“When we see a woman with a gun, we don’t know what to think. Who is she really?” a voice asks as the screen fills with alternating magazine covers featuring female celebrities, ending on Lady Gaga, who appeared on the cover of a July 2010 Rolling Stone issue wearing a thong and a bra with guns jutting out of it. Over its brisk 75 running time, A Girl and a Gun offers a fairly broad and unsurprising survey of the different answers to this question, profiling both everyday women who’re drawn to guns (for reasons of protection, security, and control; for recreation or because of family tradition; for a sense of power) and ones who, because of their own personal firearms-related losses, are against them because of how they enable damage. A Girl and a Gun is itself like a shotgun, as its scatter-shot thematic blast is wide and lacking in precision. Instead of hitting on so many different aspects of her subject matter, had director Catheryne Czubek focused on just one or two of the several interesting or lesser-explored topics under the umbrella of her debut film’s subject matter, A Girl and a Gun might have amounted to a sharper, more interesting documentary.
One such topic that deserves more attention is the representation of armed women in movies. We’re shown various clips from films like The Brave One and Thelma & Louise, but there’s scant, if any, analysis of what the portrayal of women in these movies mean. Randomly, Nancy Floyd, the author of She’s Got a Gun, a cultural-historical look at mainstream America’s changing perceptions of women and guns, tells us that “In some cases female directors do handle women with guns different, but for the most part they’re still playing to Hollywood: It’s a marketplace.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead to clips or discussion of films directed by said women, but instead to a series of clips similar to those seen on TV in Jackie Brown, of bikini-clad women firing semi-automatics in the desert.
Despite these shortcomings, A Girl and a Gun is made easy to watch by the smart decision to feature the likable Robin Natanal, a Tai Chi instructor from Massachusetts who recently became a gun owner out of fear of her violent ex-boyfriend; she’s a choice interviewee as her ambivalence toward guns will be relatable to many women and her justifications of self-defense are easily understandable. Besides Robin’s continual presence in this documentary, there’s another highlight of continuity, one that the film is either unaware of or chooses not to acknowledge: Every woman’s story—from rape to benign social activity—relates back to men, making the film an accidental account of how the relationship between men and women influences the relationship women have with guns, an interesting angle right under the film’s nose.