13 Feb 2013

The Pistol Packing Ladies: mums and kids’ night at the range

The pistols are pink, the instructors are family-friendly and the contingent is all-female. The Pistol Packing Ladies, based in Virginia, is not your typical gun group.

The founders of the Pistol Packing Ladies, Teresa Ovalle and Erica Quinley, say they are focused on gun safety and training. As they talk us through firing a round, they make shooting a gun seem like child’s play – which is probably just as well, as we have arrived just in time for mums and kids’ night at the range.

Eager kids aged between eight and 12 have ditched their latest toys for the evening to come and fire a round at the gun range. For many of the girls in the group, it’s their first time shooting a gun.

Instructors talk them through all the stages of loading and firing their pistols, and the girls seem excited as they present their completed targets to their mothers, much like any other craft project.

If kids are going to be around guns, I think it’s important for parents to train their kids about the safety of a gun. Teresa Ovalle, co-founder of Pistol Packing Ladies

Teresa Ovalle, the group’s founder, explained why this Virginia-based female shooting group invites kids and their mums to the range.

“If kids are going to be around guns, they may have guns at home, I think it’s important for parents to train their kids about the safety of a gun,” she said.

“If we educate our kids about guns and the second amendment, then it can lose its novelty and then they’re not toys… It’s a tool just like a drill, just like a car, just like any other implement,” added her co-founder Erica Quinley.

Not the only girl group in town

These suburban mothers and daughters may seem unusual but they typify a growing US trend in female gun ownership.

According to Gallup, a US research consultancy, the number of women with a gun in their household was at an all-time high in 2011, at 43 per cent, while female gun ownership was at 23 per cent.

Why women and kids are packing heat in Virginia (screengrab)

The Pistol Packing Ladies are definitely not the only girl group in town, and are joined by the likes of A Girl and A Gun, Girls Just Want to Have Guns, and She Can Shoot, to name but a few.

Women are joining gun groups in growing numbers for a variety of reasons. Some, such as founder Teresa, have been in the military or armed services; others have joined following traumatic experiences, such as physical assault.

Read more in our Guns in America special report

One of the regular members of the group tells us about how she took up shooting last December after an attempted rape which left her with 20 stitches in her head.

She was with her daughter at the time and now believes that being able to fire a gun could help her in a situation where the police may not arrive in time.

Choice, freedom, and guns

The second amendment of the US constitution enshrines in US law the American citizen’s right to carry a gun.

These women are ardent believers in the second amendment and see it as crucial that they are able to defend themselves if necessary.

“Often times in dangerous situations, especially in homes, some people feel that the police aren’t going to get there in time and so we have the second amendment that allows for people to protect themselves,” Erica said.

The debate surrounding stricter gun control is, for them, about choice and freedom, two cornerstones of American society that you just dont mess with. Guns are just another way to exercise their rights, and the Pistol Packing Ladies believe they are “empowering women one round at a time”.

The women at this group are mothers with children at primary school – so the horror of a mass school shooting hits close to home. Yet their views on tighter gun control have not been swayed.

When asked about whether the Newtown massacre has done anything to change their attitude to gun reform, Erica said: “I think it’s a personal choice about how folks conduct themselves with or without firearms.

“Luckily we have that choice in this country.”

Kat Hayes works at the ITN Washington bureau