Violet Blue with her gun in her San Francisco apartment. | FIRST RUN FEATURES
What is it about the image of women with guns that is so alluring? That’s the question that Cathryne Czubek’s enlightening documentary “A Girl & A Gun” asks.
As the dozen-plus females with firearms interviewed in this film attest, girls and guns can be a rare, exotic breed. Even erotic — just look at the way bikini-clad girls sporting weapons jiggle. They can demonstrate empowerment and break gender stereotypes. But women with guns can also be protective — whether providing personal safety or service in the military.
The construct of female identity vis-à-vis guns is the focus here, and Czubek provides a series of intriguing bullet points that examine how women behave with weapons.
Cathryne Czubek sets her sights on women with weapons
Viewers meet Robin, a tai chi instructor who goes shopping for a gun. She likens it to shoe shopping and looks for something lightweight and inexpensive. As she negotiates with a gun dealer, they show obvious rapport — even as he acknowledges that it’s different dealing with a woman buyer, he is respectful toward her.
Robin later explains — while cleaning her gun, her rings and bright red fingernail polish visible — that she was prompted to buy a weapon when a 6’3” ex-boyfriend gave her reason to worry about her security. She bemoans the fact that she could not buy a taser but can own a gun once she completes a 30-day waiting period. Her observation that shooting — but not zapping — her ex might be legal puts the ongoing gun debate into perspective.
Another vignette features Violet Blue. A San Francisco blogger whose life was threatened, she boasts about keeping a loaded weapon by her bed. The theme of personal security is reinforced.
Two heartbreaking interviews probe that issue more starkly. In one, Sarah, a young Oklahoma widow with a baby, describes shooting an intruder. The homicide was justified, but it still haunts her. We see her carrying her baby in one hand and her gun in the other as she walks around her property in fear. It is a disturbing image, but also a reality check about what some women in our society experience.
Karen, a 34 year-old woman in a Louisiana correctional facility, recalls shooting her girlfriend during an argument. She regrets her action every single day.
The impact of gun violence is made especially clear in the story Stephanie Alexander tells about her daughter, Aieshia, surviving a drive-by shooting. The incident provoked Stephanie to become a victim’s rights activist. A meeting she attends in Washington, DC, with other mothers of gun violence victims gets at the emotional impact it has on surviving family members. The women recount being told they have to seek “closure” for their suffering or — worse — “It is a shame you lost a child, but I still love my gun.”
One of the most complex portraits in the film features a nurse wrapping up a gun for her eight-year-old son’s Christmas present. She acknowledges that growing up she was a tomboy who always had guns in her life. But she then breaks down crying as she reveals that her brother died of a gunshot wound as a teenager while joking around in the woods with friends. “A Girl & A Gun” raises paradoxes like this about America’s gun culture, even if it does not delve deeply into the irony involved.
Czubek also showcases women whose relationships to guns are far less freighted. Peggy takes her son out shooting but considers a gun to be a tool much in the same way, say, a food processor is. She delights as she explodes a half-gallon container of water and acknowledges that shooting provides a “release” for her. Margit, a New Yorker, goes to the gun range to shoot for pleasure — impressing her brothers — but steadfastly refuses to keep a gun in her apartment, lest her teenage sons or their friends discover it.
The interviews in “A Girl & A Gun” are uniformly fascinating, and Czubek succeeds admirably in providing a diversity of voices, experiences, and opinions. She never seems to judge the women she profiles, which is one of the film’s key strengths.
One of the film’s most effective sequences shows a series of ads demonstrating the way in which women are targeted for gun sales. These ads prey upon women’s fears, suggesting that owning a gun is a necessity. A woman at a Las Vegas gun show demonstrating the pocket in a hunting outfit for keeping lipstick at the ready for a photo with her kill may put a sunny face on gun ownership, but many of the images and slogans used in the ads are far more menacing.
Czubek also provides a brief history of women and guns, from Annie Oakley to criminals like Ma Barker and Bonnie Parker, to more recent images out of Hollywood. That last group of representations — from “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Terminator,” and even “The Simpsons,” among many — project sexuality and power. But those strengths need not come at the expense of femininity — as one woman who likens her gun collection to Barbies and another who says she prefers her guns in the Barbie-pink color remind us.
The only major flaw in “A Girl & A Gun” is its abrupt ending. Sure, women and guns engender complex and ambivalent feelings, but given the wealth of interesting ground the film covers, that feels like a cop-out. This film provides considerable food for thought, so at the least it should spark a continued conversation after audiences leave the theater.
A GIRL & A GUN | Directed by Cathryne Czubek | First Run Features | Opens Jul. 5 | Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th St. | quadcinema.com