UP IN ARMS
Tacked to Trudi Dembe’s back door in Bayonne, N.J., is this sign: PREMISES PATROLLED BY AN ATTACK HOUSEWIFE. The warning refers to a 9-mm Browning that Dembe, 67, keeps in her home and ready to use. She is hardly unique. In 1970 women owned 4% of all legal handguns; that number has grown to almost 12% today, or about 7 million individual firearms.
A generation ago America’s attitude toward women handling guns – that nice women normally don’t – seemed to be summed up in the classic Western High Noon. At the film’s climax, a horrified young Quaker bride (Grace Kelly) picks up a pistol and kills the outlaw trying to bushwhack her husband (Gary Cooper). But Hollywood, reflecting social trends, began to change. It noticed women were integrating the armed services and police forces, and buying guns. The breakthrough 1974 TV series Police Woman led to such diverse pistol-packing women as those in Charlie’s Angels, Cagney & Lacey and ABC’s new Lady Blue, labeled by some the tube’s most violent hour.
The trend seems due to several factors. As women win increased responsibilities at work, they log longer hours and more business trips and are thus more frequently alone outside their homes. They also marry later (current age: 23) and divorce in greater numbers (1.2 million in 1984), which means more women living alone or as heads of households. Today many of the 23.5 million such women feel a personal vulnerability, often heightened by crime sprees like the recent terrorization of California by the “Night Stalker.” Los Angeles secretary Ruth Okura, 32, for one, began taking shooting lessons. Okura (second from right below) still practices weekly, while conceding, “If crime would just stop, l’d be much happier.”
Anti-handgun groups argue that home arsenals are dangerous; for every criminal shot dead by a civilian between 1981 and 1983, 118 Americans died of handgun murders, suicides and accidents. Yet gun merchants, sensing a new market, have targeted women. Ads once confined to hunting journals are running in upscale magazines like Town & Country where custom clothier Bijan will soon unveil an arresting image (see cover) promoting his $10,000 gold-inlaid Colt .38. As University of Illinois sociologist David Bordua observes: “Colonel Colt is a great equalizer.”
WOMEN NOW OWN SOME 7 MILLION OF THE NATION’S HANDGUNS
Last August, the California Night Stalker killed a woman just a mile from the Temple City home that Pamela Owen (right) shares with her contractor husband Flick and their three children “We were frightened day and night,” says Owen, 30, the daughter and wife of avid hunters. “But we sharpened our skills.” That meant range time for Pamela (second from left, above) with her own .357 Magnum. All told, the Owens own a dozen guns, which they keep in places their kids can’t get to. “I’d recommend that to anyone who has children,” she says. “It’s just not worth the risk, not with your kids and the neighbors’ running around the house. I’d still have time to get to my gun if the house alarm went off.”
SELF DEFENSE WITHOUT A FIREARM
Most women, of course, have not joined the arms race. Yet the seemingly intractable increase in violent crime – rape, for example, went up 7% in the first six months of 1985 – has persuaded many to search for new ways to protect themselves. In the last decade, martial-arts schools have seen a surge in enrollment.
Matt Thomas of San Francisco, a 34-year-old black belt in Judo, Karate and Kendo, thinks that his Oriental specialties are not tough enough. In the course of researching some 2,700 police reports on assaults and rapes on the West Coast, he found that 80% of the assailants were unarmed, that they attacked in locales that were often dark, and that most tried to slam their intended victims to the ground quickly. And yet martial arts courses are usually conducted in well-lit, comfortably padded studios, with students taught to parry blows standing up.
Thomas’ solution is Model Mugging, a high-intensity seminar in street brawling. So far some 4,000 women, ages 13 to 69, have taken the 32-hour course (current fee: $150). They are first taught to confront an unarmed attacker with off-putting psychological weapons that range from conversation to picking their noses to urinating.
When more aggressive techniques are called for, students learn how to counterattack with fingers in the eyes, elbows to the neck and ribs, and kicks to the groin and shin. The object is to disable the mugger –played by a heavily padded Thomas – in the first five seconds, by liberating “women’s power, which has been repressed. They’ve never been socially rewarded forgiving a good kick in the groin,” he says. “Here, they’re rewarded.” Adds instructor Danielle Evans, “Model Mugging teaches women to become conscious of their fight-or-flight instinct, of the adrenaline that is there at their service.”
Thomas’ program is not without detractors; a local Aikido school, objecting to its violence, declined to share space with Model Mugging. Thomas himself has paid dearly for his role as attacker. Despite the $1,000 padded suit, he has been knocked cold 17 times, broken two ribs and suffered neck, back and groin injuries. Yet Thomas has resisted appeals from his worried wife to close down his school of hard knocks. (Improvements in protective armor has prevented Model Mugging instructors have not been injured since late 1980’s.)
OTHER WAYS TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Self-protection depends as much on readiness as it does on fire power, and the best defense is still avoiding the confrontation in the first place.
Personal security courses that have sprung up around the country stress that safety begins when you get dressed in the morning. Avoid tight skirts that could restrict running or footwear that might make you stumble.
If the only person in an elevator looks suspicious, wait for the next one.
Be alert in vacant parking lots and check out your car — front and back-before entering.
If you cannot escape from your assailant and all he wants is your wallet, give it to him.
In those cases when more is at stake, even women who don’t like guns usually have a devastating arsenal readily at hand. House keys held between the fingers (below, right) can gouge, and an umbrella (center) can be used to poke or choke.
A briefcase can serve as a shield or a battering ram.
Says Theodore West of Manhattan’s Executive Self-Defense Center: “If someone accosts you, you will be startled. But if you are able to regain your composure and take the initiative, by the third heartbeat the game should belong to you.”
Original Article in Picture Week, December 2, 1985
Up In Arms, Self Defense without a Firearm – Picture Week, pg 32, 37, & 38, Downloadable size is 1.99 MB
Other Model Mugging Self Defense Articles