Women&Guns cover photo of Robin Natanel


October 7, 2005  email to AWARE said: 

“I am a graduate student at the School of Visual Arts in New York and am working on a video documentary on women and shooting/guns for my thesis. Self-defense with firearms is a very important topic for women and a topic that I would like to explore more in my film.  Could you give me some more information about your program?  Do most of the women come because they have been attacked or have been in fearful circumstances and wanted to protect themselves with a firearm?  Do you know any woman who has actually used a firearm in self-defense?”  Cathryne Czubek

My first thought: a New York film student was more likely to want to follow the Michael Moore school of film about guns (remember Bowling for Columbine?) than anything reasonable.  However, some students are still openminded, and I always try to provide them with accurate information.  

I sent email back, introducing myself, and AWARE, and saying,The women who take our classes are a diverse lot.  Some are simply curious about guns, some live in households with gun owners and want to get over their fear of guns, some want to learn to protect themselves and their families, some have been victims of crime, some have had close calls or know someone who has been a victim.  There is no single group or motivation that predominates.  Perhaps I can suggest some other resources.”

I was thinking east coast, low budget, probably no money for travel, so I suggested Peggy Tartaro, told her about Women&Guns, the NRA’s website for finding instructors, the firearm instruction resource list on martialartsresource.com , the Pink Pistols, the Second Amendment Sisters, the Liberty Belles, the section of the AWARE website where my “Lessons in Reality” articles from Women&Guns have been reproduced, and gave her brief synopses of a couple of women who have used guns to defend themselves, emphasizing that, like most situations, their guns were never fired.  I didn’t want her to think it was going to be easy to women who killed in self-defense, if that was the kind of story she was after.  

I thought that might be the last I would hear of Cathryne Czubek.  

She quickly wrote back, thanking me for the information and saying that she was , “very interested in many of the different avenues you suggested for my video thesis.”  She asked to be put in touch with any of the women from my Lessons in Reality series who might be interested in speaking with her, which showed me that she was interested in real stories, not just bloody ones.  I had already started to like Cathryne, and now I was starting to trust her.

 red high heels and bullets


We started email chatting about our backgrounds and how we each got interested in what we were doing, and what we liked about it.  

“I became involved with women and gun as a thesis topic even prior to beginning my masters degree.  I was studying at a photography workshop in Maine five years ago, when I had the opportunity to photograph and work with a group of young girls in a youth shooting club.  I do not have a background in which guns play a major role, so my relationship with these young women was very special in that it allowed me to access the subject of guns in a different, softer, more feminine way.   That experience spurred a long study of women (and men and children) who shoot throughout the country.  This has been a tremendous journey and one that has taught me a great deal! ...

The project itself has also been great to develop in school because I am dealing with a lot of anti-gun people so when they're thoughts or views are swayed even just a bit, I know that I am moving forward! (and it's extra rewarding). “

Way to go, Cathryne!  Any interest that lasts for 5 years is a true one.  (Little did I know then how long it would take for her little film project to see completion.)

I said, “Your own story is fascinating!  I'm glad that you were receptive to  seeing the good aspects of guns and gun users.  So many people would  have said, ‘How awful that someone is teaching those girls to shoot,’  and never got beyond that attitude.  You are in a position to start changing a lot of minds.  It does take  time.  ... You will have a lot of people who respect you and your work, so you can be very influential with them.” 

She replied, “I feel so similarly to  you regarding the presence of political rhetoric in conversation on controversial issues.  The very second that political propaganda of any sort makes its way into conversation (at least many of the people I know) could care less about what other's think because they don't believe they are thinking, rather just reiterating popular propaganda.  I intend to let the stories of the women speak for themselves in my film.” 

One of the people I immediately thought Cathryne should talk to was Evelyn Logan, a New Hampshire woman who describes herself as "a rape victim, and a rape attempt survivor; the difference was that the second time,  I had a gun."(Evelyn’s full story is on the AWARE website).  Evelyn has become a teacher and a strong advocate for armed women, so I asked her if she would be willing to talk to Cathryne.  She said yes, and as I do with all such media inquiries, after making sure that the interviewee is willing, I got out of the middle and let them talk.  

By October 2007, Cathryne was saying, “I have graduated, but I am still working on my project and plan to finish this year (hopefully).  It will be a longer video documentary than I originally thought, due to the really amazing stories and the diversity of the women I have met.   I also wanted to see about the possibility of coming to the AWARE class on responsible use of lethal force and possibly videotaping.”  That class, alas, did not take place.

By that time Cathryne was able to describe herself as follows, “I am an independent documentary filmmaker and have been working for several years on a video documentary on women and guns which explores why women get involved with guns for sport, hunting, and self-defense.  I would like to interview a woman who has used a gun in self-defense and who is willing to tell her story on camera.

Thus far I have interviewed a wide variety of women, including Smith & Wesson shooter and world champion shooter Julie Goloski, former NRA president Sandy Froman, Babes With Bullets and Ladies Camp organizer Deb Ferns and Kay Miculek, Olympian Emily Blount, Second Amendment Sister Marilyn Lapidus, amongst many other mothers, single women, professionals, grandmothers, and teenagers.  The film will focus on why and how women become involved with firearms.

Cathryne attended a multi-day course at Mas Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute.  That excellent program goes way beyond the NRA Basic Pistol class that many people, even a few media folk, take.  It made me realize, again, that this was going to be one of the best-informed documentaries about firearms, ever.

Aug 2008: My project is coming along, but alas finances and my job have slowed me down significantly.  I hope hope to finish within the year, but you never know with documentaries. ... I still think that what I'm missing from the project is a woman who is motivated by fear to learn self-defense, or take a handgun class, or purchase a gun, or just become more knowledgeable.   That fear could be from a partner, a work situation, a social situation, or any other situation.” 

Thinking Evelyn was that woman, Cathryne filmed several interviews with Evelyn to get her story, but felt that she really needed to get some film of Evelyn teaching a class of women to shoot.  Evelyn’s local gun club was not willing to allow filming there, so Cathryne asked if I could help find a place.  My club has no such restrictions, so we arranged for a class of people willing to be filmed, and invited Evelyn down from NH to teach it, and Cathryne up from NYC to film it.  

Aug 21, 2010: Cathryne brought 5 women interested in taking the class, and I had 3, among whom was Robin Natanel.  At the last minute, and I mean the very last minute, Evelyn had a personal emergency, and could not be there to teach the class.  Barbara Clorite and Jim Roberts, AWARE’s usual instructors, stepped in.  I was there to help with the range portion of the class.

Cathryne wanted to film not just the class, but also some individual interviews with the women, why they were taking this class, and so on.  I’m sure Cathryne was bitterly disappointed at missing the opportunity to film Evelyn as a teacher, but she was more than delighted to make the acquaintance of Robin Nanatel.  

Robin Natanel with target she shot

Robin is a divorced woman and a Tai Chi Master who loves nothing more than teaching Tai Chi.  My husband and I were students in one of her classes.  Though based on Chinese martial arts; its modern form is slow and meditative, wonderful for general health, balance, and mindfulness. We enjoyed the class, and especially Robin’s patience and enthusiasm.   Then, one day she took my husband aside and confided to him that an ex-boyfriend was doing things that badly frightened her. She felt she might be in real danger.  What could she do?  My husband said, “Talk to Lyn.” 

Robin did, and I agreed that what her ex was doing went way beyond normal breakup behavior, and included actions that could be interpreted as a threat. Robin was quite serious about protecting herself.  I said, “I can help you with that,” and Robin became an AWARE student.  Basic Pistol (the class that Massachusetts requires), a concealed carry license, and a gun purchase quickly followed.  Robin also took the Responsible Use of Lethal Force course that AWARE offers, and I started going to the range with her to hone her defensive skills. Never shy about her situation, Robin was becoming a vocal advocate for armed women, and she jumped at the chance to come to the class Cathryne was taping.

Cathryne said after her filming here, I am really happy with the footage - and am also extremely pleased I met Robin.  I've always wanted to try to find someone going through a tough situation/transition - and it's very hard to find because it's very touchy subject. She's fantastic and we've had a lot of fun filming together. “

She continues, We recently won a prestigious grant (for finishing services - such as color, music composition, sound design, etc.) and the press release will go out in conjunction with our fundraising Kickstarter campaign so this is a great time ... as we will be releasing to a very wide audience.  I really hope to be able to keep editing and working away on this to really try to finish in 2011! “

AWARE was happy to donate gift certificates to our Basic Pistol class as gifts to Kickstarter doners.   We also publicized the Kickstarter campaign to many folks in the gun industry, among our training colleagues, and I even asked Peggy Tartaro, Women&Guns editor, to help.

Peggy said,  “We helped her get credentials for SHOT and hosted her at a couple of Gun Rights Policy Conferences, where I know she did a bunch of interviews (including with me, but I'm hoping I was boring enough to make the cutting room floor). I'll pass it along to some folks and see if we can't generate some donations for her.”  The Kickstarter campaign was successful, and exceeded its fundraising goal to help complete the film.

Peggy was NOT boring enough to make the cutting room floor!  She is in the film explaining the “Sabrina position.”

Camo bras and panties at the SHOT show

Cathryne made several trips to Massachusetts, to film Robin taking a non-gun self-defense class for women, to interview her some more, and to film a session of me coaching Robin on the range..

Afterwards, Cathryne, Thank you so much for your time and effort and all your help and ideas on last week's shoot! I am just now getting through the footage and it really all looks so great.  The lovely bond between you and Robin and how raw and real her whole experience has been with this I think has made for an unbelievably relatable and intimate portrait.”

‘I've been editing 16hr days for awhile now and it's really been worth it as the doc begins to take shape. Very exciting to see a decade of work come to life!”

A good friend of mine does a lot of video editing, mostly music videos for her own amusement, and I know the  hours and hours and hours it takes for her to get a 3-5 minute  result, so I do have at least an inkling of the work Cathryne was putting  in to edit her film.  Nothing great is ever achieved without great  effort, and her effort certainly deserved a great result.

Samantha fires a rifle at a range's Family Fun Day

Novemver 2011, Another progress report:  “Things are still coming along full steam ahead. Film editing is definitely coming along and we're working now with a solid structure that I'm really happy with. Now it's all the other pieces of the puzzle coming along - music, archival rights, color, etc. Very exciting to see the film really bloom!”

Finally, it wasn't just Cathryne alone. She was joined by another editor, Amanda Hughes, a composer, Andrew Hollander, and a singer-songwriter, Julia Halitgan, who wrote and sang for the score. She also got support from groups as varied as the NY State Council for the Arts, the Toronto Documentary Forum, and Women Make Movies.  

Oct 2012:  It's very exciting to see 8 years of hard work come together and be able to show it to an audience.  I am very proud that the film is a sensitive, women's issues film that explores a provocative and iconic symbol and subject. Even our rough cut screenings (for small groups when we were working hard to edit down the film to 75 minutes) provoked fascinating, vigorous discussions for hours after.

I can't thank you enough for your time and generosity in participating in the film. I interviewed many different women (and men) for the film and every story added such an interesting layer to this very complex subject. It was very difficult to edit over 500 hours of footage down to 75 minutes!

I would love to invite you to our screenings on Nov 11 and 14 in New York”

Official film poster for A Girl and a Gun

Film Released Nov 11, 2012:

I could not go to the documentary film festival that accepted A Girl And A Gun for its premiere, but Robin was able to attend.  Afterward, she said, “WOW!! It was a great experience! and a great movie ;)  You were wonderful in it! The theater was sold out! Lot's of chatter about guns from both men and women afterward. The day after I got back we did a live interview via webcam with the Huffington Post. Cathryne made a wonderful documentary! I hope it takes off for her!”

Cathryne mentioned 8 years that the documentary was in development, but it was actually 12 years since, as a student herself, she was so positively impressed with girls shooting in Maine. For all that time, she has been true to her vision, an apolitical look at an important subject, told through the stories of women who speak for themselves.

So, how has her documentary been received? As of this writing, it has been accepted in 5 film festivals, and picked up by a distributor.  The reviews are universally extraordinarily positive.  

Lisa Rainwater, writing a lengthy (3000 word) essay/review in GALO (Global Art Laid Out) Magazine, has only one negative comment, that at 75 minutes, the film is too short.  Here are a few excerpts: 

The documentary follows the lives of 10 women: a Massachusetts tai chi instructor, a 19-year-old Arizona champion skeet shooter, a San Francisco TED columnist, a New Jersey activist mother, a New York City nurse, an Alabama mother who sees “guns as no different than a food processor,” an Oklahoma survivor of a home invasion, an army war vet, an incarcerated woman in the Louisiana Correctional Facility, and a Tennessee woman with a long family history of game hunting. If you’re beginning to think this film is more about women than about guns, you’re on the right track.”

Be forewarned. If you seek a gun film to support your political views or negate them, this isn’t the movie for you. Czubek respects her subject and her viewer far too much to spoon-feed anyone her personal beliefs on the merits or demerits of gun ownership in America. What makes A Girl & A Gun stand out from other “gun movies” — be it Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine (2002), an unabashed attempt to shame the National Rifle Association into hanging up its fatigues, or Arek Avelino’s American Gun (2005), a fictionalized portrait of families impacted by guns — is the absence of politics, sentimentality and anger. It is a film that, remarkably, has no political agenda.

And oh, how refreshing!

A Girl & A Gun is a slow and deliberate, quick and witty, insightful and confounding work of art that is sure to send some women to the shooting range and others to cringe in their seats.“

Rainwater concludes, “Timely and prescient, Czubek’s documentary may just be what the doctor ordered: a new approach to discussing gun culture in America — a stereoscopic examination of who owns guns, how they live with them and why they have them.”

Another reviewer, Steve Kopian, had this to say on unseenfilms.blogspot.com.

A Girl and A Gun is a look at women and guns in American society. Using the stories of several women, some who have guns for protection, others who like to shoot and adding in commentary by academics the film paints a broad, yet very complex portrait of guns and women. Its a film that strives to present all sides of the issue, something is best seen in the victims advocate working to end gun violence who's daughter was crippled by a drive by shooting and who now carries a gun herself. There are no easy answers, nor easy questions.

I really like this film a great deal. It has got my mind going six ways to Sunday. I had paused writing this film up to write an email to Cathryne Czubek to not only tell her how much I liked the film but to also ask her some quick questions. I never sent the email because I'm finding that while the film has no easy answers, its raising many not so easy questions. I'm serious, I was taking notes for the review and scribbling questions for a possible interview, when I simply stopped writing and just started watching. I had no way to simply express what wanted to know or say, I just had to take it all in and hope for a second viewing down the road. If you want to know why I'm not going into details on the film it's because I simply have to process it...and because the little stories that make up the film are hard to explain simply.

If you want a film that will do more than wash over you see this film. If you want to be forced to think about things see this film. If you just want to see a damn good film see A Girl And A Gun

Hubert Vigilla, writing for the website flixist.com, was another man to review this film.  He said, “What do guns mean to individual women and what do they say about society at large? It's a massive topic to tackle in under 80 minutes, but by looking at the issue from different angles, Czubek covers a lot of interesting ground in a short amount of time.”

“There's an interesting implicit idea in how some of these women relate to guns, and it's linked to the larger social ideas in the film. A lot of women get guns in order to defend themselves against men. It's a symbol of masculine power wielded by a woman in order to suppress acts of male violence and male dominance. There's a complication of guns as a gender signifier.”

His conclusion: This is definitely one of the better films about guns I've seen in a while. Czubek's even hand and wide scope has led to a fascinating conversation starter rather than something to argue over.”

Maggie Carr, reviewing in Bust Magazine, gave the film the highest possible rating (OMG Amazing), called it “fascinating” and enthused, “Documentaries on hot-button political issues can often be plodding and preachy, but A Girl and a Gun is a fast-paced, nuanced, and anything-but-soapbox-y exploration of why women lock and load. ...Czubek captures some shockingly incongruous images... Their reasons for owning and using guns are complicated, and often, female gun owners are ambivalent about their decision to get (and stay) armed.”

So, how can you see Cathryne’s wonderful film? 

Check the film’s website, www.agirlandagunfilm.com, for screenings and any breaking news.  Ask any local theaters that shows documentary films if they intend to show this one.  Check your Video on Demand.  Buy the consumer DVD, which will be ready October 8, 2013.

If I were all thumbs, I would give 10 thumbs-up for A Girl And A Gun, and its producer!

Bravo, Cathryne ... Encore!

Cathryne Czubek  headshot photo









 This article appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 2013, Lyn Bates.

Women&Guns cover photograph, credit Lanny Photographic.

Other photographs, credit Cathryne Czubek.


In the last issue, we listed some of the ideas, habits, and little choices we make all thorough our lives that put us in unnecessary danger, and may even facilitate our demise at the hands of some determined criminal.  Here are some more.  It is OK if you keep score while you read.  How many apply to you?


“What I saw and heard and did was exactly what really happened.”  Under stress (and a life-threatening confrontation will be one of the most stressful events of your life) nobody has a perfect perception of what is going on.  By focusing your attention on the threat, you won’t see things that you would normally see, such as a police badge or bystanders.  You won’t hear things that you would normally hear, such as people shouting, or gunshots.  The threat will almost certainly seem larger and closer than it really is.  Counting your own shots may be impossible. Events may appear to be unfolding in slow motion, or in fast forward.  Your memory after the event will be far from perfect, because of all these things.  That’s why it is important not to say much to the police afterward until you have had a chance to recover.  If you make statements to the police that turn out later to be factually wrong, they will be interpreted as deliberate lies, not honest mistakes.


“The police will immediately understand that what I did was the right thing.”  You know you did the right thing.  Are you wearing a visible halo around your head?  No?  A white Stetson?  Then how is the responding officer going to know that you are the good person?  The responding officer is not your friend.  He (or she) is going to follow police protocol, starting with the fact that you clearly shot someone.  Trying to explain what happened won’t necessarily make it better, for all the reasons mentioned above about how your perception of some facts will probably be incorrect.  The best thing you can do is to say that you were attacked, you were in fear of your life, you had to stop him before you were injured or killed.  Say that you will cooperate fully as soon as you have had a chance to recover, and to talk to your lawyer.  If the police try to get you to say more, especially if they read you your Miranda rights, say absolutely nothing except that you want your attorney.


“A gun is all I’ll ever need to take care of any situation.”  Guns are great tools to defend against life-threatening attacks, but they are not suitable for many less critical situations.  In most states, you can’t use lethal force to protect property, and shouldn’t. So what are you going to do if someone tries to steal your car, or your money?  If all you have is a gun, you will have to let your money or your car go with that thief.  If you have less lethal options available, such as pepper spray or unarmed fighting techniques, you might have a chance to them to save your property.


“If I think I might have an intruder, I’ll get my gun and search my home.”  Even though you know your home well, you won’t be able to search it in complete silence, without being seen.  An armed intruder who is hiding will have a very good chance of surprising you before you find him.  A pair of intruders has an even better chance of overcoming your defenses.  A better strategy is to retreat immediately to the safest room of your home, where you can lock yourself and your family in, access your gun, and phone the police.  Then stay there, behind cover, until the police arrive.  An ensconced defender has an excellent chance of survival, even against a gang. 


“When I have my gun with me, it is OK to stop being aware of people around me, because I’ll have time to react.”  If you are daydreaming when bad things start to happen, you very well might not have sufficient time to react. Reaction time favors those who are constantly aware of their surroundings.  If you aren’t aware, that is, you are in Condition White all the time, you are endangering yourself.  If you are aware, in Condition Yellow, you will have time to recognize and avoid a problem, or more time to deploy your gun properly.  


“I love running or walking with my iPOD turned up really loud.”  Did you read about the man who was running on a beach, wearing an iPOD, and was killed by a small plane in trouble that was trying to make an emergency landing on the same beach?   He probably never heard the plane approaching behind him.  If he couldn’t hear the noise of a plane, you would not be able to hear trouble approaching you from behind on the street.  Trouble comes from all directions, and you need to be able to hear what is going on around you.  Don’t wear an iPOD like that.  (If you absolutely must wear one, keep the volume as low as possible, so you can still hear other sounds.) 


“I know I’m a good shot, so if I ever have to shoot in self-defense, I know one shot will be all that will be necessary.”  There is no such thing as a reliable one shot stop.  Even if you have the best ammunition and hit in the best location, that shot might be lethal, but it won’t be lethal instantly.  It may well take minutes for that perfect shot to take full effect.  In the meantime, your assailant can still be very capable of continuing his attack, by gun, knife, club, or hands.  In order to stop him, you will probably have to fire more than once.  You should plan to keep firing until it is clear that he is no longer a threat.  And when you stop firing, you should keep your gun and attention trained on him, because you might need to start firing again if he continues fighting.  Get behind cover, reload if you can, and be ready to shoot again.


“With my gun, I know I can go anywhere, any time, and I’ll be safe.”  If you would not go to that part of town, or into that business, or to that party without your gun, you should not go there with your gun.  Don’t do stupid things, in stupid places, with stupid people.  A gun is not an all-access pass to dangerous, inappropriate locations.  


“If someone with a knife or club attacks me, I should let them get close before I shoot, because they aren’t a danger at a distance.”  Close and far here need to be quantified.  Almost anyone with a contact weapon who is 21’ away can sprint and reach you with their weapon before you have time to draw and shoot.  So it is reasonable to draw, if not shoot, when your attacker is that far away, or even a lot farther.  It would also be good to move sideways while you are defending yourself in this situation. 


“Once I’m at home, I put my gun in the safe, because I won’t ever need it here.”  Your gun should either be on your person in a holster, or in a fast-access device designed to hold a loaded gun such as a lockbox, not a big gunsafe.  If you have to get to your gun quickly, a dial lock on a safe will be impossible to manage in time; buttons on a lockbox will be manageable.  Your top priority should be keeping the gun away from children and other unauthorized people, but only seconds away if you need it.


“I’ll fire a warning shot if possible.”  Not a good idea.  Warning shots take time, time your attacker(s) can use to kill or injure you.  Also, a warning shot fired in a random direction could easily hit an innocent person.  If you try to make the warning shot safe by firing it into a safe place, that takes even more time, and you have to take your eyes off your attacker to find that good resting place for the warning shot.  If you have a revolver, a warning shot seriously depletes the supply of ammunition you might need for your attacker.  And finally, the law will consider your warning shot the use of lethal force; if you don’t have reason enough to fire directly at an attacker, don’t fire at all.

This article first appeared in the Jul-Aug 2010 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 2010 Lyn Bates

This article emerged from an email discussion I had recently with a (male) firearms instructor in another state.  He will remain nameless, for reasons to become apparent before the end of this article.  It began as a discussion of teaching vs. mentoring, and evolved into considerations of equipment and tactics for women who carry guns in purses.

Let’s review a few things about gun and purses that are not in dispute.  Women are susceptible to the crime of purse snatching, and if you have your gun in your purse when it is stolen, the gun will go with it.  Yes, but has this actually happened?  I don’t know of any cases.  There are a few (notably, a female Secret Service agent) who forget their purses in some public place, but none of those have caused a problem. There are also occasional reports, I’ve heard 2 over the years, of male law officials who had to take their gun out of their belt holster to use a rest room or dressing room, and left it behind; women with guns in purses never have this problem. Most women are very conscious of purse safety, and are even more so when they know there is a gun there.

If you carry this way, you should use either a purse specifically designed for concealed carry (Gallo, Kramer, SecurePurse, Coronado, and many other sources are easy to find on the web) or one that has a separate compartment suitable for a firearm.  That means a compartment that won’t open even if your purse is dumped accidentally, and one that won’t allow other things in your purse to press through the divider to reach the trigger.

Whichever type of purse you use, you must keep it under your control at all times, to keep it away from any young, curious fingers that might be around, and also irresponsible adults.  

Gun purses should always have a shoulder or cross-body strap, because the purse will need to be supported as you use two hands to get the gun out.  This also helps to distribute the extra weight of the gun.  Carrying a gun in a clutch purse or purse with handles is decidedly inferior to using a shoulder bag.

Never, ever allow your gun to mix with the other things you carry around.  That would put you in danger of flashing, or, worse, dropping your piece when you reach for your keys or your wallet.  It would also allow movie ticket stubs, candy wrappers, and other detritus to make its way into contact with your gun or holster, and contact can cause catastrophe.  

Many concealed carry purses have internal holsters that are held in place with adjustable Velcro.  These holsters may slow down your draw a bit, but are extremely useful in protecting the trigger from unintentional operation, and in keeping the gun perfectly positioned where you need it for a smooth, consistent draw.  If you aren’t using an internal holster, you need to be scrupulous about protecting the trigger and muzzle, and keeping the gun from “printing” through the leather.  I’ve used pieces of cardboard to reinforce both the external and internal sides of the gun compartment to achieve these goals.

Here’s another undisputed fact.  Drawing from a purse takes longer than drawing from a holster on your belt.  Exactly how much longer depends on a lot of factors, including: the size of your purse and gun, the location and type of closure on the gun compartment (zipper or Velcro), whether there is an internal holster, and how often you practice this drawing maneuver.  Practice is essential.

Years ago, in another article for this very magazine, I carefully timed my draw from a purse and several other holster types.  The purse was as fast as a practiced draw from an ankle holster.  Since ankle holsters are considered adequate for backup guns for police, purse carry can be considered equivalent to having only a backup gun.  If you know that, and are OK with it, then a purse might be your choice, particularly if you live in a place, or work in a place where you could get into real trouble if your gun were to be seen.  Concealed must mean CONCEALED, and purses provide one of the deepest, most reliable forms of concealed carry.

There is another way around the problem of a slow draw.  If your attacker is close to you, say closer than about 20 feet, especially if he is moving toward you quickly, don’t take the time to draw the gun completely out of the purse.  Just draw it far enough to get a good shooting grip, point the purse and gun at your assailant, and pull the trigger, shooting right through the purse.  

Yes, this works, and it works extremely well.  If there is time, of course, it is better to draw the gun completely, bring it up so you can get a sight picture before you fire, but there isn’t always that much time, and firing the gun from inside the purse is a tremendous shortcut.

Here, however, the guy and I had a major difference of opinion.  I know, from my early experimentation with shooting through purses obtained from Goodwill, that a revolver, particularly one with a hidden hammer, will fire all its rounds very reliable through the purse.  A semi-auto, however, will fire only one shot, and then will reliably stop working, usually with a stovepipe jam, because there is not enough room inside the purse for the slide to operate properly.  Every semi I tried turned into a one shot gun when shot through a purse; every revolver could fire all its ammo.

My conclusion was that if you are going to carry frequently in a purse, a revolver is a better choice.  The chance that someone will get close to you before becoming a threat is very real.  If he is close, or even grabbing you, shooting through the purse is your best option, and having 5 or 6 reliable rounds that way is much better than having a high capacity magazine that stops working after one round.

The man I was corresponding with had a different approach.  He recommended carrying a semi, drawing it fully and aiming if there was time, but if not here is the process he advocated.  Draw the gun enough to get a firing grip inside the purse.  Step into your attacker and press the muzzle hard against his body.  Fire one round, point blank.  The “expanding bubble of burning propellant” will disrupt vital areas of his body by suddenly “pressurizing the thoracic” cavity with “high-velocity blast forces”, and he will go down.  Then fully draw the gun, clear the stoppage, and continue to fire at any accomplices he may have who are still a threat.  He argued that if a woman practiced this process of shooting once, drawing, clearing, and then shooting again, she would save the reaction time that would normally be needed to determine that her gun had jammed.  She would always be able to go straight to the clearing after the first shot.

I see three problems with this, at least.  The first is that his process requires the attacker to be in contact with you when you fire your first shot.  That might happen, but there are many, many other, more likely situations in which you are better off shooting while he is still a few feet away.  

The second is his assumption that just one contact shot is all that will be needed to take him out of action.  He believes that the gasses from the muzzle of a semi, at contact, will produce gasses powerful enough to kill, as well as the bullet.  But the space inside the purse, the material of the purse, and any coat or clothing on the attacker may dissipate the gas bubble, even if you do manage to get a contact shot.  Every major shooting school teaches that you can’t count on any gun/ammo/technique to result in a reliable one shot stop.  Sure, sometimes they do occur, but not reliably. That’s why police and private citizens are taught to expect to have to keep shooting until the attacker is no longer a threat. So, being able to shoot several quick shots from a revolver is better than having to draw the gun and clear it after the first shot.  

The third is that no matter how carefully one practices his suggested maneuver, in real life, in a life or death situation where an attacker is already on top of you and perhaps has friends behind him, you won’t be able to smoothly draw the gun, rack the slide, and get back into the fight in a timely manner.

My conclusion is that, though a revolver might be preferable, carrying a semi in a purse is OK if you clearly understand the tradeoffs.  With a revolver, you can shoot multiple times through the purse if necessary to stop an adversary who is close to you, or upon you.  With as semi, you should draw the gun before shooting, which means that you have to be able to recognize a serious threat who is rather far away from you. (The exact distance will depend on your purse, holster, and amount of drawing practice.)

I’d really like to take a poll of Women&Guns readers.  If you carry in a purse, do you carry a revolver, or a semi-auto?  Do you plan to shoot through the purse if necessary, or to always draw the gun fully?  

Answer via email, and I’ll provide the results in a future article here.

This article first appeared in the Mar-Apr 2010 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 2010 Lyn Bates

There are a lot of ideas, habits, and little choices we make all thorough our lives that can put us in unnecessary danger, and may even facilitate our demise at the hands of some determined criminal.  Some of these won’t kill you physically, but might kill you in court.  How many of these apply to you, to someone you love, or to someone you know?

“It will never happen to me.”  This is one of the big reasons why people who might have a gun with them, because they are trained, licensed, and capable, but don’t carry on a regular basis.  You must overcome this.  Turn this thought it into “It might happen to me.”  Think of it as essential life insurance.

 “It will never happen here.”  Churches, malls, schools, military bases, hospitals, expensive suburbs, Wal-Mart parking lots, family restaurants, … all of these places have been the scene of horrific gun violence, the kind that can be stopped quickly only by another gun.  There is no such thing as a place guaranteed to be safe from crime.  You might be the first person on the scene or in the middle of a mass shooting, or you might be the individual victim of a violent criminal – anywhere, any time.  If you aren’t carrying your gun, you won’t be able to react appropriately.  You, and others, might die.

“It won’t happen today.”  Tell me, when DO you expect something horrible to happen?  Today might be a birthday party, neighborhood barbecue,  church service or any ordinary activity.  Today might be the day a crazy or drug addled person decided to disrupt things.  How will you respond if you don’t have your gun?  Wouldn’t it be a good idea to carry, even on the most ordinary of days?

“I have my gun with me, so I’ll be safe.” Are you? Really?  This seems a bit arrogant to me.   Having a gun doesn’t make you safe, just as having a piano doesn’t make you a musician.  You need training, practice, mindset, and, especially, awareness.  You need tools and training for less lethal options, too.

 “I’m carrying a gun to scare the bad guys away, not to shoot them.”  Then why bother to carry a loaded gun?  Would you feel comfortable carrying an unloaded weapon?  I didn’t think so.  Why not?  If you are prepared to shoot, you might not have to.  Many criminals are happy to run away when given the chance, but they will be afraid enough to run only if you project the willingness to shoot.  One of my first instructors, a cop with many years of experience, stated flatly that many criminals aren’t afraid of a gun.  They are afraid, however, of a determined person behind that gun.  If you can’t project confidence and competence with that gun in your hand, don’t expect it to have the desired effect.

 “I’m a very good shot on the range, so I know I would do well in real confrontation.”  Alas, real life isn’t like the range.  At the range, you have good light and you can stand still while facing your stationary target directly in front of you.  In a real confrontation, it will likely be dark; your attacker will probably be moving and can be anywhere.  Moving off the line of force, taking cover, checking behind you, and shooting at a moving target usually aren’t practiced on the range, yet you need to practice them in order to be really proficient.  Find a good defensive handgun class, and take it to learn these skills.

“I’m well trained, so I don’t need to practice.”  Practice is essential to keeping skills sharp.  They can degrade with alarming rapidity.  You can do a lot of practice at home, if you can’t get to the range, by dry firing an unloaded gun pointing at a safe object.  You can also practice holstering and unholstering your gun every day that you carry it, if you have a safe direction for that activity.  Practice as if your life depended on it, because it does.

“I’m fully trained, so I will be able to take care of any situation properly.”  Hubris.  No training can cover every kind of situation. Expect real life to be quite different from your training.  There is no perfectly good response to any real situation, nor is there any perfectly bad one. Remember that on OK plan executed immediately is far better than a perfect plan executed a little too late.  Know that you won’t perform as well as you would like.  Then in the aftermath, you might be kinder to yourself, and experience less post shooting trauma.

“If I have to shoot someone, I’ll aim for the legs, because I don’t want to kill anyone.”  When you shoot someone in self-defense, you don’t get to choose whether they live or die.  You could hit the femoral artery in his leg, and he could bleed out before an ambulance arrives.  You could shoot him in the chest, and he might have an easily survivable wound.  If your assailant is running, or even moving, his arms and legs will be in motion, making them very hard to hit.  If you try to shoot an arm or leg, you are likely to miss or have the shot go through and through; at best that keeps you in danger longer, at worst your round could hit a bystander.  The best place to aim is the center of the largest part of his body that you can see.  Usually that is the torso.  Your intention, in a confrontation like this, should be to stop him, not to kill him, not to wound him.  The best way to stop him is one or more well-placed hits in the center of his body.  Most handgun wounds are survivable, so he will probably survive even in you hit him squarely in the center of mass.  Shots placed there will stop his violent actions more effectively than peripheral hits in an arm or leg.

“When I’ve hit someone and he falls down, I’ll stop shooting.”  Falling down doesn’t mean being out.  Someone on the ground might still be conscious, might still have his weapon in hand, and might very well still be capable of continuing to attack you.  Keep your gun trained on him.  Back as far away from him as you can, taking cover if there is cover to be had.  Tell him not to move, and watch like a hawk in case he continues to fight.  If he still has a gun and tries to use it, you might have to shoot again.

“I’ll be safe because I’m with other people.”  There is often some safety in numbers, but nothing is guaranteed.  Plenty of attacks have happened in well-populated places.  Plenty of attacks have happened to groups of two or more friends together.  Don’t drop your guard just because you aren’t alone.

“The safest thing to do is call 911 first, to get the police on the way, and then deal with the situation.”  Sometimes that is practical, but not always.  For example, if someone is breaking into your home at night, your first action should be to get your home defense gun in hand.  If someone else can call 911 while you do this, that’s great, but if you are alone, get your gun first, then dial 911.  This is because you might need your gun in seconds, while police will take some number of minutes to arrive.

This article first appeared in the May-Jun 2010 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 2010 Lyn Bates

A few months ago I produced a two-part article on range exercises that can be performed to enhance one’s competence with a firearm for self-defense.  The idea was to have fun learning new skills, to not develop any bad habits along the way, and to produce some good ones.  Among those potentially life-saving skills was rapidly reloading your gun, whether it be a revolver or a semi-auto.

One reader, however, felt left out of the process, and asked, “How about us lefties?”  The methods I had suggested for reloading were specifically for right handed people.

Big oops.  I know that about 3 million of people in the US are left-handed, and that  although more of those are men than women, there are still plenty of left-handed women.   What works for righties, gun—wise, won’t work for them.  My apologies, lefty ladies.  This article is just for you.

Barbara Clorite, one of the AWARE instructors, is left-handed, and has graciously acted as a consultant in this matter.  Having been trained at Lethal Force Institute, she is as good a shooter as she is an instructor.

Let’s take revolvers first. I know of only one company, Charter Arms, that makes a revolver specifically for left handers.  It is called the Undercover Southpaw, and was introduced in 2007. With that single exception, wheelguns were designed to be used by right-handed people.  That should not keep a southpaw from choosing and using a revolver, however, because it is possible to become quite adept at handling this type of gun.  We will assume you have one of these guns.

Now here’s the process to speed reload when your dominant hand is your left one.   Revolvers have the cylinder release catch on the left side of the frame, but this is no help for southpaws because no digit on your left hand is in position to press that release.  So, the best thing to do is to the following:

Keep the gun firmly in your strong hand grip; remove your trigger finger from the trigger and place it firmly along the frame of the gun.

Move your right hand off the grip.  Slide it up and over the backstrap until your right thumb can comfortably reach the cylinder release.  Push, pull or press it, depending on your gun’s manufacturer, and then press the cylinder open with the fingers of your right hand.

When the cylinder is fully open, raise the muzzle to point virtually straight up.  This is to let gravity help you remove the empty brass.  Bring your right hand around and above the gun, so that you can use the heel of your right hand to strike the ejector rod downwards.  Strike it just once, don’t pump it.   The empty brass should fall free; if it gets caught on your left hand, you may have to readjust your left hand the next time before you start the reload process.  With practice, the cylinder should stay completely open, and the brass should fall free.

(Important note:  If the combination of your gun and fingers is such that you absolutely can’t make the brass fall clear while you have your left hand controlling the gun, you can try switching the gun to your right hand after the cylinder is open, and using your left palm heel to hit the ejector rod.  You might then find it easier to insert the speedloader with your left hand while the right continues to control the frame of the gun.)

Rotate the gun so that the muzzle points down at about a 45 degree angle, or even more toward the ground.  This is to let gravity help you get the new rounds in.

With you right hand, reach for your speedloader which should be in your right pocket or on the right side of your belt.  Pick it up with your fingers far enough down to just touch some of the rounds.

Place the speedloader over the cylinder, allow the rounds to slip into place, and then release the speedloader with a twist or a push depending on the brand.  Let if fall free; don’t throw it away, as you bring the four fingers of your your right hand to the left edge of the cylinder and your right thumb to the right side of the frame.

Close the cylinder as you are bringing the muzzle back to low ready position (or back on target).  Slip your right hand back into its support position for a good two-handed grip.  Now you can see your potential target and decide whether it is necessary to keep shooting, or not.

Now let’s move on to semi-auto pistols.  Lefties have a lot of choices here with respect to guns and their features.   Barb suggests looking for a gun with an ambidextrous safety (or no safety), since safeties on the left side are rarely reachable with one’s left hand.  For magazine releases, she recommends avoiding a gun that has a left side lever mag release, because the lever can cut into your shooting hand, and the lever is nearly impossible to push with your left hand.  “A press-in button is easier on the left than a press down leer, but could be activated by the left hand if squeezed hard enough,” Barb says. “I’d prefer a press-in button that can be switched to the other side.” 

Glocks are wonderfully ambidextrous.  So are Springfield Armory XDs, Smith&Wesson’s MP9, Berettas and many other pistols either come with ambidextrous safeties or can have them added.  Many guns also have mag releases that can be converted to the right side of the gun..

 For this article, I’ll assume your gun has a press button on the left side.

As for slide releases, most are on the left side of the gun.  The easiest way to activate the release is to reach under the trigger guard with your right hand.  If you can get a gun with the slide release on the right side, you can operate it with either your left thumb or your right hand, depending on your hand size and strength.  Dropping the slide with a slingshot action (grasp the rear of the slide with your right hand, pull back, and release it) is a better way to get a round loaded, since that method doesn’t require fine motor coordination.  The slingshot method is preferred by many experienced instructors as the best way to release the slide.

So, how do you do a speed reload?  

First, remove your finger from the trigger and place it firmly along the frame of the gun.  Safety on.

With your right hand, reach under the trigger guard and use your index or middle finger to press the magazine  release.  Allow the mag to fall free.

With your right hand, reach for your spare magazine, which should be in your right pocket, or on the right side of your belt.  Remove it with the back of the magazine along the palm of your hand.

Bring the spare magazine to the mag well, and insert it, rocking the back in first, then slamming it into place. 

Assuming that your gun locked open before you started the reload, grab the gripping grooves on the back of the slide with your right hand, pull back, and let go.  Make sure that your right hand does not cover the ejection port during this process, and maintain muzzle awareness.

If your safety is ambidextrous, you can release it with your left thumb.  If you safety is only on the left side of the gun, you can use your index (trigger) finger of your left hand to do the job. 

Finally, reestablish your two handed grip, bring the gun to low ready or up on target, and decide whether you need to shoot again.

There are many resources online for left handed shooters.  A few of them are www.gunweek.com/2000/lefties.html, www.gweep.net/~daver/Velocity-Harris-LHtrain.pdf, and lots more if you google left-handed shooters.

I hope this helps to clear up some of the issues that left-handed women have shooting handguns.  Nobody seems to know whether more women than men are left-handed, but it is pretty clear that more women than men are cross eye dominant.  That means they are right-handed and left-eyed, or left-handed and right-eyed.  It doesn’t matter so much for handgun shooting, but if you are going to try long guns, ask your instructor to help you determine which of your eyes is dominant.

This article first appeared in the Jan-Feb 2010 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 2010 Lyn Bates