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
‘ 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