Much has been said and written about a recent story in the New York Times that describes a trend among gun rights advocates to use defense against sexual assault as a reason for legalizing gun possession on college campuses. Obviously some people support it — it is being proposed by state political leaders, after all — and some people don’t support it. For my part, I think the proposition at best is obviously naïve. But even if you find yourself in agreement with these pro-gun arguments, there’s something about it that is chilling.
Let’s take a look at just one supporter’s rationale.
The New York Times quotes Michele Fiore, a Nevada State Assemblywoman and a sponsor of a bill to allow guns on campus in her state. She is quoted: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”
Obviously naïve? Patently so. Ridiculous and insulting, too.
Who are these “young, hot little girls on campus”? Much is wrong with this statement, that is clear, isn’t it? I’m not sure how you defend it. Certainly it raises the question about not-so-hot little girls on campus, whomever they might be, right? And that raises another question, is sexual assault about and only about men preying on women? Let’s just agree this is distasteful and — I cannot say it enough — it is naive. Let’s move on.
Fiore’s next sentence is a bit less obviously a blunder, at least to some. It is a deterrent argument. Fiore wonders how many men will risk assaulting a woman if she has a gun. Well, it has been fairly obvious in this country — a world leader in gun violence — that guns do little if anything to deter violence. In fact if gun violence and the injuries and death it creates is any indicator, guns don’t deter violence, guns enable violence. From 2000 to 2010, over 130,000 people died from gun violence that was not related to suicide. (NB: That’s a lot.)
(There is a well-known CDC study that makes the claim that guns are used frequently and successfully to deter crime, however I think one needs to look at this claim overall and in detail. That is a topic for another post, perhaps, but I bring that study to your attention her because I am suggesting the opposite, based on that study.)
Consider this, for example, if guns are allowed on campus, will only hot little girls have them? Will we hear the tired old argument that if we don’t let hot little girls carry guns, only sexual predators will have guns? The CDC study suggests an “arms race” is taking place as more people carry guns for protection. Even criminals carry guns for protection. Who’s to say an attacker wouldn’t use the opportunity to carry his (or her) gun legally on campus to help him (or her) commit a crime?
The protection argument fails to convince me anyway since most sexual assault on campus, like most sexual assault generally, is not something coerced by a stranger. Just the opposite. And rarely is any weapon used. Nonetheless, if we disregard that fact and believe more guns mean more safety, well then one has to wonder…or should wonder…how will this gun be used? Might it even be turned against the victim? Sexual assault is a very physically close crime. Would a victim reach for her backpack or get up and go to her bedroom dresser, retrieve her gun, then remove herself from her attacker and fire? Seems naive to me, even in the most favorable situation.
This brings me to the last point — and in my the chilling one. The “bullet in their head” comment has my head spinning. Really, is that the answer? It is the conclusion Fiore seems to draw and I suspect it is shared by many anti-crime, pro-gun advocates.
In the United States the line between guns and violence and gun violence is blurred. Homeowners can defend their property with deadly force and frequently do. Even in a public space, if you feel that your life is in jeopardy, you can use deadly force. Ironically, in the name of public safety and defense, even the police use guns to kill.
The “put a bullet in their head” reasoning seems all too familiar in our society. If we really think armed defense is a solution to crime, we aren’t really thinking much about solutions at all, are we? We are devolving into a Hobbsian state of nature, where life is “nasty, brutish, and short”, where the fortunate have power, not law, and the weak live in fear. I am not saying one cannot defend himself or herself, but when that defense becomes something more, when its logic embodies both judge and executioner, I think we’re moving in the wrong direction. It is troublesome, too, that lawmakers should evoke civilian violence as both a rationale and an outcome as an argument supporting a stated policy. Our laws should not enable more gun violence, it should instead find ways to reduce both violence and the guns involved, whether in defense or otherwise.
In the end, this story is yet another that reflects a growing trend to transgress the boundaries of gun violence for a supposed good. Ultimately gun violence has its roots in a problem that proceeds it. Indeed, gun supporters argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Perhaps we should take that argument seriously and look for ways to reduce that human violence in the first place and not tacitly endorse it.