Women in Gun Advertising, The American Rifleman, 1937

Guns and masculinity go together like cornflakes and milk. I see this constantly. I see it among scholars like James William Gibson (whose psycho-sexual analysis of guns and ammo I have recently highlighted), Jennifer Dawn Carlson and Angela Stroud (both of whom highlight the role of masculinity in shaping the understandings of those who carry guns), and Scott Melzer and Joan Burbick (both of whom highlights gun culture’s emphasis on “frontier masculinity”). I see it within gun culture in the form of photos and videos that circulate of bikini clad women holding and/or firing guns (so as not to advertise these further, no links provided).

At the same time, there are efforts afoot to bring more women into shooting, like A Girl and a Gun Women’s Shooting League and The Well Armed Woman and The Cornered Cat and NRA Women. There is no question that these efforts are a very important part of Gun Culture 2.0.

But it’s also all too easy to get caught up in the present and forget that women were also a part of Gun Culture 1.0, as documented in Laura Browder’s Her Best Shot: Women and Guns in America.

I was reminded of this as I embarked recently on an analysis of changes in gun advertising over time (as a window onto changes in gun culture over time). I received some back issues of The American Rifleman from the 1930s through interlibrary loan from North Carolina State University library. I picked up Volume 85 from 1937, flipped to the first issue, and opened it to reveal the following ad on the inside of the front cover.

From The American Rifleman, January 1937
From The American Rifleman, January 1937

I confess that I was surprised to find this ad for Peters (a division of Remington Arms) .38 special “target” wad-cutter ammo, used by Mrs. Esther Sichler to win the Championship Cup at the Southern California Revolver League Matches. The ammo was being advertised specifically to/for women, as is evident in the text: “Superior accuracy and smooth moderate recoil make Peters .38 Special ‘Target’ Wad-Cutter cartridges ideal for the fair sex.”

Some things do change over time. I doubt I will find more contemporary ads using the term “fair sex.” But this was a good reminder to me that there are some constants in history, even as things change.



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