One woman clutches a handgun while lounging on a floral bedspread with a puppy. Another poses behind a shop counter with one firearm on her belt and another clipped to her shirt like a deadly piece of jewelry. Yet another hugs her young son with a gun in her free hand.
In her series “Concealed: She’s Got a Gun,” photographer Shelly Calton, 55, captures the lady gun-owners of the Lone Star State. In the midst of a raging national debate over Second Amendment rights, the photographs shift the focus from gun policy to a vivid look at individuals who arm themselves. And they’re not just the macho Charlton Heston types that dominate NRA conventions–these subjects might be carrying handguns while pushing a baby carriage at the grocery store.
Calton herself grew up in Houston, Texas, in a culture where firearms were nearly as commonplace as kitchen knives. “We had guns in our house for hunting and protection,” Calton tells Co.Design. A friend’s unsettling story piqued Calton’s curiosity about women’s motivations for owning guns: “My friend was in the hair salon when another woman patron dropped her handbag. A gun inside it accidentally fired, and the bullet ricocheted around the salon, narrowly missing my friend,” Calton says.
After hearing this story, Calton began looking for female gun-owners to photograph, starting with her own circle of friends. “They were easy to find,” she says. She traveled around Texas to take these women’s portraits, from small towns to cities and suburbs. Her subjects include businesswomen, homemakers, ranchers, a Texas Ranger, and an ex-mayor.
“This group of women own guns for various reasons, but a common motivation is to protect themselves and their loved ones,” Calton says. Most claim they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot to kill in self-defense. The majority of women pictured have a Concealed Handgun License, which allows them to carry on their body in public. A few were motivated to buy guns after specific “incidents,” Calton says. Others had inherited guns from family members, guns that had been passed on through generations. Still others simply collect guns as if they were handbags or designer shoes.
Many of the women pictured look proud of their weapons; others look blasé, as if holding a gun were no more shocking than holding a toothbrush. To gun-culture outsiders, the images are disturbing, with instruments of death juxtaposed against otherwise cozy domestic scenes. But Calton wished to portray her subjects in a neutral to positive light. Midway through this project, she herself received a concealed handgun license and inherited a gun from her father. “I support and respect the women and their decision to own handguns,” she says.
Calton’s photographs will be published in an upcoming book from Kehrer Verlag.