Women's Voice

By

Lyn Bates

Maryann Watkins hummed as she went through her morning routine. She was going to make a three and a half hour trip from Phoenix to Yuma that afternoon, but she hardly gave it a thought -- she'd driven it many times before, and was familiar with every mile.

It was February, but in Arizona that doesn't mean cold. Maryann slipped into a comfortable purple cotton dress that looked good on her 5'5" frame, and buttoned up the bodice. She liked the colorful floral print, and the mid-calf length. The full skirt would be comfortable to wear in the car. A pair of flats completed the traveling outfit.

She looked just like what she is, a forty-something professional woman who works in the broadcasting industry. But she is also a divorced mother of two nearly grown sons -- she made sure to say good-bye to them before she hopped in the car, alone. Well, not quite alone. As usual, her Ruger SP101 38 Special revolver with a 2 1/4 inch barrel was with her. She had learned to shoot as a child when her father took her hunting, but she's only owned her own gun for a couple of years. The Ruger fit her small hands nicely, and she enjoyed practicing with it at the range. Carrying it was a bit of a problem.

Although this is difficult for some people in other parts of the country to believe, open carry of firearms (handguns as well as long guns) is legal in Arizona, but concealed carry is illegal. Open carry of a handgun, however, means in a proper holster. No so-called "Mexican carry" (the gun stuffed in a waistband without a holster) is allowed.

Maryann used to carry her little Ruger in a fannypack with a holster (a gift from her sons), until an "enlightened" superior court judge determined that even though a fannypack was specifically designed as a holster unit for a gun, using one was not "wearing a holstered gun" but "carrying concealed" and therefore illegal.

So, being a good law-abiding person and unable to use a fannypack, a pocket, a purse, a briefcase, or a concealed on-body holster to contain her firearm, she simply and lawfully put five Federal 110 grain jacketed hollowpoints +P in the gun, put the gun in a holster, and put the holster on the car seat beside her as she set off for Yuma that afternoon.

The interstate highways in Arizona are miles and miles and miles of desert and not much else. "I'd be a fool to go without my gun," she says. As often happens on long trips, nature called, loudly, about 4:30 in the afternoon. Maryann knew she couldn't hold out until she got to Yuma, so she pulled in at the next rest area, one she had stopped at "hundreds of times" before. It was one of those minimalist places with no amenities but the rest rooms. No food service. No gas. And nobody else around, apparently, though there was a silver 18-wheeler with a red cab parked nearby.

It didn't have an identifying company name, so it must have been an independent. Since truckers often pull their rigs off the road for a quick nap, Maryann didn't think it was particularly ominous. The truck's motor was running, which, in Arizona, even in February, is an indication that the occupant wants to keep the air conditioning on. She parked her 4 door sedan near the area entrance.

She had absolutely no conscious premonition of disaster or feeling of dread. If she had even felt slightly nervous, she says that she would simply have driven away "and found a big cactus a few miles down the road". But something must have been going on in her subconscious.

"This particular day, I stepped out of the car, and then, for some reason, I cannot tell you what it was, I reached back into the car and took the revolver out of the holster. Always before I'd just put it in the glove box and locked it up, but this time I took it in my right hand, my shooting hand, and held it down at my side, concealed in the folds of my skirt. I know it couldn't be seen. I was breaking the law, I suppose. Maybe if someone was very close to me they could have seen it, but nobody at a distance would know I had it."

She walked from the car to the restroom, used the facilities, and came out a few minutes later, casually holding the gun in the same position, concealed in the purple flowered folds of her skirt. As soon as she stepped out of the door, she saw him. He had been waiting for her to come out. "Standing about 10 feet away, right in front of the door, was a huge man. I'm talking about NFL lineman size!"

Maryann's brain registered the giant's appearance quickly: a white baseball cap with a blue bill, collar-length brown hair, a faded red-plaid shirt, jeans, and boots with pointed toes. But his size was not the only ominous thing. He had a rope, coiled up on his arm in big circles. Maryann recognized it right away as the type of rope used in rodeos and ranches. He was grinning, but it was a cruel kind of grin. Her surprise clearly registered on her face, and the giant man began to laugh, but his laugh was as mean as his smile. Then he spoke.

"I'm gonna have some REEEEEEAL fun now!!" he boomed.

Maryann's initial shock suddenly dissipated, leaving outright anger in its place. That someone would DARE approach her that way! That someone would DARE to threaten her! With a rope! Her anger was overwhelming, and gave her strength. She pulled her right arm up, took a good firing stance, brought her left arm up to grasp the little Ruger in a good two-handed hold that lined up the gun sights right in the middle of his chest. The giant who was threatening her suddenly became a big, close target that she'd have no trouble hitting.

She gave him a good view of the business end of her revolver as her anger poured out of her in the words she shrieked. She called him something unprintable, followed by, "If you want to play, we'll play with this!"

The giant hadn't anticipated this change in his game plan. Instead of the bondage games he'd had in mind, he suddenly had to decide between living and dying. It's not a choice that takes long to make. The rope dropped to the ground almost as quickly as his jaw dropped into an expression of utter surprise. His hands went up, and he started backing away. The giant was getting smaller and smaller with every step.

As he backed away from Maryann, away from his rope, away from his intentions to harm her, and, hopefully, away from his image of himself as a big, bad dude who could have any "fun" he wanted with a woman, he started muttering, "Bitches with guns. Bitches with guns. Bitches with guns." He kept saying it over and over, as his own surprise gave way to impotent anger, "Bitches with guns. Bitches with guns."

This particular BWG was no fool. She kept the Ruger trained right in the middle of his chest as she backed away herself, toward her car. Every fiber of her body was consumed with the need to get out of this dangerous place and back on the road.

She made it to the car, got in, locked the door. "I'm not going to panic just yet," she told herself, as she took time to fasten her seat belt before driving off. About ten miles down the highway, the adrenaline rush that had fueled her furious defense began to subside, making her shake so badly that she had to pull over.

Maryann can't remember if she cried, sitting there shaking on the side of the road, waiting to recover enough motor coordination to continue driving, but she soon continued on toward Yuma. She stopped at the first phone she could find, in a gas station, and called the Department of Public Safety to make a report. She told them what had happened, which rest area it was, and gave a detailed description of the man. Although she also told them where she would be staying in Yuma, she never heard from them, and when she called them again after she got back to Phoenix, there wasn't anything for them to tell her.

What lessons can we learn from Maryann's experience? It is good to be a BWG (bitch with a gun). BWG's don't go looking for trouble, but if it comes to them, they are ready. BWGs can keep themselves alive in the face of circumstances that might destroy an unarmed woman.

Sometimes women who have been assaulted keep their stories to themselves for a while, until they are ready to talk about it. Maryann told everyone about it right away, the police, her colleagues, her family and friends. Some of them asked, "What would you have done if he had started toward you instead of backing away?" Her answer has the firm ring of truth.

"I would have shot him right smack dab in the middle of the chest! I'm a very good shot with that little puppy. And I would have done that because I value my life. I've got things to do in this life, things I haven't finished, and I'm not willingly going to let someone take my life from me. I value it too much. If I don't value my life, who will? If I don't defend myself, there is nobody else around to do it. I can't depend on Officer Friendly to be there. The police can't always be where you are."

Her experience has left Maryann a vocal spokesperson for the right to carry firearms for protection. "I am convinced that that firearm prevented an assault, a sexual assault, a kidnapping, or a murder. I truly believe I am alive today because of that firearm!"

Maryann fights not just for the right to have a gun, but for the right to carry it concealed, because that is safer. "The reason my weapon was effective that day was that it was concealed in the folds of my dress. If this guy had seen it as I went into the bathroom, he could have jumped me from behind as I came out, or he could have pulled a weapon out of his vehicle or wherever he had one hidden. One of the only reasons I survived is that he didn't know I had a gun!"

The difference between some people's public statements and private actions on this issue is difficult for her to take. "I know at least five police officers whose wives carry concealed, not only with their husband's support and encouragement, but on their husband's advice! If it is OK for a cop's wife, it ought to be OK for me. If a cop knows his wife is safer that way, he ought to be willing to say that I'm safer that way, too, but the police association won't come out in favor of concealed carry."

Another important lesson is that it is important for individuals to be able to decide for themselves whether to have a gun for protection. Many states require a person applying for a concealed carry permit to "show need", which usually means showing that they carry large sums of money or have been threatened by someone.

Maryann says, "I see absolutely no reason to have to beg a police chief or a sheriff for permission to carry. There is only one person who can determine my need to carry a gun concealed for protection, and that is me. Men will say, 'I drive a Mercedes and that makes me a prime target for people who want to rob and beat me,' or 'I'm retired and people know I have a lot of money.' Well, I don't drive a Mercedes. I'm a single mom, so I don't have expensive clothes. I don't have any valuable jewelry, not one piece. But I have one thing that all of the rest of them don't have that makes me particularly vulnerable, and that's the fact that I'm a woman!"

The little Ruger still goes everywhere with Maryann, though she has been thinking of getting a Glock ever since she tried one and found the trigger pull smoother than a revolver, and easy to shoot accurately.

"My gun makes me know that I have an edge, or at least am going in with a fighting chance. That builds your confidence. And when you have that, you are less likely to appear like a victim."

"I go to a range twice a month, and work with my revolver, and try other weapons. I want to get the feel of other guns. My boys (age 18 and 20) go, too. They both know how to shoot. We have all been through firearm safety and handling courses as a family, together. They have a healthy respect. When they were 9 and 12, we started going to the courses together, me and the boys. It was something we did as a family, something we enjoyed. We still enjoy it."

In the months following the incident at the rest stop, in a reaction that nearly every assault survivor will recognize, Maryann replayed the scene in her mind "a thousand times." She kept looking for the man, too, knowing he was still out there somewhere. Now, after more then a year, "It still haunts me a little but not nearly like it used to. I am still very hesitant to stop at a rest area."

There is no hesitation, though, if you ask her why she survived that afternoon. She says very matter-of-factly, "He decided his rope couldn't compete with my Ruger."