Friday, June 16, 2006

Feminism and guns

Ok, if anybody bothered to wander over here from bitch phd's blog, here's the thing. I'm not a gun nut. I believe in safety first, as I said on her blog. I believe that we need mandatory safety training for anyone who wants to own a gun -- training, licensing, gun locks, etc. That gets me plenty of grief from my more conservative friends, but you know what? Laws get passed because people do dumb things. And it's ludicrous that you have to get licensed to drive a car, but don't need one to own a gun. (It's also ludicrous that people don't need a license to own a boat -- you can kill yourself and your passengers very quickly out on the water, but you can just go buy a boat and there's no requirement that people learn the laws governing right of way. But that's a rant for another day.)

Kids get killed by guns because of the arrogance and complacency of the adults in their lives, who think (usually), "My kid would never do that." Well, guess what -- kids don't generally have good judgement. Their brains aren't that well-developed; that's why they need adults to look out for them. There is no excuse for leaving a gun where a kid can get at it. Get a gun safe, or a trigger lock, or both, and use them.

That being said, I've heard anecdotes about how the number of kids killed by guns in a given year is lower than the number killed by drowning. So I headed over to the CDC website this evening to see for myself, and it's true. I ran a search for deaths with undetermined intent from both firearms and drowning for the year 2003, ages 0 to 14. If I'm reading this correctly, there were 13 deaths per 60,737,916 from firearms, and 19 per 60,737,916 from drowning. You can run the numbers yourself, if you doubt.

That's still too many deaths, both from drowning and from firearms. I don't see anyone rushing out to outlaw backyard pools, but I do see laws requiring pools to be fenced in. The NRA crowd shoots themselves in the foot, so to speak, by being so rabidly against sensible legislation that would prevent such deaths.

On the other hand...

When I was in my early 20s, a few years after the stalking incident that constituted the final push toward feminism for me, Ms. Magazine (to which I then had a subscription) published a story written by a woman who owned a farm out in the Midwest somewhere. Some of the more loutish local men had been deliberately coming onto her property and drinking beer, leaving the cans/bottles where she could see them. If I recall the story, she did ask them to leave, and they replied with jeers or something. So she drove up to them and asked them to leave and take their empties with them. One of the drunk guys came up to her and said, "what beer cans?" "Those beer cans," she replied, pointing with her handgun. "Yes, ma'am!", they said, and picked up their cans and left. She apparently had no more problems from them.

I have friends (single girls) who were renting a house in rural So. Md. Someone decided they were good targets and robbed their house repeatedly. They got a dog -- the dog was tied up by the robbers, and the house was robbed again. I don't remember what they did next, but they were concerned that rape was next. The nearest police station was more than 20 minutes away.
A few years ago, I met a woman who had had a career that required a lot of driving on business, including staying alone in hotels in unfamiliar cities. She had carried a gun with her, and had once or twice had to let some would-be attackers know that she had it and was prepared to defend herself if necessary. She was absolutely unapologetic for carrying a gun.

What were these women supposed to do to protect themselves? Move? Leave? Stay home with the door locked? That's letting the bullies push you around. That's being a victim.

Guns are tools. I'm probably rare, in that I'm used to using tools. I put down most of the flooring in my house, using a staple gun and air compressor. I rented a powered post-hole auger to put in the fence around my garden. I also grew up around a gun -- my mother's, in fact; she was a bit of a sharpshooter in a local sporting club when she was a girl, and her mother owned a gun and was a bit of a crack shot herself. It's a skill thing. And we were always taught respect and safety. You'd no more fool around with a gun than you would stick your hand into the blade of a table saw.

So a gun, to me, is just another tool. It's certainly not one you want to ever have to use -- but it's a means of balancing the power in a situation where men (who are usually bigger and stronger) and women are unequal.

As I've said elsewhere, it's not a tool that everyone should use. Most women are afraid of guns. If that's the case, they shouldn't own one -- it's highly likely the gun would get taken away from them and used against them. For most women, a can of mace or martial arts training would probably be better options.

But I think that the knee-jerk reaction that most of Ms. Magazine's readers had to the story I mentioned, and which most feminists have to the whole gun issue, should be rethought. Yes, American gun culture is full of macho and swagger and testosterone. But guns are just tools. They can be used for good (to protect, as in law enforcement) or to harm.


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