Since Independent Women’s Forum advocate Gayle Trotter testified against gun control on the grounds that guns give women a necessary means to defend themselves, the debate on this question has gotten heated and often ugly. When Zerlina Maxwell said, entirely reasonably, on Fox News that perhaps it made more sense to try to minimize the risk of rape by educating men and teaching them to seek consent more rigorously to prevent assaults like date and acquaintance rape, she became the target of a vicious coordinated campaign to silence her. Into this space, though it’s not likely to change Trotter’s mind, or convince the chorus of trolls threatening Maxwell with rape, comes Loves Her Gun, an unusually thoughtful movie about firearms ownership, violence against women, and the impact fear has on our decision-making, that premiered at South By Southwest yesterday.
Directed by Geoff Marslett and set and shot significantly in Austin, Loves Her Gun follows Allie (Trieste Kelly Dunn), a young woman working menial jobs in New York who, on the way home from a concert, is robbed and beaten two blocks from her East Williamsburg apartment. Met with suspicion from the police because Allie insists that her attackers were wearing animal masks, or because her extreme fear transmuted them into animals, angry at the boyfriend who ditched her to attend a concert, and feeling unsafe in New York, Allie abruptly decides to decamp for Austin with the band she saw before she was attacked. On their beautifully-shot road trip back to Austin, Allie seems to have achieved a measure of peace. But once settled in Austin, crashing first with Zoe (Ashley Spillers), then with Zoe’s best friend Clark (Francisco Barriero), and taking a landscaping job working for Sarah (Melissa Bisagni), Allie’s unable to sleep, terrified of country noises unfamilir to her in New York, the neighbors quarrelling next door, what she believes to be the expectation that she have sex with Clark, who nurses a Nice-Guy crush on her.
Allie is a nightmare for both responsible gun owners, and for gun control policy advocates. She has neither a criminal record or a history of mental illness that would trigger a background check and prevent her from buying a firearm. She pays careful attention to and appears to take to heart Sarah’s instructions about handgun safety, including Sarah’s injunction that “You never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to destroy.” But Allie’s reasons for wanting a gun are themselves the kind of warning sign that policies could never be designed to catch. When Sarah tells her “You were scared in Brooklyn, you’re scared in Austin, you should just get a gun,” she believes that owning a firearm would allow Allie to hear strange noises in her new town or the fights between her neighbors at an appropriate volume, rather than being so overwhelmed by them that she needs to drown out her fear with alcohol and sleeping pills. But what Allie wants is not to reinterpret events, but to reshape the world around her, an important difference that becomes apparently the night after she purchases a small revolver.
On her way to Clark’s house, she overhears an altercation between his neighbors and, loading her revolver in the car, inserts herself into the domestic dispute and becomes the most dangerous person in it. “Don’t fucking shoot him,” begs the woman Allie sees herself as protecting. “Just call somebody. Don’t shoot him. Don’t shoot him. It’s my fault.” The woman may have been at risk of a beating — she’d been dragged outside of the house by her hair. But the police were coming, and Allie’s intervention upped the stakes to a fatal level. “Not only did you point a loaded gun at someone, but you scared the shit out of his wife,” a deeply disappointed Sarah tells Allie. “I wasn’t doing it to her,” Allie insists, in a terrifyingly succinct expression of the tunnel vision around guns, and the insistence that their proliferation doesn’t change the environment in which they’re owned, carried, and fired.
This isn’t the last time that Allie uses her gun. And while Loves Her Gun doesn’t deal with the consequences of a woman feeling herself to be threatened using a firearm — feminists have argued, I think convincingly, that given the suspicion against rape victims, women who defend themselves against attackers with guns would face long hurdles in convincing police and juries that their uses of force were justified, something the Gayle Trotters of the world don’t take into account — the movie does imply that owning a gun doesn’t make Allie less fearful or more safe, just more likely to escalate situations in which she finds herself to be frightened.
Trotter, Wayne La Pierre, and other gun control opponents who lay out post-apocalyptic scenarios or dreams of violent home invasions as justification for the proliferation of weapons, may enjoy the fear they claim to feel as a way of indulging in fantasies of their own hyper-competence. But terror has curdled Allie, limiting her world and making her more likely to do emotional and physical violence to other people. If that paranoid, violent world is the ones Trotter and the people threatening Maxwell want to defend, they’re welcome to it.