By Jessica Boehm
Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin with a family that did not own or use guns, Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko said she feared guns and avoided being around them.
But nearly 20 years ago, Lesko, a Republican that has served in the state legislature since 2009, shed her self-described “irrational fear” of guns and is now a member of the National Rifle Association and a supporter of Arizona gun rights legislation.
“I remember quite vividly going to an acquaintance’s house and going in their living room and they had a gun sitting on their coffee table and I felt very nervous even though I knew this person and I knew that they wouldn’t harm me in any way, it just made me very uncomfortable that there was a gun sitting on the coffee table,” Lesko said.
Lesko attended an Arizona Republican district meeting in the late 90s, that she says began to change her mind about her “irrational fear.” Alan Korwin, a well-known gun advocate and writer, said at the meeting that gun control would lead to responsible gun-owners following the law and giving up their guns, while criminals became the only ones with guns.
“That was very simple,” Lesko said. “It was very understandable but I had never thought of it that way.”
Lesko, who is now a gun owner, said that her decision to purchase a gun was not made overnight. She started by going to Shooter’s World, a valley shooting range, for their Ladies Night on Fridays.
“I was very nervous,” Lesko said. “I was very scared. I didn’t know how to hold a gun, I didn’t know how to load a gun, I was afraid to shoot the gun. I was very nervous.”
Years of practice, coupled with her desire to be able to defend herself in a big city, led to the purchase of her first gun.
“I think it’s important, especially as a woman to be able to defend myself because quite frankly if a big guy came after me, I’m not going to be strong enough to defend myself, so this will help protect me,” Lesko said.
Lesko is also a survivor of domestic violence from a previous marriage more than 20 years ago. When thinking back on how a gun would have played into that situation, Lesko says she isn’t sure.
“I don’t know if it would have been good if I owned a gun back then or not because my ex-husband may have stolen it and shot me, I don’t know,” Lesko said. “But I do think that it’s important for women, whether they are victims of domestic violence or not, to have something to protect them.”
Jessica Boehm is a News21 Hearst Fellow.
Inform News21 Reporting on guns
Join the Public Insight Network and tell our newsroom about guns in your life and your neighborhood in America.