Listen to the Women

by L. Neil Smith
Patronize Me!

Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Reprinted from Issue Number 22, February 15, 1997.

Afellow I know offers what he thinks is instruction in self-defense for women. Among other things, he advises them to buy .22 caliber pistols because they’re cheap to feed (which is true enough), easy to get proficient with (also true), and, in his opinion, perfectly adequate for killing or driving off a rapist, mugger, or burglar. The trouble is, his opinion and advice in this final connection are likely to get his students killed.

Another fellow I know had a teenage accident which taught him everything we need to know about the adequacy of .22 rimfire. His single action revolver fell from a bunk bed and fired a cartridge which was (regrettably) under the hammer, putting a slug into his midsection—the part we all try to hit when we’re practicing self-defense. He didn’t even know he’d been hit until he saw a tiny drop of blood forming in the area of his solar plexus. While his family were running around screaming, he called a doctor, got dressed, and waited for the ambulance.

Now this isn’t just another entry in the Great Stopping Power Debate, an endless, mostly male ritual which never produces useful answers because it isn’t really intended to. (It serves purposes of its own which are perfectly respectable if you follow cultural anthropology.) For the moment, let’s agree that, all other things being equal, big guns are more effective than little guns, and therefore it’s reasonable to assume that an individual should learn to use the biggest weapon that he or she can handle comfortably, safely, and efficaciously.

Which brings us to the meat of the question—or rather to the muscle. You can’t avoid the plain fact of anatomy and physiology that women possess only about half the upper-body strength of men. Yet all of the women I shoot with manifest a pragmatic interest in medium to large-bore centerfire weapons ranging from .38 Special to .45 Automatic. Some outshoot me on a regular basis; most can do it at one time or another. Not many lean toward .44 Magnum, .445 Supermag, or .45 Winchester Magnum, but that’s a reflection of our physical differences—and it’s also another male thing, a matter of ceremonial accouterment.

My 98-pound wife shoots NRA Hunter’s Pistol with the same six-inch Smith & Wesson Model 610 that I do, a great big revolver with full-length lug under a heavy barrel chambered for 10 millimeter automatic. For Falling Plates, she uses a Colt Series 70 Gold Cup .45 identical to mine. The first handgun she ever fired was a four-inch Ruger Security Six with full-powered .357 Magnum loads (at 25 yards she kept every shot on the paper) and her deer rifle is a model 1895 Marlin in .45/70. I can’t shoot the damn thing, it makes my eyes water.

In practical circumstances, the same in which I rely on a three-inch Detonics .45, she prefers a tiny two-inch Smith & Wesson .38 Chief’s Special, not because she’s anyone’s delicate little flower, but because, even minus the lethal hardware, her purse (that of a wife, mother, and working woman) is already heavy enough to qualify as field gear for Infantry Basic Training.

But what’s the point of all this? Put very simply, I’m confident that we’re going to win the Battle of the Second Amendment. I’ve been confident ever since JoAnne Hall’s column started showing up in Guns & Ammo, and that confidence has been strengthened by the publication of Paxton Quigley’s Armed and Female, by the advent of Women & Guns magazine, by Lenda R. Jackson’s Patrick Henryesque speech from the Denver capitol steps, and by Nancy Bittle’s brilliant appearance on Street Stories.

But why should any of that make such a difference?

Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, our species is divided into halves, each seeing the world in a slightly different way, providing humanity as a whole with perspective each would lack without the other.

Survivalwise, that’s worked pretty well over the million or two years we’ve been around. My wife contends that men are strategically oriented and women are tactically oriented: for example, male gunfolk typically tend to focus on history, the Constitution, and the significance of the Second Amendment in maintaining individual liberty, social democracy, and Western civilization; females tend to focus on protecting themselves from the mutants lurking around the edges of that civilization. Both priorities are correct; neither is complete without the other.

And yet there are still gunshops today where women feel unwelcome and whose proprietors, when they condescend to acknowledge women at all, invariably offer the “little lady” a .25 automatic to defend herself with. It seems that, just as there are useless, gutless, mindless females who protest that they could never shoot anybody, even to preserve their own worthless lives or those of their children, and just as there are cretinous cops (the same cops, in my experience, who get trounced by female competitors) who advise women not to arm themselves because some rapist, mugger, or burglar will only take their little gun away and hurt them with it, so there are still male gun people who don’t understand that trying to fight this battle without female help is exactly like closing one eye in combat.

The point I’m making here is not feminist (that movement may be responsible for the remaining communication problems between the genders) but individualistic. Nor is it directed at a majority of male shooters, mostly younger ones, who have gotten the point, but at a minority of fossilized idiots who haven’t.

It’s the women among us who have finally gotten the media to listen to us after decades of bigotry and persecution. It’s the women and their increasing willingness to provide for their own physical safety in a society gone berserk, that are at the heart of the ongoing effort (of its concerns, if not of its politics) to make concealed carry of weapons legal. It’s the women who will provide the final nudge we need to secure our individual rights, to end the insanity of victim disarmament, and to recreate a culture in which some value is placed on civility.

The least we can do is listen to them seriously and not treat them like retarded children when they try to help us by helping themselves. We owe them the courtesy, when they’re learning the craft, of offering them the same advice we’d give any male beginner, then let them make their own minds up about what they really need.

They’re going to do it anyway.