Jannalee Tobias is both a homemaker and gun rights advocate.
She looks like the ideal LDS housewife when she opens the door of her home on a quiet suburban street in South Jordan. She’s wearing jeans, has big blue eyes and wavy blond hair and speaks in a soft, feminine voice. Then she shows you her gun-rights library—bookshelves of binders stuffed with gun-law research. “This is what I do instead of quilting,” she says. That’s when you know Jannalee Tobias is anything but the typical housewife.
It is largely thanks to Tobias’ gun activism that the girls I know are so comfortable with gun culture. Even Tobias is still surprised by her history. “This is the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing with my life,” she says, sitting at her sunny kitchen table with a cat in her lap. “But I’ve always been a champion of the underdog.”
Twenty years ago, after James Brady was shot, legislators everywhere were agitating for stronger gun control. “All the powerful women in Utah were calling for a five-day waiting period and background checks before you could buy a gun,” Tobias says of then mayor Deedee Corradini, Attorney General Jan Graham and state senator Karen Shepherd. “But according to my research, the states with the tightest gun control had the highest murder rates. And no one here was speaking up. I saw-—see—it as a women’s rights issue. The Second Amendment is the equal rights amendment. It seemed clear to me that banning handguns wasn’t going to keep my children safe,” says Tobias, who didn’t even own a handgun at the time. “The right to have a gun is more important than the gun itself.” At first she worked behind the scenes. Then she started a protest group, Women Against Gun Control, which defines gun control like this: “The theory that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her panty hose is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound.”
It wasn’t long before Tobias, a young mother, was famous as a gun-rights activist. Her femininity made her a media favorite. She served on the board of the NRA, taught gun-safety courses and was instrumental in revising Utah’s concealed carry laws, an effort that consumed three years of her life. With allies like Curtis Oda and lobbyist Clark Aposhian, she fought for statewide consistency in gun legislation.
It was not an easy time, and she tears up remembering it. “Guns don’t define my life. My family does,” she says. (All three of her daughters are comfortable with guns and knowledgeable about gun safety.) There were times when she was told that a woman’s place was in the home, not in politics. “But I’ve always taught my kids that you have to speak out if you want to make changes.”