Handbags and handguns


Debbie MacDonald poses with her gun and purse. MacDonald is the founder of the Well Armed Woman Sacramento chapter, which is an all woman’s firearm group. (Photo by Hannah Darden)

Hannah Darden

In a world where women cannot walk down the street after dark without the fear of violent or sexual assault, they need a way to defend themselves. Such is the belief of the Sacramento chapter of the Well Armed Woman (TWAW).

Before making the decision to shoot someone, the person has to be okay with the idea of killing an individual, according to Debbie MacDonald, a founding member of the Sacramento chapter.

“What’s the alternative?” said MacDonald. “Death. And for women, rape. Is that a fun alternative? No. We’re not gonna let that happen.”

TWAW is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to firearms education, safety and law. Their meetings happen in classrooms in the back of gun ranges, and focus on teaching gun owners’ rights, safety and upcoming legislation.

The Sacramento chapter meets at a gun range in North Highlands to practice self-defense with firearms. The group is made up entirely of women, of all ages and skill levels.

Chapter member Cece Cox described it as a “sorority house atmosphere.” A member came to one of the meetings with her newborn, and was later surrounded by women cooing over her.

“There’s no intimidation factor,” said TWAW member and Friends of the National Rifle Association (NRA) committee member Debbie Anderson. “It’s an organization by women, for women.”

Well-Armed Woman member, Julie Gilchrist, shoots at a target at The Gun Range in Sacramento after her meeting on March 8. The women had discussed gun safety and responsibility. (Photo by Sharriyona Platt)
Well-Armed Woman member, Julie Gilchrist, shoots at a target at The Gun Range in Sacramento after her meeting on March 8. The women had discussed gun safety and responsibility. (Photo by Sharriyona Platt)

The women spent an hour-long meeting on March 8 discussing the legality behind using a firearm against an attacker, and the legal defense they would need to put together if a situation ever arose that required them to fire their weapon at another human being.

The club’s female-only membership intends to lend an air of comfort, security and camaraderie to the sometimes frightening idea of owning a firearm, which allows the women to express their hobby in a way that traditional gun clubs cannot.

“The firearms area tends to be more male-dominated, this is a more comfortable avenue to discover if a gun is right, because we do feel a little more comfortable with women,” said Sacramento chapter member Leanne Sweeney.

The women also shared their experiences of being condescended to by men at gun ranges, and said it was empowering for them to learn more about firearms in a nonthreatening environment.

“Some men are very encouraging, ask me questions. But just recently, a man in a gun shop saw my husband and I and asked ‘how can I help you, sir?’… he ignored me,” Sweeney said.

There is a distinct air of patriotism which pervades the room, with frequent references to the second amendment and a recitation of the pledge of allegiance to begin the evening.

“For some members, this is their first time saying the pledge since elementary school,” said founding member and gun range instructor Debbie MacDonald.“That is a sad comment on where we’ve let our patriotism go.”

While members such as Anderson and Julie Gilchrist had experience before they joined the Well Armed Woman, however, not all are gun savvy when they join.

Gilchrist initially was browsing the internet to buy a new holster for her Glock, when she found the Well Armed Woman website, which sells gun-related products and accessories.

Sweeney was doing research, looking at self defense options and laws when she found TWAW and decided to attend a meeting.

“Some people want to get on a pedestal, ‘get a gun, get a gun, get a gun,’” said Sweeney. “But this organization is about learning… I wanted to learn.”

MacDonald and Sweeney discussed the law behind self-defense shootings and explained the standard of judgment to the club.

The standard of judgment is used in law to determine what a “reasonable person” would have done in the given situation, and helps both prosecutors and defense lawyers cultivate their arguments.

The chapter members also discussed the California castle doctrine, a popular defense in self-defense homicide cases which happen inside the home.

The castle doctrine refers to section 198.5 of the California Penal Code, which states that if an assailant “unlawfully and forcibly enters” the home and is shot by a member of the household, it is presumed that the shooter “held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household.”

This means that a shooter is less likely to be convicted for harming an intruder.

The meeting also gave the women information on how to get their concealed carry permits and discussed court cases and legislation that might make concealed carry permits more difficult ‒ or easier ‒ to get.

The organization, however, cannot throw its support behind any laws because of its status as a nonprofit.

“It’s a fine line we walk… being politically involved in any way. We need to be cognizant,” said McDonald.

Its members may vote for or support any laws, propositions or amendments that they’d like, as private citizens.

The women spent the remainder of their night catching up with each other, discussing the meeting topics in small groups, or in the range doing target practice and shooting their guns of choice.