I think it might finally be time to address the R- word.
I have tiptoed around it since I entered the gun owning population, partially because it is an attention-grabbing taboo that comes with its own laundry list of connotations and associations, but mostly because it is something that I have very strong feelings about. I didn’t want to slap together some off-the-cuff rant about how I think guns will put an end to rape. This topic deserves a more nuanced treatment. I planned on waiting and gathering data and doing research. But today I was reading this article and I felt like my brain was going to explode at the absurdity of the assertions the author makes. Then I ran a quick Google search on guns and sexual violence and found this and this and I just can’t keep quiet on the subject any longer.
Whether or not you believe guns will prevent sexual assault, the language and tone of these articles is infuriating and demeaning. It implies that while the threat of sexual violence is very real and entirely reprehensible, if we’ve gotten ourselves into the situation that results in rape, there’s nothing to be done about it. We should just close our eyes and wait for it to be over. They claim that we have no viable chance of defending ourselves against a rapist and even if we do, no one will believe our sad story anyway. The fact that these articles are all written by women, for women makes them all the more galling. This line especially made smoke come out of my ears “would a judge and jury really believe a woman who says she shot her husband in self-defense because he was trying to rape her? Furthermore, a gun won’t protect you if someone takes advantage of you while you’re too drunk to consent to sex, nor will it stop someone from slipping a date rape drug in your drink.” (Hodrick, http://www.PolicyMic.com, July 25, 2012) It sounds an awful lot like premptive victim blaming to me. Why bother learning to defend yourself? It’s not going to work and everyone is going to think you are a lying, boozing slut anyway.
Then there’s this neat, little package of condescending problem-solving: “Guns are not the solution. Education is. There are ways to protect yourself: don’t walk at night alone on campus, don’t run at night on campus with earbuds in, when going to a party or bar only accept drinks that you have seen made with your own eyes, try to stay in well-lit, people-filled areas, don’t wear your hair in a ponytail because it is easier to grab, be observant of your environment to see if you’re being followed in any way, always listen to your gut if your instinct is telling you something is wrong, and if given the chance, take a self-defense class” (Alvarez, http://www.twodaymag.com, August 4, 2011) Oh! Just don’t wear a ponytail! Perfect! We will all be so educated and happy, in well-lit, people-filled areas sipping drinks that we have meticulous observed the production of, listening to our guts (but not our earbuds! Dear no!) with our hair down. It will be utopian. There will be no guns there, for they are not for us ladyfolks. Maybe we can have mace, or a bat or a knife. We definitely should take a self-defense class. But a gun won’t do us a lick of good. In fact, Alvarez goes on to say, “guns can only create more problems.” Well, I’m so glad she told me. I’ve had my gun for almost two years now. When should I expect the problems to begin?
I hope that by now we all know that guns don’t do anything on their own. They don’t prevent or cause anything to happen. Yet a palpable fear of firearms exists in our collective subconscious. We demonize guns even as we fetishize them as an icon of violence. There is a perception that a gun will turn a sane man, or woman, into a crazed, trigger-happy criminal, or that a gun is a gross over-reaction to the threat of rape. I contend that the gun is a great equalizer. Why do only criminals, police and nut-cases get to have guns? Do we, the potential victims, not get access to these same implements, so that we might properly defend ourselves? In fact, might we have these tools so we no longer have to be victims? Maybe we can take some action in preserving our own safety instead of just staying in well-lit areas and hoping for the best.
Most importantly, the act of shooting and owning a gun has a profound impact on the way most women see themselves and the world around them. Shooting a gun is empowering, energizing, stress-relieving and confidence-building. In my experience, women who shoot walk taller and apologize less. They are also sensitive, caring and protective of their loved ones. Women who carry guns have already decided that their lives and their bodies are valuable enough to protect. Carrying a gun, and training to defend oneself with it, is a huge responsibility, not to be taken lightly. It requires a vast amount of situational awareness, mental fortitude, education and commitment. In fact, gun ownership fosters just the kind of attitude and awareness that Ms. Alvarez suggests is the solution for preventing sexual assaults. And that might be enough. You might not ever need to pull the gun out. But at least you have it and you know how to use it, if you do.
I’ve never been under the illusion that a gun is some kind of magical talisman that can be carried to ward off menacing attackers. No amount of training, nor tools, nor mindset can deter all violence, all of the time. The best we can hope for is a chance—an opportunity to run, a chance to call out for help, a moment to draw our weapon and fire a shot. Why not employ all the tools at our disposal, and acquire as many skills, and as much knowledge as is available in order to improve that chance?
Get educated. Investigate all of the resources you have access to. And PLEASE don’t believe anyone who tells you that you don’t have a chance of defending yourself.