The women refusing to lay down their guns

In the wake of the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre, we speak to the women who re­main wed­ded to their weapons

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‘ To be pro- gun is to be pro-life. It is pro­tect­ing the abil­ity to de­fend your own life,’ wrote 27-year-old Amer­i­can An­to­nia Okafor in a tweet this week.

This was three days af­ter the Las Ve­gas Strip be­came the scene of the US’S dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern his­tory. At least 58 in­no­cent peo­ple were killed and an­other 527 were in­jured when Stephen Pad­dock opened fire on a coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val from the Man­dalay Bay ho­tel. This was the 273rd mass shoot­ing in the US this year*. And here in the States, where the right to bear arms is em­bed­ded deep in our cul­ture and our con­sti­tu­tion, the re­ac­tion of many was not – as Bri­tons might ex­pect – to call for tighter gun laws, but to pro­claim the need to arm up. Th­ese ‘many’ in­cluded women like An­to­nia.

An­to­nia bought her first hand­gun while at uni­ver­sity, alarmed by a man who had been cy­ber-stalk­ing her. Hav­ing spent years cam­paign­ing for the right to carry guns on col­lege cam­puses, she trav­elled to Las Ve­gas on Mon­day to do­nate blood, visit sur­vivors and to rep­re­sent the gun com­mu­nity. ‘ When things like this hap­pen,’ she said in a so­cial me­dia post, it’s vi­tal that ‘we don’t

shy away’. She feels it’s cru­cial to de­lin­eate be­tween the mil­lions of law-abid­ing cit­i­zens who own guns and those who would com­mit atroc­i­ties. ‘It’s im­por­tant that we go out at the fore­front, that we say, “I’m the face of gun own­ers. We’re here to stay, and we’re here to show that we’re not like th­ese peo­ple – we’re not like this man who did this hor­ren­dous act.”’

An­to­nia is among the 12% of US gun own­ers who are fe­male. Th­ese women defy the white, male, older stereo­type and are such a sig­nif­i­cant de­mo­graphic that stores sell hand­bags with gun com­part­ments, sparkly ear­muffs for the gun range and bra hol­sters, while gun ranges hold Ladies’ Nights and host girls-only shoot­ing groups.

Alaskan life coach Eliz­a­beth Pearch, 53, took up shoot­ing to spend time out­doors with her hus­band. ‘I’m all about hav­ing fun when I’m us­ing my firearm,’ she says. Eliz­a­beth knows her pro-gun views are con­tro­ver­sial, even in Amer­ica, where guns are about as com­mon as cars. She found the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre ‘hor­ri­ble’ yet, ‘more laws are not go­ing to stop peo­ple who re­ally want to hurt other peo­ple, whether it’s with a firearm, a ve­hi­cle or a bomb’.

Eliz­a­beth and An­to­nia’s view – that in a vi­o­lent coun­try guns make you more safe – was re­flected on the stock mar­ket as shares in gun man­u­fac­tur­ers rose sharply in the hours af­ter the shoot­ing. Car­rie Light­foot, 56, a mother of four from Ari­zona, says, ‘Amer­i­can gun own­ers sim­ply want to pro­tect them­selves and their fam­i­lies. As women, we know we are the prey of vi­o­lent crime. We all live with that re­al­ity, and a firearm is the only tool that can level this bat­tle­field of vi­o­lence.’

Left: sur­vivors of the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre. Far left: An­to­nia and Eliz­a­beth

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