Women, Handguns and Civilization

For a law-abiding citizen to bear personal arms is an act of civilization.

Not just an act of self-defense or an act in defense of civilization, but an act of civilization.

This is true for men and it is even more true for women. For a woman to bear personal arms means that she will not be deprived of her legal rights: to go any lawful place she pleases at any time; to be free in her body, meaning that she need not be defenseless against assailants; to live. And it means that the uncivilized, those who would deprive her of life and the liberties of a free citizen, including freedom from unwanted sexual contact, do so at absolute risk to their lives.

That is the fundamental moral principle. These are the facts.

A handgun is not magic. You need to learn to use it and you need to be willing to use it, i.e., to employ deadly force. If you are unwilling or unable to do this, then guns are not for you.

However, a reliable handgun of man-stopping caliber (most commonly, 9mm and .45) is a terrific equalizer. And equality is the basis of citizenship.

This is the foundation of civilization: that we live and posses our property and are free in our bodies by no man’s leave, but by right under law. This is as true for women as it is for men. And unless civilization includes women, it does not exist.

The “argument from prudence,” otherwise known as “yes, but . . .” has no place here. Our rights as women citizens are unalienable, and the argument from prudence inevitably segues into “blame the victim” and the attempt to limit or abrogate those rights – to argue that there are things we may not do, places we may not go, ways we may not dress or behave, because we are women.

For women to bear arms routinely and commonly, in order to defend their lives, their property and their liberty – the simple freedom of a realtor to show a client a property, to use the gym and shower during unstaffed hours, to drive cross country alone, to go for a walk or a hike or a run or a ride alone, to be at home alone, all without fear of being overpowered – to not need a chaperone or a protector – is our right. It is also an act in defense of civilization, if only because those who commit violent crimes against women are often sadists for whom pleasure provides much of the motivation, and thus serial predators. And it is an act of civilization because it insists that we are part of civilization, a full and equal part. These things may not be done to us with impunity.

Now, try saying this to other women. Especially feminists, like myself. They’ll look at you as though you’ve suddenly grown horns. Then they’ll respond with a litany of objections that I know by heart. Yes, there are women, as there are men, who refuse to defend themselves with potentially lethal force for religious or philosophical reasons, or because they know themselves to be genuinely incapable of it for other reasons. But for the vast majority of women, the refusal to consider firearms or to grant the legitimacy of that choice to others, is based on little more than cowardice. What matters now is to review the standard objections, then determine why they amount to not just physical, but also intellectual and moral cowardice.

These come in four flavors of cowardice, and you can tell the degree of cowardice by the degree of departure from reality. All of these objections have been said or written to me. I am making none of them up; in one case, I still have the correspondence.

First is the use of incomplete, distorted or simply wrong statistics to prove the following:
· Guns cause crime.
· Guns cause crimes in cities.
· Guns cause crimes in poor and minority neighborhoods.
· Guns cause otherwise law-abiding people to kill each other or themselves.
· People rarely use guns in self-defense.
· Children will be accidentally killed by guns. Yes, and any idiot adult who permits children access to firearms should be punished. But the vast preponderance of gun deaths and woundings of children don’t happen to genuine children at all; they involve late-adolescent criminals, often gang members.
· Guns cause crimes against women.

In truth, reliable statistics reveal precisely the opposite. John R. Lott, Jr., an economist at the University of Maryland, College Park, presented his findings in a 2005 interview with the University of Chicago Press. “States with the largest increases in gun ownership also have the largest drops in violent crimes. … For each additional year that a concealed handgun law is in effect the murder rate declines 3%, rape by 2% and robberies by over 2%. … When states passed shall-issue laws [“These laws allow adults the right to carry concealed handguns if they do not have a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness”], the number of multiple victim shootings [“These were incidents in which at least two or more people were killed and or injured in a public place; in order to focus on the type of shooting…shootings that were the byproduct of another crime, such as robbery, were excluded] declined by 84%. Deaths plummeted on average by 90% and injuries by 82%. … The total number of accidental gun deaths each year is about 1,300 and each year such accidents take the lives of children 14 years of age and under… . Children are 14.5 times more likely to die from car accidents than from accidents involving guns. … An additional woman carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for women by about 3 to 4 times more than an additional man carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for men. … High crime urban areas and neighborhoods with large minority populations have the greatest reductions in violent crime when citizens are legally allowed to carry concealed weapons.”

Some will automatically complain that Lott is a conservative, as if that invalidates his research. So let’s turn to an interview with liberal criminologist Gary Kleck of Florida State University, the world’s preeminent expert on defensive gun use, in the Winter 2009 issue of Research in Review. Kleck’s research played a role in D.C. v. Heller, which overturned Washington, DC’s handgun ban. After the handgun ban was passed in 1976, homicides increased, and even when they dropped, the proportion of homicides committed with handguns was higher than before the ban was passed. Kleck notes that the common pro-gun-control claim, that when victims attempt to use guns defensively, which they did approximately 2.5 million times in 1993, for example, nearly three times as often as the 850,000 criminals used guns in that year, offenders will take them away and use them on the victim is simply false. “Over the period from 1997 through 2006, an annual average of 4.8 police officers in the U.S. were killed with their own guns, out of a total of 665,555 full-time, sworn officers in the nation. … [As for civilian crime victims being hurt because they used a gun to defend themselves] It wasn’t using the gun that got them hurt. [“Researchers reported instances of people being hurt and using guns defensively, but these were cases where someone was first hurt and then used the gun for self protection, Kleck explained.”] And once this flaw in the research was fixed, it was found that people who use guns for protection are almost never injured after that. … Criminals interviewed in prison indicate that they have refrained from committing crimes because they believed a potential victim might have a gun. … Victim defensive use of guns almost never angers or otherwise provokes offenders into attacking and injuring the resisting victims. It’s extremely rare that once a victim shows or uses a gun, he is injured. …” [“In any case, Kleck says, summarizing this crime scenario, it is clear that regardless of whether gun use occasionally provokes the offender, the net effect of victim gun use is to reduce the likelihood that the offender will hurt the victim.”] Kleck has also run statistical simulations that suggest that if criminals substitute long guns (rifles and shotguns) for handguns, the result would be more homicides, for the simple reason that these weapons have longer ranges and are more lethal.

The second form of cowardice reduces itself to “Defending me is somebody else’s job, not mine.” The most common argument here is that it is the job of the police and the judicial system to stop crime, and if a woman feels endangered, she should get a restraining order. Leaving aside the widespread, well-known reluctance of the law enforcement and judicial system to take crimes against women seriously, the police do not so much stop crime as manage it in the interest of public safety. In Castle Rock v. Gonzales the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a woman does not have the right to have a restraining order enforced. That’s optional on the part of the police. In this case, the police department’s repeated refusal to enforce led to the murder of the plaintiff’s three children. Castle Rock went far beyond the common sense rule that none of us have an automatic right to a police security detail to make the very clear point that if a woman and her children need their intervention in a crime in progress to prevent their murder, they are not part of the public to be protected and served.

And now we come to the “rational (more or less) hypotheticals.” The problem would be solved if only:
· We should make law enforcement take these crimes seriously! (Yes, we should, but they’ll still be doing it after the fact.)
· What about a restraining order? (Even had the Supreme Court had ruled 9-0 in favor of Gonzales in Castle Rock, it is paper, not protection: approximately a quarter of women killed by domestic abusers have restraining orders against their murderers.
· You might have an accidental or negligent discharge. (True, but people do far worse, far more often, with cars and swimming pools.)
· Most crime against women is committed by people they know so it wouldn’t help women in that situation. (As if reducing stranger assaults is bad and no woman will defend herself against an intimate or domestic abuser.)
· You might kill your assailant. (Considering the highly recidivistic nature of sexual crimes, you’ve saved yourself, many other women, probably some children and possibly even a few men from a lot of really ugly memories that your assailant wanted to impose.)
· Your best way to protect yourself against sexual assault and domestic violence is to be really, really careful in where you go, how you dress, how much you drink, and with whom, who you choose to be involved with, then pray you’re right. (Take this argument to its logical extreme – burkhas, chadors and sequestering women. Maybe you don’t, but a billion or so other people do.)
· We might make a mistake and 1. shoot the wrong person, 2. misunderstand their intentions, and 3. shoot someone we really didn’t have to. (Sexual assault victims are similarly impugned all the time by rapists, their defenders and apologists. Now we have women, feminist women, doing the same to women who refuse to be victimized.)
· We don’t want men to be afraid of retribution. (In the immediate aftermath of a crime, why should your assailant believe you can do nothing but call the cops?)
· Your assailant might kill you rather than just beat you or rape you. (Just barely within the realm of statistical probability, but he’s far more likely to if you are unarmed. Why do you assume you can’t win when you it is extremely likely you will?)

Finally there are, to put it kindly, the delusional.
· Most women shouldn’t own and use handguns in self-defense because it’s too easy and too cheap. (Why it should be more difficult for a civilized person to defend her life and liberty and property than for the uncivilized to take them from her? )
· It’s terribly difficult to use a handgun accurately and reliably when you’re tanked on adrenaline but it’s very easy for you to rip off a man’s ear, crush his throat or just simply pass him out in a life-or-death situation. However, because of the average strength differential between men and women, women should not use handguns because they can be taken away from them.
· I bought my daughter a knife; she can just poke an attacker with it and run away.
· The violence is in our heads. (Not when other women are raped and murdered, it’s not.)
· I want women to be respected by law enforcement and the judicial system. (If you’re not willing to kill in self-defense, why should others be willing to die for you?)
· You’re terrified of the world around you, think men are the enemy and women are victims by nature. (See my writings from Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly the first few chapters of my book Women in the Line of Fire .)

And my so-far-all-time favorite:
· Feminists like you, who believe women should use handguns to defend their lives and liberty, do more harm to feminism than sexists, including those who murder and torture and terrorize women for being feminists.

Understand that when we hear these arguments, the speaker or the writer is not a rational woman making a rational decision for herself, based upon, for example, a serious problem with depression, or such anger for the real crimes committed against her that the justice system refuses to punish appropriately that she fears punishing the innocent. Owning and carrying a handgun isn’t for everyone, male or female, no matter how law-abiding and even brave, or even the same person at all the times in her life. And that’s OK.

When we hear these arguments, we are dealing with cowardice and a slave mentality. And the more ridiculous the arguments against a woman owning and carrying, such as “You might go into Starbucks, find a teenager brandishing what looked like a real gun and threatening to kill people, and kill him only to find out that he was only 13 and it was a toy,” the deeper the cowardice.  (Incidentally, I worked very near and frequently walked past a DC Starbucks where three people, unarmed because they were law-abiding citizens, were shot to death.)  The more you hear idiot statistics and hypotheticals, the more you know you’re dealing with cowardice. The more you hear women telling you how much they’d give up or suffer just to stay alive, let alone how much you should give up or suffer just to stay alive, the more you are dealing with the mentality of slaves. There is a rule about being killed: being killed clothed involves far less suffering and humiliation than being killed naked. You get bonus points (in terms of reduced pain and degradation) if you die standing.

One of the most poignant things I’ve heard was, “Women who’ve been battered (like children who’ve been abused) have often had their sense of self and self-worth deliberately destroyed as part of the process therefore you can’t expect them to believe they have a self worth defending.” That is so terribly true. And hearing from women that they should not defend their lives, their liberty and their property with deadly force, is not going to help them resurrect their selfhood, their belief that those who try to take that from them deserve to die. They need to hear loud and clear, starting with women, especially feminist women, including in the anti-violence movement, battered women’s shelters and rape crisis movement, then continuing to the police and law enforcement, that their lives and liberty and property are worth the lives of those who want these things from them.

The truth is that many women carry around a great deal of fear, fear that is profoundly realistic. The belief that our bodies are not our own and rape in particular is a tax upon our existence in the world, a tax we should pay, is alive and widespread and very well. We fear that we can’t defeat an attacker and so we engage in many magic rituals and a great deal of magical thinking: if I don’t wear this skirt, if I don’t shower at the gym or go running after dark, or hiking alone or… or… or… I’ll be safe. Because I can’t possibly win a fight.

But that’s simply wrong. The magic rituals and the magical thinking will not keep us safe. But we can defeat an attacker. A handgun that you can use effectively and are prepared and willing to use that way is a powerful equalizer. You don’t need a lot of training or money to buy a good handgun, learn to use it safely and well, and carry it discretely just about everywhere doing so is legal. A handgun is simply the single best means for a woman to defend herself.

Tell me again why this is controversial.

Feminism is the simple proposition that women are equal in human and civic worth to men. Either our lives and liberty and property are as valuable to us as men’s are to them, and we have not only the personal right but the responsibility of the citizen to civilization to defend them with deadly force or we don’t.

If you don’t think they are and we don’t, you’re not a feminist, you’re a misogynist, which is to say someone who doesn’t.

Yes, it really is that simple. And no, we can’t agree to disagree. This is death ground, where you have to fight or die. If women do not fight for their lives and liberty, they will continue to be murdered and raped and assaulted with their perpetrators assuming little, if any, risk. We’ve seen enough of that.

No more victims.


12 thoughts on “Women, Handguns and Civilization”

  1. I agree with most of your post but not everyone has the cajones to kill another human being and some just don’t believe in deadly force. Maybe that is why the nonlethal self defense option has got so much steam behind it.

  2. You’re quite right. I make very clear in this essay that guns are neither magic nor for everyone, and non-lethals can be an excellent alternative.

    What matters is that people make their choices for the right reasons, without kidding themselves.

  3. I’m thinking that you are going to catch some rather serious hell this time. At least I sure did when I argued just about all of your points against a certain hopolophobe made famous by his grief connected with Columbine at Red Rocks Community College some years back.

    But then perhaps you will get a pass. Mysandry in action. Keep up the good work!

  4. Someone, I don’t know who, once said that “People who object to weapons aren’t abolishing violence, they’re begging for rule by brute force, where the biggest, strongest animals among men were always automatically ‘right.'”. I think that’s basically true.

    Your list of bad reasons for opposing gun ownership is quite good, though not comprehensive. (I doubt such a list can ever be.) One of the arguments against concealed carry, and it gets trooted out every time some state considers making concealed carry legal, is that it will lead to a rash of shootings over trivial matters like parking spaces and minor fender benders. This prediction is always confidently made (Though no supporting evidence from states that have legalized concealed carry is ever cited), and it never comes to pass.

  5. Burke:

    I think there’s only one good reason not to own/carry handguns.

    I’m not capable of doing this responsibly (for whatever reason, be it serious depression, kids in the house, just not willing to go there, the massive anger management problem a lot of women have due to being raped and there being no hope whatsoever of justice).

    OK, no sweat. We’re not the same or even at different points in our lives.

    But saying that means being honest with yourself about all kinds of things.

    You know, there’s a reason the old feudal aristocracy hated crossbowmen and harquebusiers. And I sometimes wonder whether the liberal male opposition to gun ownership is not profoundly passive-aggressive misogyny.


    PS: I forgot this one. I won’t own a gun because I don’t want to be afraid.

  6. And hearing from women that they should not defend their lives, their liberty and their property with deadly force, is not going to help them resurrect their selfhood, their belief that those who try to take that from them deserve to die.

    I am afraid it’s not that simple. According to the law, you can not defend your property with deadly force, whether you’re a woman or a man. You can defend your life with deadly force, but “self defense” is a legal, very strictly and narrowly defined term. If you kill somebody, while defending property, or kill your abuser, when he wants to beat you with a hand (not kill with a knife!), or kill your blind date when he threatens rape… I am afraid you will see yourself in jail. Btw, HOW will you prove he wanted to rape you? Police will see a dead body & a gun with your fingertips on it.
    Do you really think the judge will –
    a)believe you
    b) agree that killing was the only thing you could do
    c) even believing 2 previous points decide you had a right to kill not to be raped?
    I don’t want to say you don’t know the laws, but your article didn’t mention the costs. Personally, I would prefer to be raped (unless the person is ill with AIDS, thus killing the victim) than be sent for a decade or more behind bars, where there is a great chance to be raped too (both by inmates & jail workers), in addition to numerous other causes of suffering. It’s cost vs benefit analysis: rape vs rape+infinite other ills behind bars+living with yourself after taking somebody else’s life & looking into eyes of his mother in court. I am 99.99% sure any woman killing a rapist would find herself in jail since most rapists aren’t known to police serial killers jumping from bushes, but “a guy next door”. The chances of stranger rape are very small. In vast majority of cases it’s as I described.

    Explanation: I am a woman, not USA citizen & not against people having a right to bear arms. But your declaration, which I quoted, bothered me for the reasons I described.

    I am not sure, but may be you’ll enjoy the site:
    In this link he talks about self-defense. I know you didn’t talk about being aggressive first, but even men, who fought off robbers, were sued by them in civil court & lost. What about a woman saying “he tried to rape me” vs blind date saying “no, she’s a mad bitch, who shot me!”

  7. The laws for defense of property vary from state to state, but when someone is in your home, the difference between defending your property and defending your body (to include your life) is virtually invisible for men, and even more so for women. However, generally speaking, shooting someone in the back running away with your purse is illegal. (Texas is an outlier when it comes to the use of deadly force.) That said, in domestic violence and stalking cases, theft and particularly destruction of property is very often a means of harming the target, for example trashing a woman’s car so she can’t get to her job, or the perpetrator working himself up to and desensitizing himself to doing harm to a human being.

    All these are very good reasons why shall-issue permits, the Castle doctrine (no duty to retreat inside your home, sometimes your car, your proeprty, and your workplace before using deadly force against an intruder) and stand-your-ground laws (no duty to retreat in any place you have a legal right to be, so long as you did not provoke your attacker) are incredibly important to women. In no small part, these laws have been passed to prevent people who have defended themselves from being sued by their attackers. And yes, you need to know the laws in your state.

    The real horror of sexual assault is that it means that even the interior of our bodies are not ours—and there is precious little sanction for violating a woman’s body like that. (That there is far more sanction for doing so to men is the root of much homophobia and laws against homosexuality.) For that matter, until very recently, both pregnancy and abortion were life-threatening for women: until about 1940 in America, childbirth was the routine decimation of women in their most productive years, and in much of the world it still is. In other words, sexual assault could be a death sentence for women even without HIV.

    In point of fact, women are increasingly likely to be upheld by the legal system for defending themselves with deadly force. The law is nowhere near where it needs to be, but judges and juries are far better about this than they used to be, too.

    So why are we women so unwilling to encourage each other and ourselves to defend the sanctity of our bodies at all costs—the predator’s costs? And yes, I am aware that there is a cost associated with the taking of human life: stable, balanced, social people of either sex simply are not violent except in extremis, and this includes special operations troops, who have an extreme capacity for useful (as opposed to criminal) aggression. But to ask the question, how would you feel about facing the mother of the man you killed for attempting to rape you? is to scrape the bottom of the barrel of excuses for learned helplessness.

    I don’t want women to spend their lives worrying about avoiding rape, real rape, as we live it. (Most of it is acquaintance rape, but a substantial minority of it is not.) I want women to be able to successfully defend themselves—including against rape aided by drugs and alcohol—and I want society, including other women, and the law, to uphold their actions upon their own behalf. And yes, non-lethals are wonderful.

    But sometimes they’re not enough. One of the lovely things about using guns in self-defense, and they’re not magic, you need to know how to use them and be utterly committed to using them—is that they are a near-absolute fight-stopper. In the experience of every single person I have talked to who has had to use them, without a single shot fired by all of us together and no legal consequences. Including women in domestic violence situations.

    Erin Solaro

  8. His Rape Tab is fundamentally flawed, both tactically and morally.

    Tactically in the sense that alcohol and drugs have for a long time been deliberately used by the rapist to both depress their own inhibitions against rape and impair their victims. anyone who says, “We were both drunk and didn’t know what we were doing” ought to be understood to be making a confession, especially given 1. the average size disparity between men and women and certainly specifically between the parties and 2. if a man drinks so much he genuinely doesn’t know what he’s doing (as opposed to deliberately depressing good inhibitions), he’s not able to perform.

    Morally in the sense of men who rape know what they are doing and want to do it.

    He is, however, very right in that rape is about sex, rather than power, in that that is how those who rape want their sex. Whatever else they like, they want rape, too.

    And most people are horribly afraid to face that.

  9. You mention the mother alot when you speak of the rapist, but what about the fact that the women being raped who may end up with child and not want to keep it but yet you have the rapist mother thinking it’s only fair that she be entitled to that child since her son (the rapist) was killed by the very woman who now carries his child, what about this? I agree with your points above, but what are your feelings with this issue, because there are alot of children who were products of rape in our world.I look forward to your response.

  10. “Next Door,” actually, I don’t write much at all of the perpetrator’s mother.

    But yes, I suspect there are a great many more children born of sexual assault than is commonly recognized.

    It is an established legal principle that you have no right to the fruits of your crime. In other words, you don’t get to force your victim to carry to term so you can have the child as a souvenir. Nor do the perp’s parents have a right to force his would-be victim to provide them with a replacement for the perp.

    Should a woman become pregnant by rape, whether or not she succeeds in killing her perpetrator in the immediate aftermath, what she chooses to do—abortion, adoption, raising the child as her own with or without any involvement of the perp’s parents—is entirely her own decision. The perp’s parents have no claim upon her, not morally and certainly not legally.

  11. In response to your recent post on The Firing Line, November 28, 2009 “Here’s the question.
    How has your experience with crime, particularly sexual crimes, to include gay-bashing, either directed at you or someone close to you, influenced your decision to buy or give and bear arms? This is true whether you or your dear ones are male, female, trans, gay, straight, cross-dresser, whatever. A particular question is: How ambivalent were you (they?) about arming yourself (themselves)? How much did the thought, “If only…” cost you (them)?”

    I have never been the victim of any sexual crime or crime of violence, nor to the best of my knowledge have anyone I’m personally involved with, I.e. Spouse, family member, or close personal friend been the victim of any crimes of a similar nature.

    Yet I was employed as a city police officer in a large western city for 27 years, (1974 – 2002) during this time I was required to investigate a number of sexual crimes, crimes against gays both male and female, and general crimes of violence. If my experiences along with any self defense suggestion I offered to my victims or their families would be of interest to you please feel free to contact me with specific questions.

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