Coolly approaching a hot-button topic, documentarian Cathryne Czubek crisscrossed America interviewing women who, for various reasons, own guns. Neither overtly pro- nor anti-firearms, "A Girl and a Gun" explores the many ambiguities, real and symbolic, surrounding gun ownership, even as its feminine focus entirely changes the terms of the debate. Glimpses into the growing merchandising of ladies' guns (think pink), an overview of changing social attitudes toward armed femmes, and a nutshell encapsulation of Hollywood's gal/gun fetishization round out the picture's central core of interviews. More entertaining than especially revelatory, this timely docu adds a sprightly note to a somber subject.

Some female interviewees started packing heat as a means of bonding with men. Nineteen-year-old champion skeet shooter Emily Blount began hunting as a child to spend time with her dad and now, several medals later, describes her $12,000 rifle as her "first boyfriend." A search for a shared hobby with her hubby (who nixed ballroom dancing) eventually led Deb Ferns to found a "Babes With Bullets" camp. For some women, the intense concentration required for target practice provides a needed escape from everyday stress.

But others see guns as equalizers, a form of empowerment in a male-dominated world. For columnist/blogger Violet Blue, whose deep red lipstick, revolver tattoo and all-black garb evoke ballbuster stereotypes, guns reverse the vulnerability of women, whom she likens to moving targets. A montage of ads shows firearm manufacturers actively promulgating this vision of perpetually endangered women, further illustrated by news-media excerpts and dramatized by movie clips as successive heroines, from Julia Roberts to Jodie Foster, blow away would-be attackers. Obviously, fear sells.

Not that helmer Czubek focuses solely on the exploitation of vulnerability. Czubek films a shaken Sarah McKinley patrolling her yard, a baby in one hand and a gun in the other; she once shot an intruder who broke down her door, the 911-summoned police having failed to arrive. When Buddhist tai-chi instructor Robin Natanel, unable to buy tasers or stun guns (illegal in her state), was threatened by a bodybuilding ex-boyfriend, she reluctantly purchased a gun and became proficient in its use. Likable Natanel, shown serenely overseeing a healing energy circle, amicably chatting up gun-shop owners and skillfully blasting lethal holes into pictures of ski-masked men, reps an ambivalent figure with whom viewers can easily identify.

Indeed, Czubek's docu excels at exploring contradictory facets of her subject. Retired Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Rosemarie Weber, an Iraq War veteran, warns of the danger of placing instruments of absolute power into the hands of immature soldiers, even while displaying her cherished gun collection, which she likens to Barbies. A woman whose brother was killed in a hunting accident perceives no paradox in giving her 8-year-old son a high-powered rifle for Christmas.

Talking-head experts offer historical or sociological insights in lively clip-illustrated snippets. Interviewees are generally shown at firing ranges or gun shows, or engaged in incongruously everyday activities, underscored by Julia Haltigan's twangy original songs.