“Guns offer false security” Says a Grad Student

AlphaPatriot sent me this USAToday op-ed by Kimberly Shearer Palmer, hoping, I suspect, that I’d fisk it.

Who am I to let a reader down?

Let’s begin:

Before I held a revolver, I thought only police officers and psychopaths shot guns. Guns seemed uncontrollable objects that could inflict death at any moment; I preferred to avoid them.

Ooh! “police officers and psychopaths!” I ought to drag out the Freud quote.

Then I learned how to shoot. My friends arranged a trip to a shooting range outside Chicago. Our instructor, a former police officer, taught us how to stand and point, hunching our shoulders for accuracy. We shot at the target silhouettes’ heart and lungs before aiming for its head. In real life, our instructor explained, our attackers might wear bulletproof vests.

One of my absolute favorite quotes belongs to blogger and author Teresa Nielsen Hayden: “Basically, I figure guns are like gays: They seem a lot more sinister and threatening until you get to know a few; and once you have one in the house, you can get downright defensive about them.” Seems she discovered the truth of that.

I was thrilled with my new power. A technological advantage now would let me fight the bad guys, even ones bigger and stronger that I am — or so I thought. Guns give women equal killing ability, but they also draw us into the dangerous illusion that owning one makes us safe.

Then her instructor did a piss-poor job of explaining what a gun can and cannot do. Owning a gun doesn’t make you safe. NOTHING makes you “SAFE.”

Owning a fire-extinguisher doesn’t make you safe from fire, either. It simply provides you a tool in the event that one occurs. Just as, in the event of a fire, an extinguisher provides you the means to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your property until the fire department arrives, a firearm provides you the means to protect yourself, your loved ones and your property in the event of a crime until the police can arrive. But you have to have more than that. You need to know what the tool can do and cannot do – be it a gun or a fire extinguisher. You have to have it available – keeping it locked up and/or empty or simply where you cannot reach it in an emergency renders it useless. You have to know that you will be able to use it if necessary – if you don’t believe you can, having it won’t do you any good.

There’s more to owning a gun for self-defense than simply purchasing it.

More women are using guns. The number of National Rifle Association Women on Target programs — shooting clinics for women only — more than doubled between 2001 and 2002, says Stephanie Henson, manager of the NRA’s women’s programs. Last year, clinics were held in 38 states. Henson says women’s interest is so strong that the NRA recently launched Woman’s Outlook, its first magazine aimed just at women.

Self-defense is the reason the overwhelming majority of Women & Guns’ readers are interested in using guns, says Peggy Tartaro, the magazine’s executive editor.

Then I hope like hell they’re getting better training than Ms. Palmer got.

But gun popularity among women is based on two misconceptions. First, gun advocates often call guns the great equalizer between men and women. In reality, according to a new study by the University of California at Davis, women who own handguns are more than twice as likely to be murdered with a firearm by their partners than those who do not. While this may be partly explained by the fact that women who fear an attack are more apt to buy a gun, the study shows guns often fail to help women protect themselves.

Perhaps because they don’t understand, as Ms. Palmer does not understand, what having a gun for self-defense requires? Where before she seemed to believe that guns were some kind of magic talisman OF evil, now she seems to believe that they are some kind of magic talisman to WARD OFF evil. They are neither.

“Having a gun gives women a false sense of security,” says Naomi Seligman, communications director of the Violence Policy Center, a Washington non-profit that urges stricter gun control. “Guns can be taken away, and women can be killed by their own guns.”

And Naomi Seligman is an unbiased source of fact, I suppose? How often are “guns taken away” from someone? Approximately 1% of the time. If you have a gun and are prepared to use it, no one’s going to take it from you.

The second misconception is that guns are the only solution to help otherwise “weak” women protect themselves. In fact, a wide range of self-defense options, from chemical sprays to street fighting, gives women the tools to fight back.

Except according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service “(W)hile 33 percent of all surviving robbery victims were injured, only 25 percent of those who offered no resistance and 17 percent of those who defended themselves with guns were injured. For surviving assault victims, the corresponding injury rates were, respectively, 30 percent, 27 percent, and 12 percent.” Defending yourself with a gun provides the best chance of escaping injury yourself. A 110 pound woman against a 180 pound man means, even if she gets away, she’s probably going to be injured.

A popular new form of self-defense training simulates attacks on the street and in the bedroom by male “attackers” wearing protective padding. This realistic-training approach includes verbal and psychological elements that prepare women for real-life situations. Fighting off a man in a simulated attack is much more likely to resemble a real incident than shooting at a target-range silhouette.

I wholeheartedly agree. If you’re going to carry a gun for self-protection, then training for real-life situations is an excellent idea. But that training should not denegrate the advantage that having a gun provides. Consider, if you are about to be assaulted; robbed or carjacked, and your training has prepared you, which is more likely to put off your attacker: a can of pepper spray, or a .38 revolver aimed at his abdomen? And what if he has a firearm? Which is more likely to deter him then?

Self-defense classes also offer a significant psychological benefit. After taking self-defense courses with simulated attacks at The Empower Program Inc., a Washington non-profit, my younger sister and I felt more confident walking down the street. We were aware that at any time, anywhere, we knew how to fight back. The course also taught us how to avoid violent situations and how to de-escalate encounters before they become deadly. Like Jennifer Lopez’s character in the 2002 movie Enough, in which she learns to fight to protect herself and her daughter against her abusive husband, we had reclaimed our right to feel safe while depending only on our own bodies.

More magical thinking. She felt more confident. Yahoo to Jennifer Lopez, but I’d like to remind you that that was a movie. However, we have actual stories like this one where a woman awoke with a man on top of her. She took HIS gun and killed him with it. “In this case, the victim made the decision to struggle and fight back…She made the decision that she was going to survive this incident.”

It’s about mental attitude. A gun is just part of that. More stories:

In December, 2002 in Tucson AZ, Martha Lynn Chaney shot her abusive boyfriend when he tried to force his way into her home. (Story no longer available online)

In March, 2002 in Colville WA, 71 year-old Bethan Scutchfield, an invalid woman, shot and killed a 28 year old man who was physically assaulting her. The man was her granddaughter’s ex-boyfriend who was violating a restraining order.

December 2001, A LaCenter OR woman, Cheryl Swenson, shot her abusive husband when he broke down a bedroom door in order to continue beating her.

The June 11 issue of the Indiana StarPress reports that Charlotte Johnson shot and wounded her ex-boyfriend in self-defense.

WZZM news in Grand Rapids, MI reports that Robin Trumbull used a handgun to defend herself from an attacker.

The March 23 edition of the Macomb Daily online edition reports that a 40 year old woman was the victim of an attempted robbery, but she told the robber: “If you’re going to shoot me then do it, ’cause I’m definitely going to kill you,” when she pulled her 9mm handgun on him. He ran.

Considering guns as women’s only shot at self-defense is like eating fat-free cookies to ward off obesity; they can make the situation even worse. Instead of buying a gun, I’m sticking to basic street smarts that will always be there when I need them most.

Try a combination, Ms. Palmer. “Street smarts” and a gun will protect you better than “street smarts” without one. But a gun without “street smarts” is still better than having neither, so long as you’re willing to defend yourself.

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