What should America do about gun violence? That was the Senate Judiciary Committee’s topic for its first hearing of 2013.
In my testimony during the hearing, I explained that the ability to arm oneself is even more important for women than it is for men, since guns level the playing field between women and the physically stronger men who might attack them. We preserve meaningful protection for women by safeguarding our Second Amendment rights to lawful self-protection. I urged the senators to eschew self-defeating proposals that would fail to make Americans safer and would harm women most.
Women often use firearms to defend against violent attacks. For women, guns reverse the balance of power in a violent confrontation because over 90 percent of violent crimes occur without a firearm, according to a federal study.
Concealed-carry laws help reverse that balance of power even before an attack. Criminals cannot tell which potential victims can defend themselves, and armed citizens can better defend against violence. These two effects indirectly benefit unarmed citizens and reduce crime rates, as documented by economist John Lott. The 10 states that adopted concealed-carry laws over a 15-year span experienced 0.89 shooting deaths and injuries per 100,000 people, less than half the 2.09 per 100,000 experienced in states that did not adopt such laws, Lott found.
My testimony included a detailed summary of 21 recent news accounts, each involving a woman using a firearm to protect herself and others against one or more violent men. These examples included a woman who defended herself against five burglars, a woman who thwarted an attempted shooting in a school, a woman who saved her child from a kidnapper and a woman who stopped a gunman in a movie theater.
Few of these news accounts ever gain national attention, despite their prevalence. Private citizens account for more than one-third of all instances where a violent criminal is killed during the commission of a felony, according to a recent federal study. Americans use firearms defensively 2.2 million to 2.5 million times a year, according to criminologist Gary Kleck, based on a sample in which women represented 46 percent of defensive gun use.
Abundant research has found that reduced gun ownership results in increased criminal home invasions and lethality of attacks on law-abiding citizens. “Homeowners who defend themselves make burglars generally wary of breaking into homes,” creating external benefits because “criminals cannot know in advance who is armed,” Lott found.
During the Senate hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked why a semiautomatic rifle such as an AR-15 has value as a weapon of self-defense. I responded that AR-15 rifles are “accurate, they have good handling, they are light, they are easy for women to hold” and, yes, I highlighted their “scary-looking” appearance. Days later, the New York Times cited similar benefits, calling the rifle “fast, modern, ergonomically designed, relatively easy to handle” and highlighting its appearance as “something commandos might carry.”
The Supreme Court held in 2008 that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess a firearm for self-defense and indicated that the right covers weapons “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens” — a standard the AR-15 satisfies, considering that Americans own an estimated 2.4 million to 3.3 million of them. Citizens need not use only “adequate” weapons to protect their families, despite the contrary suggestion of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I).
Gun-rights opponents cite debatable or discredited studies claiming private gun ownership does more harm than good. For example, one study by Arthur Kellermann of Emory University asked homicide victims’ relatives if the deceased owned a gun in the home. The study gave the misleading impression that the homicide involved the same gun. In fact, of the 444 homicides studied in his 1993 paper, only eight deaths involved a gun kept in the home, and Kellerman himself reported that most of the deaths occurred without a firearm. Moreover, Kellermann counted a benefit from defensive gun use only where a criminal had been killed or injured, ignoring the fact that attackers are killed or injured in less than one percent of defensive gun use.
The medical literature on gun control betrays a similar ideological bias. Analyzing research by Kellermann and others, Edgar Suter, a physician, has documented faulty methodologies, false citations, fabricated data, “overt mendacity” and a “failure of peer review.” Based on a Harvard study finding that physicians’ negligence kills annually three to five times as many Americans as guns, Suter noted the “sad irony” of medical politicians’ claim of a “public health emergency” from “guns, rather than medical negligence.”
Gun-control measures ignore evidence of civilian gun use and fail to reduce violent crime against women, according to Inge Larish’s detailed and scholarly feminist critique of gun control. She found that gun-control measures disproportionately harm women “by restricting or removing the most effective method of self-defense available.”
Those who care about women’s well-being should work to safeguard our right to keep and bear those types of firearms “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens” to protect ourselves and our families because nearly all violent crimes occur without firearms, making guns the great equalizer for women defending against violent attacks.
Gayle Trotter is an attorney and writer. The views expressed are her own.