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Sunday, 20 October, 2002, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Pride of college girl gun club
Member of the Second Amendment Sisters
An excursion to the local firing range
Matt Wells

It is a glorious fall afternoon, and the members of the "Second Amendment Sisters" at Mount Holyoke College are in high spirits, because they are going shooting.

As it is the last day of a long weekend break, only a handful of the 70 club supporters are on campus to enjoy the excursion to the local firing range, just a few miles away.

"It's good to go out - go to the range with some friends and have some fun. We can talk about our day, what's going on in classes and focus a bit. We can get some stress out," says the chapter vice-chairman, April Sparks.

Like most of the Second Amendment Sisters (SAS) attending this private all-women's institution of some 2,000 students, April grew up with guns around her.

Firing off a few rounds is as natural to her as watching television.

Self-defence is a natural part of empowerment...

Christie Caywood

But what is unusual about their group, is that it is the only college chapter of SAS in existence, and Mount Holyoke has a long tradition as a liberal arts' centre.

Historically, it's been a cradle of intellectual feminism. During the politically-correct 1990s, a gun club would have been unthinkable.

SAS nationally was formed as part of the pro-gun lobby in 2000, as a counterpoint to women's gun-control groups who wanted to tighten the laws on ownership and availability.

The heated debate about gun-control in the US has gone somewhat off the boil, thanks in part to the post-11 September mood of a country under terrorist attack. At issue is the historic right of citizens to bear arms.

SAS supporters say the second amendment of the Constitution enshrines that right for all individuals. Opponents contend that the amendment relates only to those times when the state calls on the people for military support.

What is undeniable is that the gun-culture is alive and well, and the level of enthusiasm here on this leafy Massachusetts campus is testament to that.

The 21-year-old SAS chapter chairman, Christie Caywood, says she is no feminist.

"I feel like self-defence is a natural part of empowerment, and I really question those who say they're feminists... usually they turn to men for defence, and depend on them. That's not what I was taught taking care of yourself meant."

Vice-chairman April Sparks (left) and Christie Caywood
April Sparks (left) and Christie Caywood enjoy the firing range

Despite the national media spotlight which has fallen on the college's SAS chapter, authorities say it's one of many thriving societies and clubs.

Associate Director of Communications Kevin McCaffrey said it was a sign of healthy diversity.

He was at pains to point out that both state and college law prohibit the ownership or use of handguns on campus.

But rumblings of discontent within the student body were not hard to pick up.

Christie herself admits that she wouldn't put precious practice targets on her bedroom door in case they were defaced, and for two years she shared a college room with Christina Chavez, who is totally opposed to her view on guns.

Christina's immediate family all live in the Washington DC area, close to the stalking ground of the sniper.

Impact of support

Speaking to me inside the picturesque sitting room of her quiet dormitory, she can't understand why SAS members refuse to acknowledge the impact of their support for gun culture.

"We can debate it and be separated from the actual realities of people shooting each other.

"You can go and shoot at a target but that's not a person. That's not seeing someone's life taken away."

But for SAS members, the sniper is a fact of life that will not be neutralised by banning guns in a country whose identity is so wrapped-up in the power of weaponry for defence.

Elizabeth Abate is another of the chapter's founders.

"You can't stop illegal owners," she said.

"At least by arming the public there is going to be some protection against them.

"Most people are educated, they're going to get licensed and if you're legally owning a gun, you know the rules."

See also:

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