Sunday, April 20, 2008

Her Best Shot 

Laura Browder tries to keep her biases out of her review of guns and public opinion of women in her book Her Best Shot. She is only partially successful. It is only at the end that she makes her view explicit, stating that she does not want to enter the discussion of “the safety, or lack thereof, of guns” and that numbers can be found for both sides (232), but following this with claims of “a great deal of evidence” about how women are more likely to be vicims of guns than protect themselves with them, that children are in grave danger of guns in the home, and that violence in America is positively correlated with gun ownership. She is “appalled” (232) that 85% of the children who see her children’s pediatricians live in homes with guns, in her town in southern Virginia, but doesn’t explain why. She exaggerates the popularity of the NRA with gun extremists (19) while ignoring the role of the NRA in promoting equality of legal firearm ownership for all races.

In most of her book, she does examine the symbolism of the armed American woman, and the armed black woman. She begins with women in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War before continuing through history to popularization of trap shooting among women, the journey West, and 1930’s outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde. She discusses racial tension, the Black Panther women, radical leftist women of the 1960s and 70s, and finally armed women on the far right in the 1980s and 90s. She concludes with a chapter on armed women today and the relationship between feminism, family values, and the use of firearms in self-defense. She makes some fascinating observations on the evolution of the armed mother. This icon began as the Prairie Madonna, evolved to the female Black Panther member, later to the radical leftist, and is now somewhat ambiguous and contradictory. Women and minorities throughout her study claim use of the firearm as a tool of self-defense from wild animals, other races, the state, and even the police. In the process, however, they wrestle with losing or embracing their femininity, with varying success. Calamity Jane, for example, is not seen as feminine, whereas Annie Oakley is.

Browder makes obvious, simple factual errors. Her description of the mythic Prairie Madonna, an image of the western pioneer woman, includes mention of the Madonna of the Trail statue. Her claim that, of “the twelve statues, [only] five featured women carrying rifles” (77) lacks citation and erroneous. There is no organization called “Sisters for the Second Amendment” (219). The magazine “Women’s Outlook” (221-229), published by the NRA, ceased publication in 2006 (the year the book was published – I can believe the book went to press before this). Her claims that regulation of firearms represent a desire for more regulation of public safety and protection of women (230) and her description of armed self-defense as “vigilante libertarian feminism” ignores the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that the police have no legal obligation to protect women who have restraining orders against their murderers (/Town of Castle Rock, Colo. v. Gonzales/, 545 U.S. 748 (2005)). The “machine guns” (ix) she hears are likely mere automatic weapons, as machine guns are so expensive, physically heavy, and so regulated as to be extremely rare among the general public.

In short, this book makes for an interesting look at the iconography of the armed female from the perspective of one female academic who is openly uncomfortable with firearms. I question some of her scholarship, though the errors that I caught were not enough to ruin a fun, popular history of women and firearms.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?