They make it look so sexy. In Terminator 2, Linda Hamilton loads her 12-gauge shotgun so fast with those to-die-for iron-maiden arms that your head spins. Or Thelma and Louise. Those pistol packers in tight jeans and muscle T’s whip out their pieces to shoot up a tank truck with impeccable precision. And la femme Nikita, whose haute couture look, complete with sky-high heels, is only enhanced by the gleaming Magnum she fires with such elan. These days, the message in movies is clear: A woman with a gun is hot stuff.
Charged up by these celluloid images of Powerful Women — emerging from these films, I’d hold an imaginary semiautomatic to the head of my sheepish date — I decided to try a little gunplay myself. The notion of wielding a gun seemed so thrilling, so dangerous, so, well, erotic. I donned my Maude Frizon five-inch pumps and my tightest faded Levi’s and headed for the nearest shooting range, feeling for all the world like a woman warrior out to conquer her future.
Here’s what I learned: Being a gal with a gun is not all it’s cracked up to be. Granted, I might have felt differently if I had been shooting my way across the vast desert like Thelma or Louise. But my milieu was a sooty basement on Manhattan’s lower west side, and I chose my weapons with a young instructor named Bob, who wore a shoulder holster over a Letterman T-shirt.
”That’s the one,” I proclaimed, pointing to a slick, black, 9 mm semiautomatic Glock 17, the kind of futuristic-looking firearm Hamilton would have strapped on her belt. For variety, I added a faux-pearl-handled .38 special revolver, the sort I imagined Thelma packing. Bob showed me how to hold each gun, using my left thumb to anchor my right hand. I looked tough, I thought, tough but glamorous. In the gallery, Bob produced oversize orange earphones and dirty aviators to protect my eyes.
Palpable fear coursed through my veins, an adrenaline high, but not the kind I’d expected. The revolver, cocked and ready on the counter, seemed to taunt me with its explosive secrets. It was no longer an erotic accessory or a glamorous prop. It was a loaded gun — once I picked it up, I could kill.
I raised the .38 and braced myself, spreading my legs apart and bending my knees as instructed. My feet were sweating in my heels, and my hands were shaking. This wasn’t in the script. There was an emphatic bang, a flare, the gun was smoking slightly, and — you can ask Bob — I had shot a bull’s-eye on the target, the faceless outline of a man.
I was Thelma, I was Nikita, I was woman, hear me roar. My body trembled, as if I had discovered a vat of brute force in my emotional arsenal. I shot and shot again, emptying the barrel. Then Bob brought out the Glock 17. It was too big, too dark, too forbidding. The blast threw me backward; the uncontrollable power of this gun overwhelmed me. I had come out of those movies feeling empowered; here, I just felt diminished. I heard a voice in my head: ”A gun is a deadly weapon.” And I wondered, what would Linda do about that?