Marketing: Annie finally gets her gun

With more women learning to shoot, gun makers offer more ladylike weapons.

With more women learning to shoot gun makers offer more ladylike weapons. (Focus Features/Newscom)

Decked out with silver floral engraving, a two-tone red-and-black frame and a rosewood handle, the P238 Lady was a debutante at the 2011 SHOT Show in Las Vegas. The biggest shooting and hunting trade show of the year was the appropriate debut location for the designer pistol made by U.S. manufacturer SIG Sauer. Measuring just 14 centimetres long, the Lady is one of an increasing number of “purse-friendly” guns on the market, as manufacturers compete to combine fashion and firearms in an attempt to appeal to women.

Much as consumers can customize their iPods in hot pink or yellow, the same now goes for guns. SIG Sauer’s P290, a compact 9-milimetre handgun, comes in plain black with the after-market option of removable hand plates that can be customized in pink and purple. Or there’s the SIG Sauer Mosquito, which comes with an optional pink-coated polymer frame. Taurus offers concealed-carry handguns and revolvers with pearly pink-and-white grips, their shiny swirls reminiscent of a 10-pin bowling ball. Unfortunately, company president and CEO Bob Morrison says that Canadian importing restrictions mean the Taurus guns are only available in the United States.

While SIG Sauer continues to expand its range of offerings designed specifically for women, it still represents only a small portion of the overall product line. “From my standpoint, there’s only room to grow,” says Rado Skoczylas, marketing assistant product manager for SIG Sauer Inc.

Guns designed and marketed for women aren’t entirely new, says Peggy Tartaro, executive editor of Women and Guns magazine. The first women-specific gun hit the market in 1989. The LadySmith revolver, manufactured by Smith & Wesson, had rosewood grips and a slimmed-down size. Other manufactures followed after that, and today’s proliferation of pink and purple products has a lot to do with better processes and technologies. “It’s a lot easier now to make a pink or purple gun than it was 20 years ago,” Tartaro says.

There is also a bigger market. As women enter traditionally male firearms-wielding occupations, such as policing and the military, more women are learning to shoot. And in the U.S., at least, the ’90s brought legislation allowing people to carry concealed weapons in most states, meaning that smaller guns became more in demand for both men and women.

That doesn’t mean this new breed of female firearm enthusiast is relegated to locations south of the border. When Toronto-based entrepreneur Kim Page went to the shooting range for the first time in 2007, she was hooked. She came home and looked online for women’s earmuffs and safety glasses, but couldn’t find any. In 2008, she launched Packing in Pink, a company that sells powder-pink earmuffs, safety glasses, trigger locks and apparel. “I wanted all the cute gear to wear to the range, and there wasn’t any, which is what prompted the company,” Page says.

Yet even as firearm manufactures vie for their place in this growing market, history shows that it’s not enough just to make a gun in a girly colour. “Some people just decided, we’ll make gun X pink, violet or something, and I’m sure there were some people who bought them, but there was less thought into them,” Tartaro says. While other designed-for-women firearms have come and gone in the past 22 years, a version of that first LadySmith is still around today, and it relies on quality design, not a pink-toned grip, for its staying—and stopping—power.