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Firearms Marketing Aimed at ‘Exploiting Women’s Fears’ has not Increased Sales, Research Suggests

Despite women’s gun ownership being marketed as the new frontier in feminism, there has not been a significant uptake in ownership or change in attitudes among the majority of women, researchers suggest.

Professor Peter Squires, author of new book Gender and Firearms, has taken an in-depth look at whether there has been an increase in women taking up guns in the US as reported by the media, and explores how this idea fits within concepts such as post-feminism.

“If pro-gun lobbyists are to be believed, women owning firearms could be considered as a new pioneer for feminism,” Squires explains. “But how does that idea align with the fact that women remain such frequent victims of domestic gun violence?”

Gun ownership among women

In recent decades, gun marketers have launched more marketing campaigns aimed at women, even designing entire new ranges of firearms (including pink guns) intended to appeal to female buyers. This created a major debate within feminism with one side arguing gun ownership could herald a new female empowerment while others suggested feminism and fear were being exploited as a sales tactic.

As Squires explains: “Gun companies appropriated feminism to try to sell more guns. Gun marketers have taken the concept of ‘empowerment’ to both sell neoliberal rationalities to women and to offer up recalibrated (‘empowered’) women as ideal consumer-subjects in return. But this so-called empowerment exaggerates the range and scope of personal control and agency.”

Squires argues that ‘femvertising’ in gun promotion is problematic because it presents wider, entrenched social problems as both normalized and as within the personal remit of women to manage.

He explains: “We get the production of a self-aware, gun-ready motivated woman willing and able to shoulder responsibility for dealing, singlehandedly, with rape culture.”

Further to this, Squires points to a host of empirical evidence showing that women are far more at risk from people they know, adding: “Offering self-arming as a solution to crime completely misconstrues the nature of the threats facing women.

“The patriarchal scripting of gender violence feeds into a profound misunderstanding of violence against women.”  Worse still, in a number of infamous cases when women’s armed self-defence has been tested in court, the courts have refused women the right to ‘stand their ground’ on the same terms as men.

What do the statistics say?

There have been reports of a rise in gun ownership amongst women in various media reports and in academic papers over the past few years.

Squires questions the legitimacy of those reports, suggesting the best available evidence shows that around 25-26% of adults in American personally owns a firearm (Cook & Goss, 2014: 3; Hepburn et al., 2007) with the gender gap between male and female gun owners standing at around 37% of men declaring themselves gun owners but only around 12% of women saying that they personally own a firearm (Cook & Goss, 2014: 4).

Squires cites a number of studies that collectively suggest the number of women who own a gun is between 9 and 12 per cent, whereas men’s gun ownership rates stand somewhere between 37 and 44 per cent.

In the book, the authors review a number of the media articles about women purchasing more firearms, calling into question the methodology and motive.

Squires explains: “In so many of these, they reiterate their gun advocacy messages, both connecting with and influencing people by projecting a culture favorable to wider gun ownership, normalizing and rendering acceptable armed citizen values and concealed carry practice. A common theme with so many such articles is that they frequently rest the case upon the power of anecdote over evidence.”

Squires suggests that ‘virtually all the credible studies’ showed no significant increase in female gun ownership.

Women and guns: the reality

Squire explores how some of the gun marketing connects with discourse around equal opportunities and with a new version of feminism, pulling women into the discourses on self-defence and personal responsibility.

He explains: “It was not just the NRA; but the NRA spoke to the moment and their narrative resonated with many. And then came the influencers, social media, and the promulgation of a new aspirational, armed and prepared lifestyle.”

Despite these messages resonating with many, Squires posits the main reason women are still not buying guns in the same number as men has to do, in part, with the firearm’s continuing association with aggressive male empowerment and the fact that women are still the victims of most domestic gun violence.

The Million-Mom-March and various organizations such as Mothers against Guns organizations evidence some of women’s anti-gun activism, “reflecting the fact that, while seldom the perpetrators of armed violence, women are frequently the victims, or as wives, mothers, daughters and sisters, the bereaved.

“Women are invariably the leading campaigners against gendered violence, sexual violence and domestic abuse and, as we have seen, firearms are frequently employed in these acts of violence and in the home frequently exacerbate and lethalize domestic conflict,” he explains.