America’s Gun-Loving Women, Where Feminism Meets Firearms

Ideal for women ... and kids
Ideal for women ... and kids
Xavier Filliez

SCOTTSDALE â€" In this suburb of Phoenix, Carrie Lightfoot chooses her weapon of the day from a compartment stash under her bed. She's spoiled for choice: six semi-automatic pistols and a revolver, not to mention the AK-47s and shotguns.

The scene looks like something from old westerns, but Lightfoot embodies a contemporary America, where more and more women buy and carry firearms when the law allows it, as is the case here in the state of Arizona.

Today, gunsmiths in the United States credit 20% of their sales to women, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The number of women who practice shooting sports went from 1.8 million to 3.3 million over the last 15 years. Although some groups question those figures, the trend seems to hold true on the ground.

Pretty in pink

Four years ago, Lightfoot founded The Well Armed Woman, a website with information and resources specifically for women. It has since grown into a national organization offering firearm training to its 7,500 active members.

"There was no place, no community, no voice for women in this world, which is entirely dominated by men,” Lightfoot says of her decision to start the site. "Our anatomy is different," she adds. "Our needs are different. Our lives are different."

The Well Armed Woman also has an online shop that sells accessories. The company's warehouses are stocked with things like jewelry made of cartridges, and holsters that comfortably fit women's hips or can be clipped to a bra (for $44.95). The bestseller is a pink holster, with 10,000 copies of the item sold.

Pink bra holster â€" Photo: Gerald Rich

"In the past, women were placed under the protection of men," Lightfoot explains. "This is changing. We want to stop perpetuating the idea that a woman is a victim, that she is weak and emotional. A trained woman can perfectly take care of herself."

The Well Armed Woman, which has seven employees, collaborates with designers to develop products. The company made $2 million of sales in 2015.

"My gun never"

A pro-gun woman spends an average of $870 per year on guns or rifles, plus $450 on accessories, according to the National Shooting Sport Foundation. Many women say that what started as a need for protection slowly became a compulsive passion. That trend is confirmed by figures: 42% of the women questioned own at least three firearms, and 6.5% of them own at least 10 firearms.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," says Cheryl Todd at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Phoenix. The weapons retailer â€" who carries a Caltech 42 pistol in her purse â€" says guns are like seat belts. "When there weren't any, there was nothing we could do," she says. "But now that we know they're here, we can only blame ourselves if an accident happens and we didn't wear our seat belt. It's the same with a gun."

Todd, co-owner of the online gun supplier and the host of a radio show dedicated to firearms called GunFreedomRadio, wants to break the cliché that a woman with a gun looks manly. "Most of us came to guns because of our husbands. One day, it will be the opposite way," she tells the audience at the show.

The Crossroads of the West Gun Show, one of the most important of its kind, features fervent supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, some self-claimed "old bastard bikers" and sellers of "Impeach Obama" T-shirts. A sign hanging on one gun seller's stand reads: "My wife yes, my dog maybe, my gun never."

Start "em early

Gun-related accidents caused the death of an average of 62 children aged 14 and younger each year in the U.S. between 2007 and 2011â€" 14 times more than in other developed countries, according to the Center for Disease Control.

But that’s not a concern here.

"We're like mama bears. We're even more determined when it comes to protect our children. Even guys are afraid of that," says one participant at the show.

Marti Stonecipher, who has two children, said it’s important to train children and educate them early. Her son, Chance, 10, and daughter, Dakota, 7, have been trained to shoot since they were 4 years old. Dakota even has her own gun. It’s pink and small.

"I urge you to enroll your children in safety classes organized by the NRA National Rifle Association. That way, they will know what to do if they stumble across a firearm,” says Stonecipher.

At the show, speakers recommend using a shotgun or a Taurus revolver, nicknamed "The Judge," with cartridges that disassemble after impact. "There are fewer risks than with a classic semi-automatic rifle to get a stray bullet in your children's bedroom or your neighbor’s house."

“So much fun”

A few kilometers away, at the Ben Avery Shooting Range, one of the biggest shooting ranges in the U.S., 34-year-old Melodie Coffman, her hair tucked into a Smith&Wesson cap, instructs students.

"My students usually enter the program because they want to take charge of their own safety. Sometimes they feel threatened by their ex-boyfriend or by someone close to them," says Coffman. The instructor says she receives about 40 women of all ages every month.

Coffman runs an program called "Personal Defense, Fitness & Wellness." She developed the course while studying law to become an advocate specialized in gun rights. Today her students are practicing with pistols. Coffman admits she personally prefers assault rifles like AK-47s. "It's so much more fun," she says.

"Thirty years ago, I was a at supermarket when someone pointed a gun at my temple. I think the trauma came back. Now that we live in a remote area, I want to be ready in case someone breaks into my house," says Robyn Hazlewood, who came with her partner, Tori Simpsons. "The state of the world forces us to protect ourselves. Everyone has his own fears. For example, my partner Tori is scared of riding a bicycle."

Sense of security

Vicky Pratl, a student of Coffman, says she carries a firearm on a daily basis. To explain that choice, she refers to the shooting in San Bernardino, California, last December, when 14 people were killed and 22 wounded.

"To stay there and wait like easy targets when a crazy person opens fire on us? No way,” says Pratl. She says she doesn't want "to give the impression that she's using stereotypes," but the other day, in Chandler, in the suburbs of Phoenix, when she saw "this young black man with a hooded sweatshirt who was coming nearby," she said she felt "much safer" with her gun.

The women at the firing range disagree with calls by President Barack Obama for tougher gun control legislation, saying it would only harm well-meaning people but would not prevent criminals from breaking the law.

The number of women who defend the right to carry a weapon rose from 30% in 2008 to 39% in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

To those who see in this phenomenon a sign of social decline, Lightfoot responds that, on the contrary, women are increasingly emancipated. "An armed woman lives her life in a different way," she says. "She is confident. She allows herself to look directly into men's eyes again."

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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