An armed campus: the goal of a new generation of woman activists

March 03, 2002|By Susan Reimer

Christie Caywood grew up in Oklahoma around firearms. Although she never learned how to shoot, she knew guns were a serious matter.

"We understood guns were tools. As kids, we were never tempted to play with them," she says.

Caywood came east to college at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, where, unknown to her, gun laws are among the most restrictive in the country.

"A friend of mine from Kansas who grew up around guns, too, suggested we go to the firing range to take a break from finals," says Caywood, a junior.

"Six of us went, and four of us had never shot before, even though we'd lived with guns."

A man showed the girls how to operate a Smith & Wesson .22 semi-automatic, "a very good gun to start out on," and the girls were hooked.

Caywood decided to buy a gun and take up shooting, but she ran smack into Massachusetts laws that required her to wait until her 21st birthday to begin a lengthy process that could result in her being denied a gun permit without, she said, any reason or any route of appeal.

"As soon as I started looking into the laws, I saw that the rights of people to own guns were being denied here. That's when I looked at starting an organization and talking to women about their Second Amendment rights."

So Caywood, an active conservative, started a campus chapter of Second Amendment Sisters, an organization begun by women, according to their Web site, who had "enough of the distortion, the misrepresentation, and the reproach from the anti-Second Amendment crowd."

"They wanted to show that the Million Moms March didn't speak for all women."

While she was organizing her chapter, Caywood, a member of the College Republicans, learned that not even the security police on the all-female campus were permitted to carry firearms.

"Weapons are banned on campus. We aren't allowed to be armed, but it would be nice if at least our campus police could defend us," Caywood says.

The short-term goal of SAS is to spread awareness among women on self-defense issues. "It is the single best way to approach women on the subject of the second amendment.

"Is it my goal to arm the women students on this campus? It would be nice, but there are Massachusetts laws that get in the way, so it isn't likely to happen, certainly not while I'm here.

"We want to educate women about all self-defense issues. Encourage them to support our right to defend ourselves in any way we see fit, even if it is with a firearm."

For her part, Caywood just turned 21, so she can now begin the process of purchasing and getting licensed to carry a gun.

"I have to save a couple of paychecks first, but I do plan on carrying a gun in the future, everywhere it is legal," she says.

Talking to Caywood recalled for me my days as a campus activist, although at the time we were trying to make a place for women on the faculty and the sports teams and the marching band, not the firing range.

She said that there has been some negative reaction from other women students, especially when SAS members are canvassing for the signatures the group is required by the school to collect each semester for two years.

"But most of them understand our right to come together over an issue we believe in, even if they do not agree."

The activist I was during my college days would agree, too. But I regret that this is the child that college activist birthed -- a young woman whose goal is to arm her classmates.

I regret that this -- the unhindered right to carry a gun -- is a galvanizing issue in a movement that was originally about equal educational and economic opportunities and control over our own reproductive systems.

It is as though the women's movement has finally turned in upon itself.

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