Marcus: Guns, even scary-looking ones, don't make women safer

By Ruth Marcus, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

Published:

 
photoRuth Marcus

The latest weapon in the war against reasonable restrictions on access to guns is the straw woman. Don't fall for her.

This formulation would have you believe gun rights are women's rights, and that limits on guns would harm women disproportionately. "Guns make women safer," Gayle Trotter of the conservative Independent Women's Forum, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at its hearing on gun violence. "For women, the ability to arm ourselves for our protection is even more consequential than for men. Because guns are the great equalizer in a violent confrontation." This argument would be powerful, if only it were true. The facts suggest precisely the opposite.

First, women are far more likely to be the victims of gun violence than to benefit from using a gun in self-defense.

Second, the restrictions under discussion would not harm women. They would either make women safer or, at the very least, not impede their ability to use guns in self-defense.

On the threat that guns pose to women, consider: Women are far less likely to be the victims of gun violence than men. But they are far more likely than men to be killed by someone they know, generally a spouse or partner. Women with a gun in the home were nearly three times as likely to be victims of homicide than women living in a home without firearms, according to a 2003 study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Then on to the second issue: whether various gun-control proposals -- enhanced background checks, limits on magazine sizes, restrictions on assault weapons -- would make it more difficult for women to defend themselves. Trotter's Exhibit A was Sarah McKinley, an Oklahoma widow alone with her 3-month-old son when two intruders broke into her home. McKinley shot and killed one of them with a 12-gauge shotgun. But here's the problem with Trotter's example: Nothing in the restrictions under discussion would have stopped McKinley.

As Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse observed, "I think it proves the point that with ordinary firearms, not hundred-magazine peculiar types of artifacts, people are quite capable of defending themselves." Trotter remained impervious to Whitehouse's logic. "How can you say that?" she asked. "You are a large man. … You cannot understand. You are not a woman stuck in her house having to defend her children, not able to leave her child, not able to go seek safety."

'Weapon of choice'

Trotter argued that assault weapons like the AR-15 are young women's "weapon of choice" because they are accurate, light and, most of all, intimidating. "The peace of mind that a woman has as she's facing three, four, five violent attackers ... knowing that she has a scary-looking gun," she said, "gives her more courage when she's fighting hardened violent criminals." You have got to be kidding. The intruder is going to be more scared off -- the woman is going to feel more empowered -- because the gun is scarier-looking?

If anything, women should be clamoring for gun control measures -- in particular, for expanded background checks. Individuals convicted of domestic violence are prohibited from buying guns -- but, of course, the porousness of the current background check system lets abusers dodge that rule. And, according to the National Institute of Justice, abused women are six times more likely to be killed when a gun is in the home.

"I speak on behalf of millions of American women across the country who urge you to defend our Second Amendment right to choose to defend ourselves," Trotter proclaimed.

I'd say that I speak for millions of American women who reject this phony solicitude, but there is a better representative. She spoke at the hearing, too.

"Too many children are dying," she said, painfully enunciating each syllable. "We must do something." Her name is Gabby Giffords. Anyone dare tell her that guns make women safer?