given my state's narrow view of women, I'd never gain the same credibility bestowed upon a man. And I was already on the fringe, favoring vintage frocks over low-cut tees and Bettie Page bangs over big hair and fake nails.

But while my ability to compare the recoil between a .44 and a .45 gave me something in common with the Bubbas, it also sent the message that I was not afraid to be strong. Packing a gun made me feel like a law-abiding version of Thelma or Louise. The power was exhilarating, something I couldn't find through any other means.

Lots of American women apparently feel the same way. Enrollment in the NRA's "Women on Target" program-which involves shooting instruction, hunting trips, and marksmanship -- rose to more than 6000 in 2006, a big jump from the 500 women who participated in 2000. And gun manufacturers are responding to this fast-growing demographic by making smaller models that better fit in women's hands. Websites that specialize in gun gear are adding lady-targeted accessories, highlighting Kelly-style bags with side-entry holster compartments and faux day planners meant for lead-loading-like the cheekily monikered "Hidden Agenda." In pro-gun circles, the term "security mom" has replaced "soccer mom," evoking a new breed of maternal type with a "locked and loaded" mentality. It's something I can relate to. I was always imagining who might be waiting for me in the parking lot, or whether I could reach my gun with a bag of groceries in my hand. My boyfriend relished the feeling of imminent danger, insisting on wearing tactical batons and mace on his belt loops-even at weddings-and choosing aisle seats at the movies "in case someone busts in and attacks us."

But though guns were a staple of my life, I was put off by almost anything else "Texan." I worked in a store selling stilettos to drag queens. Rather than rodeos, I went to rockabilly shows. You wouldn't catch me dead wearing cowboy boots; I was all about Doc Martens. Barbecue repulsed me, and wide-open spaces made me wonder where the shops were. Politically, I was an outcast, supporting a woman's right to choose, gay marriage, and, yes, background checks for gun purchases.

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