By David Rennie in Chantilly
(Filed: 31/05/2003)

It is midweek night at the Blue Ridge Arsenal and Ginger Wright, passionate gun owner and professional shooting coach, cannot seem to hit the centre of the target.

Ginger Wright takes aim on the shooting range \"I\'m shooting in heels,\" she says with a laugh. \"I don\'t usually shoot in heels.\" She steadies her .45 calibre Sig Sauer once more and the spent cartridges fly.

Mrs Wright is shooting in a smart blue business suit, a pink blouse and heels. At her feet sits a canvas holdall with two more handguns. On the side is printed: \"Refuse to be a victim\".

Three years ago Mrs Wright, 33, a computer projects manager, had never fired a gun. She did not want one in her home in suburban Virginia. Now she is a part-time shooting instructor, specialising in personal protection.

More and more of her pupils are just like her: young married women worried about their safety in an America haunted by uncertainty.

A poll has confirmed what Ginger Wright already knew: September 11 and the terrorism alerts since have prompted a shift in America\'s gun debate, most dramatically among married suburban women.

Such women - the \"Soccer Moms\", as pollsters call them because of the hours they spend ferrying children from one after-school activity to another - were until recently in the forefront of support for gun controls.

The Clinton presidency now looks very much like a high water mark for gun control, with its 1993 Brady law requiring background checks for gun buyers and a 1994 ban on assault rifles.

In those days newspapers seemed full of reports of small children pulling guns in the playground. Metal detectors appeared in school hallways and student gunfights built up to the tragic climax of the 1999 Columbine massacre, when two misfit schoolboys killed 13 pupils before turning their guns on themselves.

A year later 750,000 mothers and supporters jointed the \"Million Mom March\" on Congress, demanding stricter gun laws. Nationally, 69 per cent of women agreed.

\"The lioness, if you use that metaphor, wanted to protect her cubs from accidental encounters with guns,\" Mrs Wright said. \"Since September 11, the threat is more external.\"

This week a poll showed that only 55 per cent of women still wanted gun curbs. They told the CNN/Time magazine survey that they were more worried about a fresh terrorist attack than a recession, with mothers of young children the most worried of all. When the Republican pollster David Winston asked focus groups if they wanted airline pilots to carry guns, married women offered the strongest support. The cliché of the American gun lover, at least as imagined in Europe, is the hunter in his pick-up or the loner holed up in a shack, scanning the horizon for meddling Feds.

Mrs Wright works for the government. She is a college graduate and is happily married to Jason, a computer programmer.

They live in a slice of northern Virginia that is purest suburbia: mile after mile of shopping malls and executive cul-de-sacs. It has experienced more than its fair share of terror. The Pentagon, which was attacked on September 11, is 30 minutes away. Last autumn a pair of snipers cruised its highways, picking off 10 random victims out shopping or buying petrol.

\"Before September 11 we believed that the police, the authorities, could help us,\" Mrs Wright said. \"Afterwards, and again immediately after the sniper incident, people came to us out of fear.\"

That raw fear has been replaced by a desire to feel more in control.

Andrew Arulanandam, the director of public affairs at the National Rifle Association, a lobby group with great clout in the Bush administration, agrees.

\"Americans feel they are living in an age of uncertainty,\" he said. \"They feel more comfortable facing uncertainty with a firearm.\"