Sociologist Jennifer Dawn Carlson begins a very interesting essay on the complexity of women’s involvement in gun culture recounting her first day carrying a concealed handgun in public:
I remember looking at myself in the mirror that first morning, the familiar feminine ritual of checking my looks before heading out for the day disrupted by a new concern. I examined my hip for an unsightly bulge, hoping I had adequately concealed the handgun holstered on my right side.
This scene highlights two significant realities of Gun Culture 2.0: the growing number of women who are arming themselves for self-defense and the special challenges women face when they decide to carry concealed firearms.
Unfortunately, data on who has concealed carry permits is scarce. In her essay, Carlson notes that 20% of the 400,000+ Michigan Concealed Pistol License holders are women. In Florida, as the number of concealed weapon licenses has grown, so too has the percentage of women with them. In February 2014, women held 23% of the 1.237M valid state concealed weapon licenses, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This is up from 15% of the 324K licenses in 2004. In Texas, for calendar year 2014, 26.7% of the 246K concealed handgun licenses issued by the Department of Public Safety were to women. In 2004, 16.8% of 54K licenses issued went to women.
The relationship between women and guns is complex, as portrayed in the documentary film “A Girl & a Gun” and the coffee table book Chicks with Guns and the scholarly study Her Best Shot: Women and Guns in America. Carlson adds complexity to this story by juxtaposing the “physical feminism” of women’s armed self-defense and the “masculine protectionism” enacted by many male gun carriers. (Masculine protectionism is “the idea that men have an exclusive duty to protect women and children.”)
Carlson concludes that, “The visceral, lived experience of guns is contradictory and contested. A woman’s gun can be a tool of embodied empowerment, but it can also be a vehicle of complicity with masculine protectionism. It might even be both, simultaneously. In a complicated, pro-gun country, the gendered meaning of the gun is double-barreled.”
Beyond this cultural negotiation is the basic reality that for women licensed to carry concealed firearms the practical issues are significant. For example, Kathy Jackson (The Cornered Cat) writes on her website, “As many women have discovered, the curvier you are, the more painful it can be to hold an unyielding chunk of metal firmly against your waistline. Faced with this simple biological fact, a lot of women simply give up on the idea of carrying a concealed handgun on the belt.”
Although she makes a case for carrying in a belt holster, in her post “How Do I Hide This Thing?” Jackson also recognizes that there are many holster options for women that allow for carrying a concealed firearm both “on-body” and “off-body.”
Those who are not familiar with concealed carry of firearms may be surprised at the large number of options here. For on-body carry, there are ankle holsters, belly bands, inside and outside the waistband belt holsters, shoulder and thigh rigs, and even concealed carry underwear and bras. For off-body carry there are purses, fanny packs, planners and briefcases, and jackets or other cover garments designed for concealed carry.
Recently, the general population has become more familiar with a couple of these carry options. Sadly, not for good reasons.
In December 2014, 29-year-old research chemist and concealed carry permit holder Veronica Rutledge received a Gun Tote’n Mamas brand handbag from her husband as a Christmas gift. Like the concealed carry purse pictured above, it had a separate, dedicated pocket for a gun with a zippered closure.
A few days after Christmas, Rutledge took four children with her to a Wal-Mart in Hayden, Idaho. One of the children was her 2-year-old son, who was sitting in the shopping cart with her concealed carry handbag. He somehow managed not only to retrieve Rutledge’s Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm semi-automatic handgun from the purse, but also fired a round that struck Rutledge in the head, killing her.
Gun Tote’n Mamas is one of many companies designing these handbags, including (according to Kathy Jackson) Coronado Leather, Galco, The Concealment Shop, and Designer Concealed Carry (Woolstenhulme). It has been featured in a commercial for the .380 ACP “Baby Glock” Model 42.
More recently, 55-year-old Christina Bond shot herself in the eye at her home in St. Joseph, Michigan on New Year’s Day. She died from the injury the following day. Several weeks later the St. Joseph Public Safety Department Director Mark Clapp explained, “She was having trouble adjusting her bra holster, couldn’t get it to fit the way she wanted it to. She was looking down at it and accidentally discharged the weapon.”
Although no brand was named in the St. Joseph incident, a very common example of a bra holster is the Flashbang. The following video gives some idea of how it works and some of the challenges involved in using it safely and effectively: