Photographer documents heat-packing women and the guns they love

Nearly 200,000 Texas women hold licensesto carry a concealed handgun, and the number of licenses issued to women has tripled in the last four years.

While their reasons for packing heat vary, one thing is for sure: These women won’t hesitate to pull the trigger if their, or a loved one’s, life depends on it.

Photographer Shelley Calton is one of them. In an effort to document and elucidate women’s roles in modern gun culture, Carlton took portraits women in her native Lone Star State for her book “Concealed: She’s Got a Gun.”

You can buy the book in Europe in March and in the US in September, or preorder it on her website.

For some heat-packing women in Texas, carrying a concealed handgun is not only their right but a matter of life or death.

State law permits them to hold a handgun if it is hidden -- worn on the body or tucked away in a glovebox or purse, as below -- and provided that they secure a licence through the Texas Department of Public Safety.

More women are packing heat than ever before. The number of women who applied for a concealed handgun licence, or CHL, tripled in the last four years, with 67,000 licenses issued in 2014 alone.

Photographer Shelley Calton is one of them. Her upcoming book, 'Concealed, She's Got a Gun,' depicts women bearing arms in her native Lone Star State, women who share a similar family history of gun use and education.

At a young age, Calton and her sister learned to shoot tin can targets in the Texas countryside. Their father kept a pistol in his nightstand and shotguns for hunting wild game. 'Growing up in Houston was synonymous with an induction into Texas gun culture,' she says.

For her photo series, Calton reached out to her circle of female friends and asked if she take portraits of them with their guns. She says there was no shortage of subjects.

She learned quickly that many of the women grew up around guns and felt comfortable handling them, particularly those who practice regularly at a shooting range.

They kept their pieces in gun safes, under the mattress, or tucked in a bedside table.

'My gun(s) serve as my personal militia of self-protection, perseverance, and 'badass-ery',' one woman told Calton. 'Sleeping with my Glock under the mattress has afforded me more security than any door lock, alarm system, or boyfriend.'

Others come up with more original hiding places.

Calton rejects the idea that Texas women are 'gun-crazy.' 'Each has her own personal story for carrying a handgun,' she says. 'Some have had incidents and others have been threatened.'

'I have always worked in 'dangerous businesses,'' said one woman, who's worked at a used-car repo company and a liquor store. 'The guns make me feel safe and in power of my life.' The woman pictured owned a sex shop and is seen with a single-shot .22 clipped on her tank top and a revolver on her hip.

For others, the danger is closer to home. One woman lives on a 800-acre ranch in south central Texas, where she often encounters mountain lions, feral hogs, and wild dogs. 'Also, vagrants often cross our property,' the woman told Calton. 'And there was a manhunt for a serial killer in our area.'

Another subject said her brother-in-law's bipolar disorder turned him violent, and that he's threatened her before. She's prepared for the day he tried to follow through.

Whatever their reasons, these women choose to take self-protection into their own hands. They do so with confidence.

'In the required CHL classes, one is taught that if you pull your gun you must be ready to use it,' Calton says. 'Otherwise, the bad guy will take it from you.'

'To me, not owning a gun is not an option,' one woman told Calton. 'I cannot imagine having a home invasion and having to rely on talking an intruder out of killing me or my loved ones.'

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