New Dimensions – August 1990

Armed and Female

A Muggers Worst Nightmare

new dimensionsBy Jeanne A. Harris

Why rapidly increasing numbers of American women are turning to guns for self-protection.

One in eight women in the U.S. own firearms. That’s a figure Paxton Quigley of Personal Protection Services in Los Angeles, and author of the book “Armed and Female,” wants you to remember. It translates into twelve million women who have decided to take self-protection into their own hands and the number is growing.

I interviewed hundreds upon hundreds of women who had been raped,” says Paxton Quigley, author of the eye-opening book Armed and Female. “After listening to their stories, there was no doubt in my mind that women should own guns for self-defense.

armed and female

One in eight women you encounter on the street own handguns.

“If more women owned guns and it was publicly known,” she continues, “the incidence of rape would decline in the United States within the next five years, just because of the publicity a potential rapist would never know if a woman is carrying a gun.”

A feminist and onetime Vietnam protester, Paxton Quigley is a far cry from the stereotypical pro-gun advocate, Yet she stands as one of today’s most vocal proponents of gun ownership for women. She sees her task as convincing a conditioned public that, far from being exclusively a symbol of crime and violence, a handgun is the most viable means of self-protection for women in an increasingly dangerous society.

Paxton Quigley

Quigley: “It’s common sense to know how to defend yourself.”

This is a rather surprising stance for a former anti-gun activist who, for over a decade, supported gun control legislation and even helped found a major anti-gun organization. While Quigley admits that she feared and hated guns for most of her life, it was a single, shocking incident in 1968 that pushed her into the arms of the gun control movement:

“I was involved with the Robert F. Kennedy campaign. When he was shot to death, of course, it was very upsetting.” The shock of his death left a void in the lives of his staff members, many of whom turned their anger into action.

“Some of us in the Kennedy organization banded together and started a handgun control group,” Quigley recalls. “I felt strongly at the time that stricter gun control laws would not only reduce the amount of crime in the country, but they would also prevent the assassinations of some of our great leaders,” she says.

The fact that Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, was captured and brought to justice did not quell the call for gun control. The emotional backlash that surfaced after the death of the energetic, young presidential hopeful left a void that cried out for a kind of justice that no court could sufficiently answer. Would Sirhan Sirhan’s execution have been enough justice for Quigley? “No,” she flatly states. Quigley:

“There just became a point in my life where I said, That’s it. Not only am I in favor of women owning guns, I’m also going to advocate it.”

“Because I didn’t want it to happen again. And for me, at that stage of my life, the gun was as important as the person who committed the act.”

women shooting guns

More women are learning how to shoot than ever before.

Although the newly formed anti-gun group was pushing for stricter gun control laws, there was a feeling that completely banning hand- guns was an achievable goal. In the wake of a string of assassinations that took the lives of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, many in the movement, including Quigley counted on growing anti-gun sentiment to turn their ideals into legislation.

She recalls an argument she had back then with a friend who was concerned about her anti-gun stance: “He was very angry that I was working for this gum control organization. He said, ‘Do you know what you are doing? Don`t you have any understanding of what the Second Amendment is all about?’ And its significance never really dawned on me, be- cause I was so emotionally adamant about being anti-gun.”

Despite her single-minded, emotionally charged vendetta against firearms, Quigley was forced to confront the issue of gun ownership once more-only this time through a series of crimes that struck frightfully close to home. As a single woman working first in Washington, D.C., and then in Los Angeles, Quigley began to experience a change of heart after her house was burglarized twice, her car was stolen while she looked on from her kitchen window, and two of her friends were raped, one in her own bed. During this time, Quigley became fearful of even walking from her car to her house, afraid of what might be waiting for her when she opened the door.

But when she accompanied a friend to a gun shop, a light went on in her mind. Here could be a means, she began thinking, that a woman could defend herself with confidence. The idea shocked her. She had hated guns for a long time. And now she stood thinking of the gun not as an enemy, she says, but as a protective force. She never thought during her gun-control tenure, that the same weapons she had lobbied against had any purpose but to harm another human being.

It was then that Quigley began to explore the reasons why people own guns. Her search brought her face- to-face with hundreds of women who had been brutally raped. The stories they told of their experiences shook Quigley to her core. “There just became a point in my life where I said ‘That`s it. Not only am I in favor of women owning guns, I’m also going to advocate it.’ That was my turning point.”

Regaining Control

Quigley’s exploration of women’s need for guns in self-protection led her to write Armed and Female, which became an instant success. Now in its second printing, her book has generated nationwide interest and inspired Quigley to start Personal Protection Strategies, a series of courses that teach women and men alike basic self-protection techniques. Although she is winning many converts, her task, she has found over the last year, is an arduous one. Many women simply have a mental block against the idea of self-defense, even though they are acutely aware of the increasing crime problem in modern society.

increase in rape chartHer job begins with an explanation of the basic problem of fear and denial. Criminologists have found that, on the whole, women have a greater fear of crime than men. The reasons stretch from the physiological to the psychological. Women are physically more vulnerable than men, and thus easier targets. They do not, as children learn the aggressive roughhouse play that marks boys’ activities.

In addition, most Americans have been taught to rely on law enforcement exclusively to aid them in times of crisis. However, law enforcement, stretched to the limits by having to tight an increasingly violent and deadly drug war, cannot be counted on to maintain personal safety like it used to. In fact, in a surprising and perhaps absurd judgment, Warren v. District of Columbia, the D.C. Supreme Court ruled that the police are responsible only for the safety of the general population of the community, not the protection and defense of its individual citizens. Now is the time, Quigley concludes, for people to take more responsibility for their own safety.

One-On-One Crimes

Many crimes take place so quickly that there is no chance that the victim will be able to call for help. Obviously a woman who is being raped will not have time to dial “911.” Rape and “one minute” crimes like purse snatching and assault are crimes that women tend to fear the most; they instinctively know there is little chance they will be rescued.

Because law enforcement can- not be everywhere at once, Quigley says it is important for a woman to learn how to protect her- self. To accomplish this, a woman must first overcome her fear of being a victim of crime. Overcoming that initial fear, Quigley has found, brings with it many rewards; women who have learned to defend themselves report greater self-confidence and a feeling of empowerment.

Overcoming fear, more than anything else, means confronting that denial. “First, a woman has to confront her fear, and say, ‘Yes I am fearful.’ There are, unfortunately, a number of women who were sexually abused when they were young, or else raped. But rather than confront what they’ve gone through, they often bury it and say, ‘I’m not going to think about it.’ “Understandable but deadly,” says Quigley.

“Once a woman successfully confronts her fear, she can say, ‘Okay, I’d like to prepare so that if I am in danger I have choices. I have learned a body of information that I will be able to use if the need arises.’”

But many women, strangely, are not actively interested in their personal safety, Quigley has found. “It’s a real low priority item for many people. My 3-hour seminar on personal protection costs only $35. But I can see in people’s eyes that they’ d rather spend the $35 on getting their hair done than on spending time learning how best to protect themselves,” she noted.

As an author and lecturer, Quigley spends a lot of her time pointing out Victimization risks to the women in her seminars. But statistics cannot take the place of a real incident.

crime chart“What often happens is that soon after a woman is assaulted or raped, she wants to learn how to protect herself. She’ll say, ‘I don’t want this to ever happen again.” But later she’ll push it out of her head because it brings up a lot of bad memories about being victimized. This is where the denial kicks in.”

Quigley adds, “Our society doesn’t encourage people to defend themselves. It is unfortunate that self-defense (unarmed) is not taught in the grammar schools. Kids should be learning it early on because it would help them in terms of having better personal lives, too.”

Quigley is unequivocal about one point: For a woman a handgun is an equalizing force in a compromising situation. No other weapon, she discovered, can adequately serve this purpose. And no other weapon has the same ability to turn a frightfully dangerous situation in the woman’s favor.

In response to the gun control propaganda claiming that women are likely to be shot with their own weapons, Quigley says: ‘That’s simply not true. It is very difficult to get a short- barreled gun away from a person who’s holding that gun and has the intention of shooting.” In most cases, she has found, simply displaying the handgun is enough to scare many would-be victimizers away.

Interviews Murderers and Rapists

“I went into San Quentin prison to talk to murderers and rapists about what they thought about women owning guns,” Quigley recalls. “They told me that when they are looking for a victim, they’re scared because they basically want to do their deed and leave. They don’t want to get into a fighting situation because they may not win. “They’re going to look for people who have got their heads in the heavens, not someone who looks capable of defending herself.”

As for carrying a handgun: “If you feel you are in jeopardy, if there’s a chance that someone’s going to attack you, yes, you should carry a gun,” Quigley states in no uncertain terms. “Of course, a gun can’t be used in all situations. You may not be able to get it in time. You may find yourself in a situation where you could hurt innocent bystanders or accidentally shoot a child. That’s why it’s so important for Women to learn how to fight.”

A Woman’s Guide to Street Fighting

Good self-defense classes, Quigley says, will teach basic martial arts techniques while emphasizing down and out street fighting.

learning to kick

Model Mugging courses teach women to ward off would-be rapists using basic martial arts techniques and street-fighting savvy.

“One of the best self-defense courses in the United States for women is Model Mugging,” she states. “In 40 percent of the assaults on women, the victim is knocked to the ground within six seconds and that’s where she has to fight. Model Mugging teaches you to fight from the ground, and also to fight full force. For safety reasons, a lot of self- defense classes don’t allow you to strike full force, and they don’t allow you to kick for the groin or scratch at the face and the eyes.”

Model Mugging, which has a series of independent chapters nationwide, teaches basic self-defense moves, and women apply them in full-force fights with a “mugger” dressed from head to foot in protective padding.

This innovative concept of self-defense pits a woman against the padded assailant in a number of common victimization situations in a subterranean parking lot, at an automated-teller machine, walking down a dimly lit street, and even an attack that may occur in the victim’s own bed. The attacker continues to assault the woman until she has rendered enough blows to convince the padded assailant he would be knocked out.

“In a surprising judgment the D.C. Supreme Court ruled that the police are responsible only for the safety of the general population of the community, not the protection and defense of its individual citizens.”

When Quigley took the four-week course, she faced the assailant 40 times: “Some days when I was getting ready to be so-called mugged, I would be terribly frightened. But when you’re fighting, your focus is completely on what you are doing. Some days I would come home and burst out crying because I had gone through such an emotional and physical situation. But other times I would be just absolutely elated because I had just beat the heck out of that guy,” Quigley recalls. “Not only does it build confidence, it builds empowerment in a woman and she begins to realize that, yes, she has the ability to fight off an attacker.”

Stress-Relief through Self-Defense

armed and female

“Being prepared for the statistical long shot of being a victim of violent crime is really no more extraordinarily prudent that wearing seat belts in a car or having fire extinguisher in the kitchen.”

Quigley finds that the biggest hangup women have about self-defense is their prejudice against guns. ‘There are a lot of women in the feminist movement, unfortunately, that still think they don’t have the right to defend themselves,” Quigley says. ‘There are also a lot of people who say they are non-violent and could never hurt another human being, even if that person has already raped 17 women.” Others, she says, simply have not been exposed to guns properly and view them as the sole domain of men.

Ironically, she has found that many women who are reluctant even to handle a gun turn out to be better marksmen, and to enjoy shooting more, than men. Handgun self-protection for women is a relatively new field, she says, even though approximately 12 million women currently own guns.

A new interest in handguns is being sparked across the country as women realize that self-defense is practical and can actually help them live better lives, says Quigley. Learning effective self-defense helps reduce the stress of living in a hostile environment by providing a woman with more choices in the event she has to protect herself.

To meet this growing demand, Quigley notes that more gun ranges are putting together handgun courses especially designed for women. “A public range in Orange County approached me about designing a course by and for women,” she says. “Women seem to work better with female instructors when it comes to self-defense as well as gun training. There’s a camaraderie; the teacher can act as a role model. A man’s perspective of women’s fears and needs is really quite different.”

Most law enforcement agencies, while agreeing with the concept of women’s self-defense, simply lack the manpower to put together shooting schools for women. Quigley recommends checking with local gun clubs, many of which advertise in the yellow pages, to find a suitable course. There are also local women’s gun clubs where a Woman can go and practice with other women. If a course designed for women is not available locally, Quigley suggests talking to the gun range about setting up a program.

On the Right Track

Presently approximately 100 million households contain at least one gun. Recent polls show that 1 in 8 women are also gun owners. As the reality of crime becomes more apparent, Quigley says, that trend will continue. The vast majority of gun owners are seldom publicly visible; many consider gun ownership a private matter, not a political hot potato.

woman firing revolver

38 caliber handgun. Many women carry it because of its small size but adequate stopping power.

“I have a number of friends who now own guns, both men and women, who are liberals and would never join the NRA or vocalize their thoughts,” says Quigley “I know some people who actually have lots of guns, and that really surprised me. They only tell because they know my position, and it will come out in conversation.”

In the end, the question turns back to teaching women that they have the right and the ability to defend themselves, Quigley states. “We have to get women over their fear and dislike of guns. We have to get them thinking that they have the right to self-defense. Some people think we are absolutely nuts. They will say, ‘Oh, l know your book, Armed and “Dangerous.” ’That’s how they view me and my book. They will laugh when they say it, but that is how they really feel.

“But when you come right down to it, it’s not a question of being paranoid. It’s common sense to know how to protect yourself.”

Jeanne Harris is Assistant Managing Editor of New Dimensions.


Original article in New Dimensions Magazine, August 1990 – pages 74 to 76; download file size is 3.8 MB

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