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Why gun ownership among US women is climbing

Fifteen percent of America's women own guns – a small but pronounced increase from six years ago, a recent poll found. Personal safety is the motivation, but some argue that a gun at home makes women less safe.

By Correspondent / February 14, 2013

Anne Davis fires her 22-caliber revolver at targets on the Ferry Brook pistol Range so she can practice, last month, in Keene, N.H. She says she learned how to shoot guns with her parents when she was a child and has taken it up again in light of the current political situation. Many gun enthusiasts are worried about more restrictions being placed on gun ownership since the Newtown shooting.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/TCSM

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Owning or carrying a gun remains mostly a guy thing, but American women who pack heat – or at least keep a pistol in the nightstand drawer – are often Exhibit A in the case for broad access to firearms for personal protection.

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The opposite contention, that having a gun in the house actually makes women less safe, is the rebuttal from those who say the country needs to make guns less accessible.

As Congress, President Obama, and the nation debate the need for stricter gun laws, women’s safety is emerging as a heated and emotional issue – and one that is almost impossible to “prove” on one side or the other. Every time gun rights defenders cite an incident of a young mother defending herself and her children by shooting an intruder, gun control advocates point to a woman fatally shot in a case of domestic violence. 

But it would appear that as women themselves do the calculus, a small but growing share is coming down on the side of having a gun. The gun-gravitation is not drastic: 15 percent of women in the US own guns. That, however, is up from 12 percent as recently as 2007, according to a Gallup poll released earlier this month.

Julie Warren, a consultant in Colorado Springs, Colo., keeps a handgun in her house for safety and recreation. After serving in the Air Force, she doesn’t think twice about having it.

“There is peace of mind,” she says, “knowing that you have something you can do to overpower anyone coming through the door.”

Broadly speaking, polls show women are more inclined than men to support new gun control proposals before Congress. Women support stricter gun laws in general – 62 percent compared with 40 percent of men, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Feb. 7. Sixty-eight percent of women support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, versus 44 percent of men, and 65 percent of women favor a limit on high-capacity ammunition magazines, while 46 percent of men do, the poll found. Both women and men overwhelmingly support background checks for all gun buyers, 94 percent and 90 percent, respectively.

But the argument that women need guns for personal safety and home defense resonates with many women – some of whom see government efforts to curtail gun access as a threat to their rights.

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