At a recent social event, a female acquaintance asked me about guns. This was hardly a new topic of conversation for me, as I spent almost 14 years in federal law enforcement before heading into the corporate world. Last year, after I co-founded a concealed-carry handbag company with an accessories designer from L.A., the gun questions have come fast and furious whenever I find myself amongst a group of women. I am often bombarded with the politics of guns, hearing from staunch gun-control advocates who think weapons should be banned, and from avid gun-rights activists who are card-carrying NRA members voicing their right to bear arms. In this sea of politics, I find myself teetering precariously between the groups and wondering how I wound up in the center of the “Great American Gun Debate” while on my way to grab a cocktail.
I would hardly call my career path a traditional one; in fact, before I left my law practice in 2001 to join the ranks of the federal government, I had never even considered owning or using a firearm. As I struggled with the rigors of the law enforcement training academy, I came to accept that guns were going to become part of my landscape. Over the years, I worked hard to become a good shooter, to keep up with my teammates who always seemed to be stronger, heavier, taller and faster than I was.
At 5’3” and 110 pounds, I was hardly the smallest person to ever become a federal agent, but in the early years of my career I found myself developing a troubling personality trait, a swagger that would lead me head-first into confrontation with a confidence I never truly felt. After one particularly memorable arrest that left me with bite marks on my wrist and a large dent in my pride, one of my colleagues suggested I look at taming the wild beast in me by truly mastering the firearm I carried on my hip. His wise words sent me to the gun range on a regular basis, and within a few months I realized that mastery brought empowerment.
With my new-found confidence, I no longer felt the need to prove myself bigger and badder than those around me. I developed a quieter style of interacting with both fellow officers and subjects alike as the gun range took the place of my yoga studio in strengthening my mind and body. I found that same sense of peace in other women, both in and outside of law enforcement, who were proficient with firearms and confident in their skills.
I became curious about why other women carried guns. I knew other female agents who seldom carried their weapons off duty, and only went to the range for the required hours to qualify. Some cited a lack of interest in weapons other than as a necessary tool of the trade. Others said they didn’t want their weapons around their kids, so they kept their guns locked up off duty. Conversely, I knew other women who carried their weapons everywhere they went, citing personal safety as their primary motivation for carrying concealed. I fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, since I had to carry one for work but often chose to carry one off duty.
I became so accustomed to carrying a firearm that I began looking for a concealed carry handbag. At my size, with my narrow frame, many alternative carry methods were not feasible to conceal a gun. Shoulder holsters and ankle holsters didn’t work for me, and I had gotten tired of only wearing pants with belt loops and having to wear baggy tops to cover my hip holster. I was horrified to find that concealed carry bags were only available online or in sporting goods stores. A look in my closet would reassure most people that I would never purchase a handbag from a store that also sells fishing lures and hunting gear…and so Been & Badge was born. A year and half of collaboration with my business partner, who knows handbags as well as I know guns, led to the launch of our first handbag line last summer.
Shortly after Been & Badge launched, I left law enforcement to work in a corporate job that does not require a firearm. Suddenly, I was arming myself with wrap dresses and stilettos instead of a hip holster and handcuffs every morning before I headed out the door to work. Carrying a weapon became a choice rather than a need.
I found myself working among a diverse group of women and was surprised to learn that corporate America has its fair share of women shooters within its ranks. When co-workers learn of my law enforcement background, the gun questions generally follow. I have been asked for my opinion on many issues related to firearms, but never why I shoot. In the private sector, many of the women shooters I have met are members of gun clubs or organized groups with some strongly supporting political groups and the gun rights movement.
I decline to take a position on the many political issues that swirl around firearms in this country. Guns can be a very emotional issue for some people to discuss, and as such, my conversation stays fairly limited on the subject to avoid straying into political territory. Every handbag I carry, whether it is one of my line or not, is grabbed and inspected by strangers who wish to know if I have a gun hiding inside. Tempers flare whether I say yes or no as I’m reclaiming my handbag and asserting my own right to privacy.
I’m not sure when the use of firearms turned into such a hotly contested issue. Perhaps that’s a good sign, because for me, guns have always occupied a place in my world. The same place as my laptop, my smart phone, my sunglasses and the Swiss Army multi-purpose tool I keep in my desk.
Last year I began hosting educational seminars on self-empowerment and personal safety. Inevitably someone in each class asks about guns, and my answer is always the same. I share what I learned so many years ago while struggling to master my weapon at the range. Shooting is as much mental as it is a physical exercise. What will ultimately save your life in a dangerous situation is your mindset and your training. A gun is merely a tool to supplement those things. For me, firearms are not a tool to use as a political statement, nor do I consider them to be my first line of defense in a dangerous situation. Simply put, I carry a gun to keep myself safe. I advocate for safe carry and safe handling of firearms for those who choose to carry concealed.
During a media interview last year, a reporter was probing into my politics when she asked me who the target market was for my handbag line. I replied “Women shooters.”
She asked, “Can you be more specific than that?”
After some thought, I replied, “Well-trained, stylish women shooters.”
At a later point in the interview, I was asked what my strongest conviction was about guns when I decided to launch the business. One of my friends still laughs to this day at the look on the reporter’s face as I responded. My answer? “Street style.”
Licensed attorney, former federal agent and social justice filmmaker. I work in Corporate America but my heart is in the streets. I am passionate about social reform and eliminating poverty, and I also love fashion, firearms and Jack Russell Terriers. I believe that education and empowerment lead to cultural change.