NOTE: This post comes from Beth’s speech at the 2019 Gun Rights Policy Conference.

When I talk to people about whether or not they’re involved with personal protection, shooting sports, or firearms training and ownership (or ask their WHY for getting involved with firearms), I often hear a lot of “coulda, shoulda, woulda.” And I think it’s important to address these potential excuses — and potential opportunities — especially when it comes to women.

I by no means intend to oversimplify things when it comes to some of the issues with getting women involved with firearms and training. But I want to at least attempt to provide an overview. And for transparency here, I have narrowed it down to “coulda, shoulda, woulda” because I am a word nerd, my background is in language arts and education, and I happen to like grammar.

You see, “could,” “would” and “should” are modal verbs, which usually express ideas such as possibility, necessity and permission. And “could have,” “should have” and “would have” are sometimes called “modals of lost opportunities.” These word phrases work like grammatical time machines in that they tell us what could have, what should have and what would have happened. And, again, these are the very reasons why I want to draw our focus to these possible complications and missed chances.


Maybe this is not surprising to you, but most of the women I have met over the years who have come through classes and training did not grow up with guns or have special backgrounds in military or law enforcement. They are moms, grandmas, businesswomen, college students, single women and married women, all empowered to do something for themselves and for the people they love. They are mostly there not for sport or for fun (at least not at first) but rather for self-defense. For safety. For protection. That is their main goal. And that is their main motivation.

Of course, Pew Research shows us that male and female gun owners are about equally likely to cite “protection” as a reason why they own guns. In fact, about 9 in 10 in each group say this is a reason, and 65 percent and 71 percent, respectively, say it is a major reason. But far larger shares of women than men who own guns say protection is the only reason they have a firearm (27 percent of women compared with just 8 percent of men).

Those statistics may not be surprising, however, since we know that women are still the more victimized gender. In fact:

  • 1 in 3 women has experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, with 1 in 7 women having been injured by an intimate partner.
  • 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has been raped (and that may not be a completely accurate representation since rape is the most under-reported crime, with 63 percent of sexual assaults not reported to police).
  • 3 million women in the United States have been stalked in their lifetimes.

And yet so many of the women I have spoken with did not know they even could have a firearm and that they could learn how to use it. They didn’t know that they could effectively and efficiently rack that slide, press that trigger, hit that target and have that tool of protection with them every day, as easily and as naturally as they have a watch, a purse or a phone.

The ‘Shoulda’

This word sets up an interesting turn, giving us a very strong sense of accountability and responsibility. A woman shared with me at a firearms event a few weeks ago, “You know, I was paying attention to improving my life by exercising and eating well, but I was neglecting personal protection. And I just realized that that is something else I should be doing for my safety and my wellbeing.”

Beyond this sense of concern for self, so many women, once they get into the firearms world and the concealed carry lifestyle, believe that it’s more than something for themselves. It’s something for others — for everyone. And having a firearm for self-defense and protection is more than a right; it’s a responsibility.

And because women are powerful influencers in their homes, workplaces and communities, this simple idea of “should” often translates to more women striving to make a difference. And it results in things like:

  • More female involvement in the industry (as business owners, writers, speakers, competitive shooters, board members, etc.)
  • More female firearms instructors (USCCA, alone, has added new female certified instructors for a total of approximately 300 women out of 2,800 instructors and 77 training counselors out of 370)
  • More women’s organizations (groups such as The Well Armed Woman, A Girl and a Gun and The D.C. Project)

The ‘Woulda’

Now, probably the most worrisome and critical of the three options is the “would have.” Unfortunately, there have been countless innocents who have been brutally attacked; who have thought or even stated, “I wish I would have had a firearm with me.”

One of the most well-known stories is of Carol Bowne. On June 7, 2015, this 39-year-old hairdresser was murdered by her ex-boyfriend — stabbed to death right outside of her home.

Carol can’t speak to us now. But the thing is, we know she wished she would have had a means of protection … because she waited, defenseless, for her firearms permit from the state of New Jersey. She did everything a law-abiding citizen could possibly do. She got a restraining order. She installed security cameras. And she attempted to obtain a firearm, going through the motions of her state’s cumbersome, months-long process. Carol had applied for a firearms permit in an effort to defend herself not days or weeks but MONTHS prior to her death. But Carol was left helpless. And she was violently and senselessly killed.

If she would have had a way to defend her life…

If she would have had an equalizer…

If she would have had a chance…

Carol would be alive today.

The Lesson

There’s a quote by author S.L. Grey that says, “Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. Didn’t.” Don’t let that be the truth. Don’t let that be the result. Don’t let that be the end!

I encourage everyone to consider the significance of these seemingly simple words and phrases and find ways to contest or change the excuses or missed opportunities. Let’s think about the could haves and the should haves for all the women around us so we can continue to add strong, influential 2A supporters to our numbers. But, perhaps most importantly, so we never have to hear “I wish I would have…” again.