Marketing guns to women has become big business in the US, but should weapons be sold as if they were fashionable accessories?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 21:30
Channel: 
SBS One

In the United States, there are now almost as many gun stores as there are pharmacies, and the marketing used by both is becoming surprisingly similar.

Women are now a key target for gun sellers, with weapons being sold in fashionable designs and with a range of stylish accessories.

Emotive adverts are being used to even encourage children to have their own guns; pink ones for girls, and blue ones for boys.

Dateline meets some of the women who can't live without their guns. One has pistols concealed in every part of her house in case she should have to confront an intruder.

But while some see it as women empowering themselves, others say it's a worrying trend.

With gun control once again at the top of the political agenda, the 17 million women who now own guns in the US are set to have an increasingly loud voice in the debate.

WATCH - Apologies, but this story, narrated by Allan Hogan, is no longer available for copyright reasons, but you can still read the transcript.

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When Barack Obama finally decided to take on the gun lobby, I wonder if he realised that he'd be up against the tough Sisters of the Second Amendment, one example of an increasing number of American women taking up arms - something the gun industry is only too pleased about - and the result - what we're calling "gun chic" - including colour-coordinated weapons and, lethal fashion accessories. Our story begins in the US Lone Star State of Texas, and is narrated by Allan Hogan.

NARRATOR: Allan Hogan

We're deep in the heart of Texas. The YO Ranch is 200km from the nearest town. These women are housewives, businesswomen, even grandmothers. They're members of DIVA, a club for women with a special interest in the outdoor life.

DENISE: I love it! That's my bag! OK... There's my gun...

Kept in fancy protective covers are their .22-gauge shotguns.

DENISE: I've got my gun... You got your gun?

And in their designer handbags, their pistols.

DENISE: Hi, I'm Denise. It's so nice to meet you. Oh, my gosh. This is so nice!

For 48 hours, these women will leave their husbands, children and jobs to indulge in their passion; guns.

DENISE: This is my Beretta 391. It's improved my shooting a lot. It just makes me feel secure when I'm shooting it for the fact that it's so easy to shoot. I can shoot a hundred rounds with this gun, and I never get any recoil or any bruising.

KELLY: It's a safari trip!

DENISE: Let's go eat. Come on, Kelly. OK... Let's go.

SUSAN: I'm a gun owner. I've got several shotguns, rifles, pistols. On this trip, I brought a 20-gauge and a 28-gauge.

DENISE: I don't know, but I've been told # DIVAs rule and here we go # DIVA rule and here we go # Sound off # Sound off # One, two # One, two # Three-four! A group of women shooting together - we really understand each other and we help each other out a lot, which is very awesome. Sometimes if our husbands try and give us advice on shooting, it doesn't come across very well. But coming from another woman, we really do appreciate it.

KELLY: Ladies, you're in our course... When you see that is when I want you to pull. Pull! Now!

SUSAN: They're coming... Just a function of time...

The DIVAs have come to the YO Ranch for sport. But they know their weapons could be used for a more deadly purpose.

SUSAN: I think that my instincts would take over. If I had something that I could protect myself or my children with, I think that I would. I think we'd go back to our instincts to protect.

WOMAN: Where's the bird, though? We need it...

At the end of the day, the DIVAs meet by the pool... It's time for a fashion show. And the message is - you can be armed to the teeth, but still stay sexy and feminine.

PEARL: It's very sexy to be able to wear your gun on your person. And with the new styles that you can conceal your gun under your clothes, it just makes it even easier to take it wherever you need to go.

PAM: It's soft, almost like suede...

JUDY: Would you mind showing that? It's when you don't think that you have a gun on you... It attaches to your bra. Middle of your bra? The middle of your bra. The concept was that you flash 'em, and then you can get your gun out very quickly. That's where the concept of flesh-bang came from.

Designing fashion accessories for the female gun owner is becoming a profitable business.

WOMAN: I'm wearing my revolver today. I'm eight months pregnant, so please excuse the belly, but it is very concealable when you have other things in the way. Pull down, and there's your gun.

WOMAN 2: It's very hard for a woman to conceal a gun while wearing a dress or a skirt. Which is why I got my thigh holster. This is something I would wear on the beach. This holster is great for winter carry, in my opinion.

Gun lobbyists have discovered that fashion is an effective way to promote their message. On their websites are swimsuits, T-shirts, and even baby clothes for the mother who wants to look good while carrying a gun. Tina Wilson is a former police officer, and an ex-Secret Service agent at the White House. Tina's house is fashionably decorated and welcoming, but not for intruders. In the corner of the room, there's a rifle and in a kitchen drawer, a 22-gauge.

TINA WILSON: Let's say that someone came through the door and I'm in the kitchen or maybe they're coming up from the basement and possibly be over in this area... There would be another gun... I usually always keep a gun in the nightstand, but my husband's out of town, and so I will usually have a gun that is underneath my pillow. I'm really not scared, but I am definitely one that does take precautions.

In the bathroom... There's usually one in my vanity. Or perhaps there might be one on top of the vanity. You know, people ask that question, "Are you paranoid?" No, but then again, ask the person that has been in the bathroom or has been in a part of the house where they've had a home invasion - how did they feel? How vulnerable did they feel because they didn't have anything close to them?

Amanda lives in South Dakota. Today, she's on her way to a gun store in the centre of town. In America, there are almost as many gun stores as there are pharmacies. Amanda now owns three guns, and today, she's game to buy a fourth. She has a good idea of what she wants to buy.

AMANDA: Hello.

SALESMAN: Something I can help you with?

AMANDA: I'm looking for, like, a Colt 45 kind of gun, or a 30-30 with a leaver action?

SALESMAN: This one is a Stoeger. They're made in Italy.

AMANDA: Mm-hmm. That is a nice gun.

SALESMAN: Yeah.

AMANDA: I just think it would shoot a little bit better. I don't think it would be as rough compared to this one. I don't think it have as much kick. So I think this one would probably be the better one for me. OK. I think I'm going to go with this one. This is within my budget. How much is it? It's $559.

SALESMAN: Alright. We'll get you started on the form...

Amanda doesn't need a permit to buy the gun, but she will need a background check. It won't take long. A fax is sent to Washington to see if she has a criminal record or has been treated for serious mental health issues. Verification takes five minutes.

AMANDA: It's a present to myself. I work hard, so I think I deserve it.

SALESMAN: There's your new gun. Thank you!

AMANDA: Thanks.

In just 15 minutes, Amanda has bought a gun. And the salesman can offer something for her children as well.

SALESMAN: Let's have a look at some guns for kids - these small 22 rifles are popular for parents to buy their children - some of them as young as four or five years old. It's obviously scaled down, made small for a child. Young girls shoot out here too, so we do have a pink one. Whether the young lady likes pink or not, this way, her brother won't take it.

Gun stores account for only two-thirds of gun sales in America. The rest are bought in gun shows like this one in Thomasville, Georgia.

SALESWOMAN: How are you this morning?

Here, you can buy anything from a pistol to an assault rifle. No licence or background checks are required.

SALESMAN: Try to keep everybody as safe as I can.

Spread out on the tables are pistols, shotguns, even assault rifles. They can be bought as easily as buying a vacuum cleaner. And women are eager customers.

SALESMAN: The ladies are getting scared now. A lot of ladies are at home by themselves. Their husbands are on the road. If somebody breaks into your house, of you got to protect yourself.

ROBYN THOMAS: What I'm noticing more and more is this really scary marketing tactic which implies that women have some sort of moral obligation to own guns to protect their families. Someone sent me this website which shows some of this marketing, some of these propaganda-type ads about this, and the actual ad says, "Around midnight, she called 911. By 12:06, the fighting was done. No time to wait for help to arrive, so she used her rifle to stay alive." Obviously what they're telling you here is, as a woman, you can't rely on law enforcement to help you if an intruder comes to your house - you have to have a gun available and ready to defend yourself.

Based in San Francisco, Robyn Thomas heads a group of lawyers called the legal community against violence. She's angry about advertising campaigns that urge parents to buy guns for their children.

ROBYN THOMAS: Here's one that says, "Once mature enough to be home alone, she's ready to have a gun of her own." To me, this looks like a pretty young child. The message is clear - parents should be buying a gun for their young child so that they can defend themselves. How sort of ridiculous is it to think that a child is going to get this loaded weapon, is going to use it, be effective with it, and what are you saying about the experience of that child in both instances?

It's estimated that between 12 million and 17 million American women now own a firearm. Gun-store owners have reported a 73% increase in female customers in recent years.

NANCY FIRST: A well-regulated being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

In South Dakota, Nancy First is the organiser of the Sisters of the Second Amendment. They passionately defend the right to bear arms granted by the American Constitution.

NANCY FIRST: Pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands. If you're a new shooter, raise your hand again, please.

Among the women here today - most don't know how to fire a weapon. But there's a team of experts willing to help.

NANCY FIRST: You girls go and pick a ring-safety officer. Pick 'em if they're good-looking or tall or short or whatever. They're all very good at what they do.

Ashley is 19, and she's a cashier in a supermarket. This is the first time she's handled a gun. Her mother has signed her up to the ladies' shoot.

ASHLEY'S MOTHER: I'm here to - I brought my daughter so that she can learn how to shoot a gun, protect herself. We have a right to own and bear arms, and we have a right to protect ourselves at all costs. She's very small, she's tiny, and a gun is the best thing you can have for that.

ASHLEY: That was dead-on!

INSTRUCTOR: Take your time here...

If the polls are any guide, American women are more in favour of tighter gun controls than men. But for these women, the sense of empowerment they enjoy from owning and using their weapons will outweigh any concerns they have about their danger. And the gun-makers are cheering them on.

Narrator
ALLAN HOGAN

A film by
REBECCA LEVIN

Producers
BERNARD DE LA VILLARDIERE

Writers
CAMILLE ROBIAUD
KAREN SARENGA

Camera
FRANK VRIGNON
GERALD BREISTOFF

Editors
LAURENT MERET
WAYNE LOVE

A Ligne de Front Production

19th February 2013