A recent Gallup suggests men are 5 times more likely than women to own guns. But an estimated 15 percent of women do own guns. As part of our Gun Stories series Allison Frost spoke with three Oregon women to hear their personal gun stories.
65-year-old Karen Randolph has a summary of her feelings about guns.
“They’ve just always been a joy.”
Randolph works in Beaverton as a letter carrier. And for decades, she’s thoroughly enjoyed shooting. She has five grown children; two of her sons share that passion. Her favorite weapon? Hands down, the semi-automatic AR-15.
“(It) is a ladies gun, it is a delight for a gun, has very little kick, is fun to aim, you know, you can just go plinking with it, you can actually kill animals with it if you need to hunt for food, or enjoy it. But it’s the most fun gun I’ve ever owned.”
She says she’s never felt the need to carry a weapon for personal protection, though she did flee her first husband after a growing sense that he might harm her. She lives now with her fiancé in the quiet, tree-filled Laurelhurst neighborhood in Portland. But says if she ever lived in a different neighborhood where she didn’t feel safe, she wouldn’t hesitate to apply for a concealed carry license.
Randolph doesn’t belong to the NRA, but she says her guns are off limits.
“I would probably become a criminal if somebody said I had to turn them in, just because I think it’s wrong.”
While Karen Randolph considers guns a joy, Eileen Kovac is ambivalent. She’s a freelancer and an amateur photographer and so she’s happy to meet me on an unusually sunny afternoon at one of her favorite NW coffee shops.
Kovac doesn’t own a gun now but she used to.
She bought one decades ago in Colorado after a colleague was brutally raped. She says the people who ran the shop gave her a lot of advice.
“And they talk to you before you make your purchase. And they say if you have a weapon like this, it’s not any good if it’s unloaded and it’s not going to do you any good if it’s out of reach. So they suggest that you sleep with the gun under your pillow. That’s not me.”
She says eventually she felt more burdened by the gun than protected — and concerned about what might happen if the gun were stolen. In Portland, she tried trading down to a smaller gun but it too sat neglected. She eventually sold it, after she finally realized she’d never be able to use it.
“If someone’s coming toward you in a dark garage, and you’re afraid, and you see their silhouette approaching and no one else is around and you’re carrying a gun, how do you know, that this person should be stopped?”
Women are less likely than men to be victims of violent crime in general except when it comes to rape and other sexual assault. 90 percent of those victims are women. And more often than not, it’s a woman who’s suffers intimate partner violence.
Lonnie Feather is a member of that group.
She’s pounding clay in her home studio in Southeast Portland. It’s the same house where, in 2001, she was shot in the head by her then-boyfriend. She found out he’d charged $30,000 on her credit cards and confronted him.
She had never known him to be violent before. But on this day, he responded by getting a gun out of his RV in the driveway, and choking her unconscious. Then, when she came to, he shot her in the head twice at point blank range.
Lonnie Feather describes what happened after those first two shots.
“He put a pillow over my head and fired 2 more shots, so a total of 4 shots, 3 actually hit my head and I went through a process of ‘am I alive?’, OK, I’m noticing my heart beat, can I move my fingers, and I know he’s still in the room, you know. I didn’t think I could fight him and I didn’t think I could get up and run, because I knew he shot me in the head.”
She managed to call 911 when he was out of the room. She kept playing dead for hours during her boyfriend’s standoff with police. Finally, he gave himself up to police officers and she was rushed into an ambulance.
Despite her experience, she remains committed to nonviolence.
“And I’ve heard people say, all women will be safe, if everyone just packed a gun, and that just sounds to me like, let’s just meet up in the middle of the street, like OK Corral.”
Lonnie Feather says she respects those who choose to carry guns for personal security, she just doesn’t want to.
Feather has a scar on her cheek that she could have had plastic surgery to remove. But as she reaches up briefly to touch it, she says it’s a reminder of who she is, that she survived — more than survived. She laughs easily, and she says she couldn’t be happier, living with her black cat, Kitty, creating and selling her art.
Many of the sources for this series came to us from OPB’s Public Insight Network. You can share your perspective on our “Gun Stories” tumblr page, and hear all of the features in this series by visiting opb.org/gunstories.