BOYS point guns at each other as naturally as they joust with jibes. Toy shops carelessly offer veritable arsenals in exchange for pocket money. If there is no shooting in a movie, even the youngsters cry ''tame!'' From handguns to missile blasters, our screen heroes handle them with nonchalant ease. John Woo's Hard Target ends in apocalyptic annihilation by artillery. If the world ends in a bang, it will be in a Woo movie. Guns have been presented, in films, as stereotypically male. It's the symbolic hidden bulge - manhood is a smoking gun. More recently, we can trace the move from gun as a prop to gun as a symbol. But what effect does owning a gun have on a woman? Blue Steel (video/laser), directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is a superior action/thriller. Meg (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a New York rookie who embarks on her first day with a shiny new gun ready - too ready. Asked why she joined the police force, she smiles: ''I wanted to shoot people.'' An armed robber confronts her and she shoots him dead. Mysteriously, her gun is stolen by a witness (Ron Silver). In turn, his life is changed by the gun, as he discovers its thrilling power. Having watched Meg's cool killing, he decides they are two people loaded in the same barrel, so she becomes his target. The Gun in Betty-Lou's Handbag (video/laser), a light comedy directed by Allan Mayle, shows how inadvertently becoming a gun-owner changes a timid librarian (Penelope Ann Miller). Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (video/laser), is a family comedy directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Having to handle a gun brings out the sass in Stallone's 60-year-old mother (Estelle Getty). Thelma and Louise (video/laser), with Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, is the ultimate film statement on how a gun changes a woman's life - look what happened when Sarandon pointed the gun back at the men. Two new releases on video/laser take up the issue stylishly: Drew Barrymore was born to play the role of Anita, a slightly simple, waif-like and innocently promiscuous girl sharing a shabby trailer with her slobbish stepfather in Gun Crazy (video). In an ironic attempt to foster universal understanding, her teacher recommends the class find pen-pals. Anita only looks as far as California when she spots the plea - ''lonely white male seeks pen-pal'' - from a killer doing time. Anita, meanwhile, discovers she has a talent for shooting. Her stepfather's lessons make her a ''natural'' but him horny. He forces himself on her but she retaliates by shooting him (remembering his advice to put in a second bullet). Her correspondence with convict Howard Hickok (James LeGros) blooms as does their love, and Anita secures his release into employment. They become inadvertently involved in two more murders - because they own a gun. The situation escalates out of control with Hickok a sorry reincarnation of Wild Bill. This is an adult film (18) that makes explicit connections between guns, power, arousal and sexuality. It is energetic, compelling and recommended. In My New Gun (video/laser), directed by Stacy Cochran, Dr Gerald Bender (Stephen Collins) is a domineering husband to his over-accommodating, inanely smiling wife (Diane Lane). Bent on protecting her, he insists she has a gun, learns to use it and keeps it at her bedside. The gun soon becomes the only real, hard object in their bland, designer-home lifestyle. Their off-beat neighbour, Skippy, (LeGros again), fancies her, so hangs around. As soon as she confides in him about her gun, he suddenly ''borrows'' it and she fears the worst. Cochran frames her movie around the central metaphor of a gun triggering new emotional responses. As a satire on hollow lives, in prettily empty homes, it lacks the drive of Gun Crazy, but My New Gun grows on you as Lane moves towards her realisation. The gun proves ''a catalyst for a reaction waiting to happen''. Videos and lasers courtesy of Movieland. Gun Crazy from KPS.