Do Guns Make Women's Lives Safer?
As in the Fox News debate discussed in my earlier article, the pro-gun lobby has recently argued that gun regulation harms women and that conversely owning a gun allows women to more effectively defend themselves against rape, sexual violence and other types of harm. Often, guns are portrayed as the great equalizer here: Since men on average are stronger than women, guns provide a means for women to defend themselves despite being physically overmatched, the argument goes. This type of argument can then be used as a pragmatic ‘solution’ to the threats facing women today: “Sure”, proponents of guns for women might argue, “a world without violence against women would be preferable, but since real women are faced with real violence in the real world, having guns to defend themselves is better than not having guns.” It’s a familiar type of pragmatic argument that certainly makes sense in some context (I, for one, would always argue for a world without war, yet I am forever grateful that the allied forces had the military power to defeat Germany in WWII, for instance).
But it is important to take a closer look at the ‘weapons for self defense against rape’ argument to figure out whether it holds any truth. This is especially true because pro gun advocates are actually trying to slip in a more problematic argument than what they openly say. While their argument is presented as ‘deterring a rapist with a weapon is preferable to being raped’ (wouldn’t that me an easy argument?), the implications are different: For their argument to make sense, it would have to be true that more guns and less gun control make women’s lives safer. When looking at the data, it becomes clear, that the opposite is the case:
1. Advocating against gun control means more men are getting their hands on guns:
According to a recent study by the PewResearchCenter, about 37% of American men personally own a gun, compared with only 12% of women. This means, that stricter gun control or banning guns would take these weapons out of the hands of men rather than women. Conversely, given these numbers it is three times more likely that it is the man who possesses the firearm rather than it being the great equalizer in the hands of a women.*
*(To be sure, the fact that men are more likely to buy guns than women results from our society’s constructions of masculinity and femininity and the association of masculinity with violence and guns. Of course, this is contingent and we could hypothetically work towards a world where women are as fond of guns as men are… But if we are trying to deconstruct gendered patterns of behavior, why don’t we work towards making men less likely to use violence (against women) instead?)
2. The majority of rapes are committed by perpetrators known to the victim, greatly reducing the probability of guns as a self-defense mechanism:
The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that only 13.8% of all rapes had been committed by strangers. Instead, the majority of rapists were current or former intimate partners (51.1%), family members (12.5%), acquaintances (including friends, neighbors, first dates, etc.; 40.8%), or persons of authority (teachers, doctors, caregivers, etc.; 2.5%). It is safe to say then that in the vast majority of cases guns would probably provide no protection whatsoever, since it is individuals trusted by the victims who commit sexual violence against them, and these rapes are committed in situations in which we can hardly expect women to have their fingers on the trigger.
3. A gun being present in the house INCREASES the risk of being murdered by an intimate partner:
According to a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, women are more likely to be killed by intimate partners (husbands, lovers, ex-lovers) than any other category of perpetrator; between 40 and 50% of all female murder victims are murdered by intimate partners. Most importantly, the perpetrator’s access to a gun was a strongly associated with the risk of being murdered by an intimate partner. In other words, living in a situation where a gun is present makes women more likely to die at the hands of an intimate partner. These findings are consistent with earlier research that found that “[i]nstead of conferring protection, keeping a gun in the home is associated with increased risk of both suicide and homicide of women.” Similarly, a 2014 study, which assesses the possibility of recovering firearms of domestic abusers, argues that “[m]ost intimate partner homicides involve firearms, and women are at least twice as likely to be murdered by intimate partners using firearms as by strangers using any weapon. Abusers with firearms are 5 to 8 times as likely to kill their victims as are those without firearms.”
Especially given the fact that more than one third of all US women (p.36) report having experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner, these studies strongly suggest that it is advocating for stricter gun control (or even abolition) that makes women safer rather than proposing that more guns are the solution: More guns means more guns in the hands of men (in absolute numbers and relative to women), women are more likely to experience rape at the hands of an intimate partner than any other category of perpetrator, and having a gun around makes domestic abusers more likely to murder the women they abuse. Rather than being the great equalizer that allegedly protects women from men, it turns out that the presence of guns increases very real risks for very real women in the very real world.
Jacquelyn C. Campbell et al. (2003): Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study. American Journal of Public Health 93(7): 1089 – 1097.
Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. 2011. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I’m always slightly puzzled when that 1997 study that found that having a gun in the household increases women’s risk of violent death is cited as a argument that women should not be gun owners. As far as I call tell from the methodology, the study did not distinguish between households where the woman was the primary owner of the gun, and households where a partner was the gun owner. In other words: we know that almost three times as many men own guns as women. And it makes sense that, if there’s a gun in the house, but it’s not yours and you don’t know how to use it, it’s hardly going to be a useful form of protection, even without accounting for the fact that most women would probably be reluctant to shoot a friend or a family member, even in self-defense.
I think that this is an important distinction to make because, while I am pro-gun control, and I dislike the idea that women are personally responsible for protecting themselves from rape (and should be prepared to use deadly force to do so), I have seen the argument that having a gun in the house increases a woman’s chances of violent death used to shame or intimidate women who do own guns and are trained to use them (in the vein of the argument that goes, “Fighting back against your attacker is simply likely to provoke him to kill you, so don’t bother”). While I don’t think that you’ve taken quite that position in this article, I do think that the point is relevant.
No individual is responsible for “protecting themselves” from assault, and a person’s willingness or ability to use violence to prevent an assault (including rape) should not be a factor when we decide to prosecute and punish assault. Certainly, men need to be part of the movement to de-normalize rape and prevent sexual assault. Society, the courts, and the police force also need to do more to bring perpetrators who don’t fit the “stranger in the bushes” model to justice, instead of focusing solely on victim’s behavior. But I’m afraid that, in our (important, necessary) fight against victim-blaming, we run the risk of supporting a discourse about women’s weakness and powerlessness.
When we’re told that women should defend themselves with firearms, we don’t say, “Usually, law enforcement is responsible for deterring and prosecuting crimes, not the victims.” Or, “Firearms are banned in many places where women might be at risk, such as most college campuses.” Or, “Most rapes are committed by people the victim knows, and most people aren’t going to shoot their friends/family members/teachers/doctors, even under threat.” Or, “It is unrealistic to expect all women to put in the time it requires to do firearms training, get a concealed-carry permit, etc, simply to participate in daily life.” Or, “Guns are expensive. Is a poor woman going to be able to afford to buy one and learn to use it?” Or, “Teenage girls are at high risk for sexual assault, but can’t legally own firearms. What are they supposed to do under this plan?”
Ultimately, the problem with touting guns as a good preventive method for sexual assault is that it ignores the various moral and practical issues with implementation, and it does nothing at all to address the appalling arrest and conviction rates for sexual assault. There is no other crime for which we put the responsibility on the victims to protect themselves, instead of offering law enforcement solutions. If your daily life is risky enough that carrying a gun seems like a necessary safeguard, that in itself is a problem. Your safety should not ever be contingent on your willingness or ability to use deadly force.
Most of the perpetrators of gun violence, if not almost all of them are “prohibited persons” who are not allowed to possess firearms or ammunition. The people doing this “research” are being paid by the anti-gun lobby, therefore invalidating these “studies. If you want real numbers, read the FBI crime data for a real Eye-opener. Don’t believe the gun-bàn lobby. Read the Federalist Papers for the reason we have the Bill of Rights and not the “bill of ‘some’rights.”what would YOU rather have if intruders were kicking in YOUR door, a cop on the phone,or the means to defend yourself and your family? That’s an easy one for me to answer without drifting into some left-wing philosophical crap about “poll numbers” and “studies” made by left-wing “educators” with an agenda.
I think it actually does make women lives safer. There is a cause of why more women become gun owners. For those who are considering one, I would recommended educating themselves about their needs. We wrote about it recently, here: http://nationalcarryacademy.com/woman-issues/ Maybe someone will find it useful. In the mean time, I am looking for more great articles.
– Robert M