It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry at this one: Women are the latest target market for certain types of weapons sales. Why? Men apparently aren't buying, at least not as enthusiastically as before. And weapons manufacturers aren't privy to the geometric growth in sales they need to stay alive.
This development is not exactly new. The website for PBS' "Frontline" contains an article about the National Rifle Association's first attempt to persuade women to buy handguns for self-protection in the early 1990s, following the handgun sales slump of the 1980s. It worked, to a certain extent at least. Now weapons manufacturers have shifted tactics to talking women into buying rifles for hunting instead of purse-sized weapons to fend off physical attacks. I've noticed a slew of articles recently in small-town newspapers about local women hunters.
Here's part of a recent one in the Zanesville (Ohio) Times Recorder bragging about a local woman who can out-man male hunters: "Fell is a self-sufficient hunter who field dresses and drags her own deer. Other animals she's taken include bears, elk and turkeys not only locally but in Western states such as Montana and Colorado. She picked up the interest from her father and her husband, and has since passed it along to her children and grandchildren."
What an accomplishment! Teaching her own progeny to slaughter animals!
What's seriously troubling about this new breed of armed women is they seem to take more pleasure than their men in destroying life, even as they are the givers of life. They fail to see that connection. It's one thing if a woman feels scared living alone and wants a handgun for self-protection. She's ignoring the data that show she is more likely to be harmed by that weapon than she is to be saved by it. Nonetheless, it makes her feel in greater control of her dangerous environment, so that is understandable.
Wanton destruction of wildlife is not. Self-protection differs greatly in terms of emotional fulfillment from pointing a scoped, high-powered weapon at a helpless creature and taking pleasure in its death. The latter action is so devoid of empathy as to emulate an armed man firing into a crowd of unsuspecting, unarmed people nearby.
Perhaps there is some solace to be found as gender stereotypes around hunting and weaponry become suffused. While some women are now inured to using rifles to kill living beings, some men are opening up about their emotional relationships with guns.
University of Southern California sociologist Michael Messner was interviewed on HuffingtonPost.com about his memoir, "King of the Wild Suburb: a memoir of fathers, sons and guns." He told interviewer Jackson Katz that gun owners, the vast majority of whom are men, frequently have complicated emotional ties to their guns: "I illustrate this in my book by reproducing a loving letter that my grandfather hand-wrote to my dad on Christmas Day in 1934, on the occasion of giving then-14-year-old Dad his first rifle. This gift -- and the lessons about safety embedded in the letter -- were a deep expression of love. For the rest of his life, my dad kept that letter in his top drawer, with his socks."
So while hunting is gaining a bit of an audience among women who heretofore would not have been drawn to it, most hunters have always been and will continue to be men. As urbanization takes over this once-rural nation, hunting is literally and figuratively becoming a dying "sport." I put the term in quotes because there's actually no sport involved in training a scoped weapon on an unsuspecting animal and killing it.
Nonetheless, as suburbs eat up what little remains of natural habitat and after men have moved from farms to cities to find work, fewer and fewer of them are interested in hunting. That's why gun manufacturers and the NRA will target any possible market to keep the industry alive.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.