Giving Up the Gun

In Boston’s most dangerous neighborhoods, criminals routinely use women to traffic and hide illegal guns. Can Operation Lipstick, a new education campaign, make a difference?

The idea behind Operation LIPSTICK is simple, perhaps unrealistically so: a public health campaign, along the lines of the old “Just Say No” drug ads or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, aimed at making the trafficking of firearms a social taboo. Robinson believes that educating women about gun trafficking will change how they act when faced with the prospect of holding, hiding, or purchasing a gun. These kinds of campaigns are often mounted to prevent women from falling victim to social ills like sex trafficking or domestic violence, Robinson notes, but women’s involvement with the gun trade has never been given the attention it needs. “We’ve got to do something about the way these women are being used and exploited to play this role,” she says.

To do this, Robinson has adopted many of the proposals put forth by David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and a board member of Citizens for Safety. Hemenway has written a flurry of papers since the Newtown shootings pushing for public awareness campaigns about gun safety, arguing that they can change the way we think about guns. “As women have helped reduce drunk and reckless driving by men, women can mobilize to help reduce firearm violence,” he wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association this past April.

The LIPSTICK program “helps energize the community. It shows them that they have a real role,” he says. “No woman should be put in the situation where they’re asked to commit a felony and purchase a gun for their boyfriend. It should be so overwhelmingly clear that the social norms should not allow that.”


When Robinson decided to launch Operation LIPSTICK, she recruited Ruth Rollins, a domestic violence counselor, and Kim Odom, a pastor and well-known local advocate for homicide victims and their families. Both women have lost sons to violence, and both say it was the unique message of the LIPSTICK campaign that compelled them to take part. “A lot of people do things for the guys in our community, but we don’t talk about the women” and the impact that gun violence plays in their lives, Rollins says.

Odom and Rollins have hosted events at community centers and hair salons throughout the city over the past year, drawing the support of the mayor’s office, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety. Robinson, who’s now working on bringing training sessions to New York and Oakland, notes that the issue isn’t limited to women in urban centers. The Columbine shooters had a female classmate purchase their guns at a gun show. And police say the man who set a fire in his upstate New York home only to ambush and kill two firefighters who arrived on site obtained his guns through the 24-year-old daughter of his neighbor. It’s a national problem, and Robinson believes it will eventually become a national campaign.

In her sessions around Boston, Robinson says she often asks women to raise their hands if they’ve lost someone to gun violence, only to see the entire room lift their arms. She tells them that their decisions can influence the safety of the community. “In many cases,” she says, most fail to realize that they are “unwittingly contributing to the violence that they’re already suffering from.”

Given her lofty goals, LIPSTICK can sometimes come off as lip service. When talking about gun crimes in this city, simply administering platitudes fails to acknowledge the dire realities that these women face. If a woman is in a position to hide, hold, or purchase a gun for someone else, her safety is, by default, already at risk. Asking her to say no can in many cases create a more dangerous scenario than saying nothing at all.

“We’ve got to think of a way that a woman, when considering buying a gun for someone else, would view that as morally reprehensible as child porn,” says Chipman, who acknowledges the challenges that Robinson must surmount. “How do you empower a woman with the confidence that she knows that ‘no’ is a complete sentence?”


On a warm summer afternoon in late August, a small group of women gathered in a meeting room at the Mattapan library. Melissa was among them.

“I never knew these types of groups occurred in the city,” she would say later. “It’s like they occur more in the suburbs than anything.” What she saw around her was not what she expected, she added. “I expected the angry mob. I expected a group of moms mad that their children were taken away from them or that a relative of theirs was lost to street violence.” Instead, she was impressed by an atmosphere of serious civility. “If we handle everything calmly and peacefully, maybe you’ll get a better result,” she said.

After the workshop began, Rollins and Odom outlined the crux of the LIPSTICK campaign. “Kim brings the church background,” Rollins says. “I bring more of the street background. I work with women where they’re at.” They compared gun violence to an outbreak of salmonella: If people got sick from a bad batch of peanut butter, the FDA would work back through the production chain until they found the source of the contamination. “Why don’t we respond in kind when a child dies from a gunshot?” they asked.

They mapped out the “Iron Pipeline,” a network of shady gun dealers and straw purchasers, and described how women are used to purchase weapons from out-of-state gun shops—say, in Maine or New Hampshire, where such purchases are less restricted—and can face jail time for holding or hiding a firearm.

  • MrApple

    So how about instead of dumping more laws on the law abiding citizens of this country we enforce the laws already on the books. Let’s arrest the women in this article for “straw purchasing”, gun trafficking, and hiding unlicensed firearms. OR we could just come up with more laws for them to ignore while restricting those that obey the laws. Your choice.

    • AnnaSumpter

      But that would be too haaaaaaaard…

      They’d have to stop and frisk (and cavity-search) every single one of them, and then the department would get sexual-harassment lawsuits and discrimination lawsuits (these are *criminals*, mind you), and they’d lose every time.

      I think it’s better to strategically place hidden cameras all over and see if you can distinguish patterns of behavior, then just arrest based on how people act and who they came in contact with.

      I mean, unless you want to do away with profiling, which is cool too.

      My main concern is: if females like her are “straw purchasers”, how did they get hold of automatic weapons? Those are bound to the NFA and require a fairly sickening amount of paperwork and background checks, extra taxes and wait periods. In my mind, magically being able to get any of those weapons is criminal anyway, due to the ease with which she received them.

      This also leads me to believe that there are certain dealers who participate in illegal behavior. “Oh yeah, this little black girl came into the shop and she wanted 4 pistols. She handed me the money, so I said, ‘this isn’t odd in the least’, and gave her the pistols without filing the 4473, plus a box of ammo per gun, just because she had a cute smile.”

      Somehow… I don’t think so. Someone wasn’t doing their job, in addition to the girls doing something illegal.

      To wrap up this rant: if we enforced the laws we already have, as you had mentioned, it would curtail disreputable dealers and curb the outpouring of guns into felonious hands.

      • MrApple

        I agree.

  • Gregory Smith

    Too bad Boston Magazine doesn’t care about people who use guns in self-defense. In their liberal oasis, guns are only used by cops and criminals, freaking idiots.

    • Jakob Stagg

      That’s because saving lives is not a headline. Only the gore and magnitude of it is the only thing that sells advertising space. Truth? What’s that?

      • Gregory Smith

        It’s not just that, the media today except for Fox News doesn’t care about being balanced. When was the last time you saw a pro-fat, pro-smoking, much less pro-gun argument presented? This is why the liberal media is dying, they’re a bunch of useless parasites.

  • LeftShooter

    I would hope it’s not true, but this reporter seems like she was lead around by the nose without independent reporting in use. For example, these two sentences: (1) “It (the NRA) has even lobbied Congress to pass a law prohibiting the funding of studies that treat the urban gun epidemic as a public health crisis.”

    [Here the writer takes it as gospel that urban gun violence is a public health issue. Really? Guns have benefits (self-protection chief among them) and public health models do not consider benefits–for example, are the “benefits’ of AIDS or hepatitis ever discussed? The public health model meme is disingenuous with some attributing it to Mayor Bloomberg and his self-financed Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. In any event, race, gangs and violence are real issues that require more work and analysis rather than just lazy disdain for gun owners and gun culture dressed up as public health research.]

    (2) “Despite widespread public support for tighter gun restrictions—a September Gallup poll found 49 percent of the country wanted stricter laws governing the sale of firearms—Congress has refused to take action.”

    [Here what the writer neglected to report is that the same poll found that 37% + 13% = 50% of respondents stated that they wanted gun laws kept as they are or made less strict, respectively–and both of those numbers are growing. Readers can see for themselves: ]
    Next time, Ms. Manos, please don’t drink the Kool-Aid before you write.

    • Jakob Stagg

      One of the major problems with public health studies is the medical industries’ standard of “evidence based medicine”. They are allowed to not release anything that adversely effects their product or service. It is not until after many people die unnecessarily, they are encouraged to be more forth coming. It happens over and over. It’s all about making money, not improving health.

  • Jakob Stagg

    Women can do not wrong. Therefore their contribution is ignored. Since crime and violence is attributed only to the existence of firearms, it is ignored that someone pulled the trigger. Why not look at them and learn something?

  • Jakob Stagg

    That picture is really no way to treat a FS-92.

  • Kent Greene

    Firearms incidents are paid primarily from property taxes, Link t5o You Tube mini-series:

  • Kayla Madison

    Its true that lipsticks are slowly killing the women and this I have noticed after watching this video: which helped me loT!!!!

  • Moolah Normal Page

    Support the Boston Gun Buy Back Program with the Keep the peace in our city apparel! @