Why Did Nancy Lanza Love Guns? I Bet I Know.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
Dec. 17 2012 5:25 PM

Why Did Nancy Lanza Love Guns?

Probably for the same reasons I did. Until now.

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There was another time at a party in Santa Fe, N.M., where I had moved to, when I met a guy who was carrying a gun—an old antique six-shooter, like a cowboy. I asked him what I should get. And he said, “Don’t get one.”

“Why not?” I shot back.

“Because guns are for cowards,” he said. He owned several dozen, he claimed.

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I kept putting the purchase off. I once pitched “lady buys gun” as a story for, of course, a men’s magazine, which I think was an excuse to, Gonzo-style, fulfill my true desire in the guise of reportage.

But I never quite got there. And then I got older and older and began watching my friends and their children and their lives, and the news began affecting me in ways it never did before, violence bringing me to tears and keeping me up at night. But until last week, I was never altogether sure that I would never own a gun.

Now I’m sure. I will never own a gun. 

When I read that Nancy Lanza, killed by her son via her own gun, would boast to men at bars about her gun collection, I understood. This woman, long divorced, alone, in a house of men, in a world of men, somehow felt empowered by this thing. It probably made her feel protected, invincible even, big and strong. Like a man. (Or like the most antiquated, cheap notion of manhood you can spin, still sadly very much alive in our culture.) But Nancy Lanza is not a freak case—recent Gallup poll results show that the percentage of women who report home gun ownership is at a new high: 43 percent of women, just nine percentage points less than the level for men.* And, according to CBS News, in the past decade, shooting ranges have seen double the number of female participants.

There are so many horrible angles to the Connecticut school tragedy to investigate and contemplate—and the gender one is pretty low on the list of importance. But it’s the one I will remember. Because when we see photos of women in veils in my native Iran holding machine guns, we still think badass. When we see Angelina Jolie with her Lara Croft bandolier, like a beauty-pageant sash around her military sex-doll fatigues, we think hot. When we hear M.I.A. with her trigger-finger swagger calling for some enemy’s death, we nod along.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the shooter was a twentysomething white male—this is the demographic for this senseless crime—and we feel some comfort in the predictableness of that. But even a sweet Connecticut housewife and mother, or a literary geek like me, can get swept up in the false power of guns. It’s time to realize what much of gun-loving actually is—a passion for destruction veiled as protection.

It’s time for all of us to woman up and disarm.

Correction, Dec. 19, 2012: This article originally stated that women report home gun ownership at a rate 9 percent lower than men. The difference is actually nine percentage points. (Return to the corrected article.)

Porochista Khakpour is the author of the novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects and frequent contributor of essays to the New York Times and other publications.

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