SSAA bursary examines female firearm ownership

Emma Belgrove’s postgraduate project to interview women in the shooting sports across Australia caught the attention of the panel on the SSAA Academic Bursary Program.

As a result it was decided that the organisation would grant a  busary towards helping Emma further her ambitious quest to wrap up her degree in Criminology.

Having already earned a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology in 2017 at the University of Queensland, 29-year-old Emma saw this opportunity as the logical next step.

Emma was based on the University of Queensland campus at St Lucia but has recently moved her educational headquarters.

“I’m now living down in Canberra because my partner landed a job opportunity but I’m able to remotely talk to my supervisors,” she said.

According to Emma, the rise in women’s firearms ownership suggests that they will increasingly be part of the gun-owning community and therefore have their own unique experiences as females.

Emma’s project tries to focus on how women engage with an activity that is traditionally masculine and also highly stigmatised.

She feels that there is currently a gap in literature involving women’s outlooks on perspectives about firearms ownership and usage within the gun community.

So the mission has seen her conduct interviews with female members of the legal firearms community across the country.

Emma finds that face to face interviews prove to be a better form of communication than any video link-up or phone call. She senses that it is easier to build a rapport when talking to people in person and can allow for greater trust between the interviewer and interviewee. Hence the need to travel between states to speak to her subjects. Due to travel restraints, Emma has also found that video link-up has become more successful than ever before.

The venture has also seen Emma pursue overseas connections, which have hit a regrettable hurdle due to the effects of the global pandemic.

One of the harsh realities is that Emma has had to defer travel to participate in a major American Society of Criminology (ASC) conference in Washington DC for obvious reasons. The forum had to be cancelled so now Emma is waiting to see what the next step will be.

“COVID pushed everything back but I’ve still been able to keep up with my PhD data collections,” said Emma.

The many months of research has kept Emma wanting to find out even more. “Women’s ownership of firearms in Australia has been on the rise. Why? What we see is a pathway to acceptance,” she said.

In spite of the logistical restrictions, Emma has kept a positive mindset as her inquiries continue.

“I haven’t been able to travel as much as I would have liked but there have been positives and negatives to my situation,” she said.

“I have been able to go to Rockhampton, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney.

“At some stage I would like to visit Perth or Adelaide.”

Along the way she has been grateful for the back-up support from various sources. “The SSAA have been incredibly helpful.” said Emma.

“I was able to reach out to clubs and have a chat. Everywhere I went the people were so welcoming.”

What Emma discovered was a truly heartening revelation about the firearms family.

“There are people involved from all walks of life and it’s so good to see,” she said.

True, my big data collection has been messed up by COVID. But I have been asking the right questions and I’m sure I’ll get there.

“The thesis is actually 80,000 words so it’s a major undertaking.”

Despite this daunting assignment, Emma has found time to carry out work as a casual academic tutor in the University of Queensland’s School of Social Science.

“I have been teaching three classes for the past four to five years. It doesn’t take up all my time and it’s all down to time management,” she said.

“I can tutor any number from 50 to 80 in a virtual situation or perhaps 25 to 30 online. But in a physical setting it’s better to leave it between 20 to 24.

Again, Emma has had to adapt to the ever-evolving social norms.

“Internet communication, video calls and zoom meetings have all become more common,” she said.

But in the end, it all comes back to Emma’s initial investigation. “Why has women’s shooting taken off?” she pondered.

“There has been a big growth through family attitudes. Once it was handed down from father to son but now there is a husband to partner link and a real family element.

“There are changing social attitudes to shooting. It is less frowned upon and there is less of a social stigma than in the days after 1996 when shooting was almost demonised.

“It has taken time but now people apply logic rather being just prejudiced.”

Despite the barriers, Emma knows the finishing line is in sight for her extensive analysis of her chosen topic.

“From my studies, it has been the best time ever,” she said.

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