PJSA statement on Guns and Gender

Position Paper: Guns Are Not the Solution to Gender-Based Violence

Issued by the Peace and Justice Studies Association

Authored by Heidi Huse, Ph.D., and Laura Finley, Ph.D.

The Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA), in keeping with its mission and values, is opposed to the argument that deadly firearms are the primary if not sole solution to the very serious problem of sexual and domestic assault that traumatizes or kills men, women, and children around the world.

Further, PJSA rejects the argument of the pro-gun rights movement that more guns, even in the hands of law-abiding men and women, results in less violent crime and greater public safety.  In recent years, primarily in response to mass shootings and other gun violence, individual pro-gun supporters, advocacy and lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association, Second Amendment Sisters, and Open Carry Texas have aggressively argued and lobbied for unlimited gun access, ownership, and the right to carry guns in public.  PJSA rejects the double-speak argument that lethal firearms are necessary in public to stop violent crime while simultaneously open carry of weapons into public spaces by “law abiding” “good guys” is perfectly safe and normal.

Background: Promotion of Firearms to Women

One of the most prolific messages of gun rights proponents and the gun manufacturing industry is that women must purchase, complete instruction, and be ready to use firearms for self-defense from threatening attackers.  This message has translated into marketing of guns specifically for women.

Since the 1980s gun manufacturers have increasingly marketed firearms to women. Manufacturers like Smith &Wesson, Berretta USA, and Derringer USA have issued new pink and purple firearms, guns with smaller frames, and even purses with holsters for concealed weapons.[1] According to a February 2013 Rolling Stone Magazinereport, “Shooting Industry Magazine publishes a column called ‘Arms and the Woman,’ which advises that ‘every gun store should have at least one pink gun on display.”[2] Likewise, gun businesses market conceal carry bra holsters and chic gun accessories at Web sites named Gun Goddess and Well Armed Woman that attempt to make constant carry of firearms attractive.

More directly, companies have taken out advertisements in women’s magazines like Ladies Home Journalshowing armed women with children and featuring commentary like “Self-Protection is more than your right… it’s your responsibility.”[3] That is, guns are being presented as the best if not only solution against rape and sexual assault. The Second Amendment Sisters pro-gun rights advocacy organization likewise insists that the “basic right” of self-defense with a firearm is essential in a violent society, and while a nation without weapons is an “admirable goal,” it is wholly unrealistic.  According to the Second Amendment Sisters, “the fact that firearms have been responsible for saving multitudes of innocent lives is, unfortunately, one of the world’s best-kept secrets,” and for women, gun ownership is a primary source of “peace of mind and security.”[4]

Further, the tacit suggestion is that women share culpability if they are assaulted while unarmed. Paxton Quigley, author of Armed & Female and premiere advocate for arming women as the solution to sexual assault in America, made this point most overtly ““That’s a lot of women walking around who are targets. They’re talking on their cellphones or texting, totally unaware of what’s going on. It’s part of the reason why people get themselves into trouble.”[5] Quigley describes most women as “literally intimidated out of the possibility of behaving aggressively in a self-defense situation.  She contrasts these women who “refuse to take the time and pre-cautions to ensure their own safety”—with women who are fulfilling their responsibility of “end[ing] the victim status of women” by arming themselves.”[6]

In January 2014, an Indian state-run gun manufacturer announced the production of a new gun designed just for women, in response to gang rapes in India that made national news.  According to an Al-Jazeera America report, the gun maker is “marketing a solution to the harassment Indian women say they face on a daily basis.” The name the gun was given by the manufacturer, Nirbheek, means “fearless.”[7]

More recently, Gayle Trotter, a Washington D.C lawyer and senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum, which some have called a “right-wing policy group,” testified at a Senate hearing that guns are the “great equalizer” in domestic violence situations. Trotter’s testimony, In January 2013 was a response to the call by many Americans and local, state, and federal political leaders for federal gun safety regulation in the wake of the tragic shooting deaths of 20 six and seven year olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.  The demands were simple: universal background checks, limitations on access to semi-automatic weapons, and restrictions on large multi-round ammunition clips.  Trotter and other gun rights activists aggressively resisted the call for gun safety measures.  In fact, Trotter insisted that any gun control legislation is sexist since it works against women’s safety.  Despite all of the evidence that Trotter’s argument is wrong, she was hailed as a hero by many conservatives.[8]

The logic and assumptions being employed in these efforts not only reinforce dangerous victim-blaming, but they are also in stark contrast to what research has repeatedly shown about the involvement of guns in sexual and domestic violence against women and girls. For instance, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), cites that there are more than 230,000 rapes each year in the U.S. In two-thirds of the assaults, or 150,000 cases, women knew their attacker. Approximately one-third of assailants were someone the rape survivor considered acquaintance if not a friend.[9] Thus, unless women have firearms in their possession at all times and stand ready to be attacked by every person within their group of familiars, there is really no way to ensure that a gun will prevent a rape.

In fact, the rhetoric promoted by those advocating guns as the sole protection from threat promote fear and distrust that potentially places women and the families they seek to protect in greater danger.  The prolific image of threat from the dangerous criminal or violent intruder requires that women be armed at all times.  Quigley offers an entire chapter on strategies for home self-defense in which she makes it clear that immediate access to a firearm is essential: “Notwithstanding the safety considerations if youngsters are in the house, a gun in the home for self-defense must be accessible in a ready condition to be of any use at all.”

As a result, she explains that some women who own guns for self-defense keep their gun with them at all times, some purchase multiple guns in order to ensure they are never far from a firearm in case of danger, others carry their weapon around the home, while others simply conceal their gun in the room in the house where they spend the most time.  Quigley cites security experts who advise those individuals owning guns for self-defense to purchase at least two guns so that they can have quick access anywhere in the home.  The goal is to ensure that “an intruder can never come between you and your gun.”[10]

Women are often told that they must arm themselves in order to protect their children, presumably also from intruders. The Well-Armed Woman Website (“where the feminine and firearms meet”) takes the dangers to children of guns in the house more seriously than Quigley above, but the result is that children are implicitly made responsible to protect themselves from guns in the homes of their friends:  “There are guns in more than one third of all U.S. households. Whether or not you make the choice to keep a gun in your home, your children will undoubtedly be in one of them. Therefore, educating your children in gun safety is a necessity for all children whether you own one or not.”[11]

The Second Amendment Sisters also imply that children have some responsibility for keeping society safe from dangerous and irresponsible use of guns.  According to their Web site, “Parental vigilance ensures that children grow up with an ability to tell right from wrong, and to distinguish fantasy and reality. It has been proven that children who learn at an early age that guns are not toys or movie props are more likely to give them the respect they require, and will be unlikely to abuse a firearm in the future.”  In fact, the organization laments that firearms education is not part of public school curriculum:  “Sadly, in the same schools across the country where kids are being taught the finer points of safe sex, the subject of firearms safety is taboo.”[12]

This logic ignores the fact that the biggest threat to children lies in the home. According to a report by BBC, “Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”[13] The Children’s Defense Fund found that a gun in the home makes homicide three times more likely, suicide up to five times as likely, and accidental death four times higher than in non-gun owning homes.[14] One study has found that children who observed incidents of domestic violence involving the use or threat of a firearm exhibited higher levels of behavior problems than children who did not.[15] In all, “the United States accounts for nearly 75 percent of all children murdered in the developed world. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 in the United States are 17 times more likely to be murdered by firearms than children in other industrialized nations.”[16]

Whether the target of abuse or attack is a child or a woman, the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation is more likely to escalate the incident than to assist the victim. Women rarely use any weapons to defend themselves against abusers, but when they do, only about 2% have used a gun. A study reported in the journal Trauma, Violence & Abuse found that domestic violence assaults were twelve times more likely to end in a fatality when a gun was involved. Some studies have found that guns are used in two-thirds of domestic violence homicides, while another study by Jacqueline Campbell of Johns Hopkins University found that guns were used in 88 percent of homicides sampled, while David Adams, author of Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners, found that guns were used in 92 percent of domestic violence murder-suicides. Nine women each week are shot and killed by intimate partners. The Violence Policy Center reported that, in 2010, more women were shot and killed by partners than by strangers using all other weapons combined. And, as researchers and advocates know, guns are also used non-lethally in domestic violence situations, as abusers will brandish, clean or otherwise display firearms as a powerful means of intimidation.[17]

In addition, women who serve in the military and who are very well-trained in using firearms and indeed have access to such weapons still suffer domestic violence and sexual assault at extremely high rates. A 2011 report in Newsweek stated that women in the military are more likely to be killed by a fellow soldier than in combat.[18] The argument that a woman needs a weapon to protect herself from assault is clearly flawed and misses the fact that abuse and assault are about power and control, not about hardening oneself as a potential target.

Despite these concerns, the NRA has succeeded in stifling research about the dangers of weapons in the home.  When the Centers for Disease Control began to conclude that guns in the home dramatically increase the risk that someone will be murdered or commit suicide, the NRA responded by paying doctors and public health officials to criticize the work. Even more, the NRA lobbied Congress to restrict funding about gun violence and the types of gun control that were showing significant results.  Funding to the CDC was dramatically decreased, not coincidentally, in the same amount, $2.6 million, that was spent on firearm injury research the previous year. Further, language was added to budget appropriations bills prohibiting the CDC from funding research that might “advocate or promote gun control.” These strict limitations on gun-control research were expanded in 2011, when the budget appropriations language was amended to add all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.[19]

PJSA stands committed to supporting the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. However, we do not accept the inevitable conclusion of gun rights advocates that the Second Amendment affirmed the individual’s right to gun ownership, as we recognize this remains a matter of scholarly debate.  As such, the PJSA Position Statement below makes recommendations that the organization believes are appropriate and necessary to address gun violence and to counter the unproven arguments that guns will make women safer.

PJSA Position Statement

·         PJSA supports the national call for sensible federal gun safety legislation that will mandate universal background checks for ALL gun purchases and prosecute violators, which will not impinge on the constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms for law-abiding citizens. Further, PJSA supports restricting access to semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity ammunition rounds of the sort used in the recent mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.

·         PJSA advocates the development of a national as well as global dialogue that addresses the very real harassment and violence that women face at home, in the workplace, on college campuses, in the military.  This dialogue should include not only discussions of how best to confront violence against sexual and domestic violence and abuse, but also discussions of how public and higher education curricula and extra-curricular events can enhance non-violent action for cultural change.

·         PJSA calls on Congress to authorize and fund research and data-gathering by the medical and public health establishment, including the Centers for Disease Control, regarding the scope of gun violence, particularly data related to the role of guns in perpetrating assault against women as well as the role of guns used by women to protect themselves from an attempted assault.

·         PJSA also calls on Congress to prohibit the political maneuvering being done by the NRA to hide the truth about guns and gun violence under the category of “mental illness.” This pro-gun rhetoric serves to mask the true issues and prevents real discussion and policy change needed to create a less violent world.

·         PJSA also supports the continuation of legislation banning convicted abusers from owning firearms and applauds the U.S. Supreme Court for its 2014 decision upholding the Lautenberg Amendment, which is intended to keep guns away from domestic violence offenders.  However, additional enforcement of this amendment and the closing of other loopholes that allow convicted felons to seek “relief from the disability” against the prohibition on possessing firearms is needed, as each year thousands of sexual assailants and domestic violence abusers retain or re-purchase guns in contravention of the law.

Notes and references

[1](link is external) Smith, Aaron. (2014, February 7). For the gun industry, women are the next big thing. CNN. Retrieved October 7, 2014 from http://money.cnn.com/2014/02/07/news/companies/guns-women/(link is external)

[2](link is external) Dickinson, Tim. (2013, February 28). The gun industry’s deadly addiction. Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 7, 2014 from http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-gun-industrys-deadly-addic…(link is external)

[3](link is external) Ibid.

[4](link is external) “Our Mission.”  Second Amendment Sisters.  Retrieved October 23, 2014 fromhttp://www.2asisters.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=47…(link is external)

[5](link is external) Pesta, Anne. (2012, July 25). Do American women need guns? Self-defense pro Paxton Quigley says yes. The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 7, 2014 from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/07/25/do-u-s-women-need-guns-…(link is external)

[6](link is external) Quigley, Paxton. (1990). Armed and female: Twelve million American women own guns, should you? New York: St. Martin’s, pp. 46-47.

[7](link is external) Taylor, Marisa. (2014, January 29). India develops a gun for women. AlJazeera America. Retrieved October 7, 2014 from http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/½9/india-creates-gunforwome…(link is external)

[8](link is external) Coley, Victoria. (2013, January 30). Release: Gayle Trotter’s full Senate hearing testimony “What should America do about gun violence?” Independent Women’s Forum. Retrieved October 7, 2014 fromhttp://www.iwf.org/media/2790433/Gayle_Trotter_Testimony_Gun_Violence(link is external)

[9](link is external) Statistics. (n.d.). Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Retrieved October 7, 2014 fromhttps://www.rainn.org/statistics(link is external)

[10](link is external) Quigley, Op cit., p. 194.

[11](link is external) Children and guns. (n.d). The Well Armed Woman. Retrieved October 7, 2014 fromhttp://www.thewellarmedwoman.com/women-and-guns/children-and-guns(link is external)

[12] “Our Mission, Op cit.

[13](link is external) Petit, Michael. (n.d). New BBC report: America’s child death shame. Child Help. Retrieved October 7, 2014 from http://www.childhelp.org/pages/new-bbc-report-americas-child-death-shame(link is external)

[14](link is external) Protect children, not guns: The truth about guns. 2013. Children’s Defense Fund. Washington, DC. Retrieved October 7, 2014 from http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/st…(link is external)

[15](link is external) Kellermann, Arthur, et al. (1999, August). Firearms and family violence,” Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America, 17, pp. 699-716.

[16](link is external) DeFilippis, Evan, & Hughes, Devin. (2014, June 17). Guns kill children. Slate. Retrieved October 7, 2014 fromhttp://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/0…(link is external)

[17](link is external) The Advocates for Human Rights. (2013). Written Statement on domestic violence, gun violence, and “stand your ground laws.” Retrieved October 7, 2014 from http://www.law.miami.edu/human-rights-clinic/pdf/2013/ICCPR-Shadow-Repor…(link is external)

[18](link is external) Ellison, Jesse. (2011, December 13). Judge dismisses “epidemic” of rape in military case. The Daily Beast.Retrieved October 7, 2014 from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/12/13/judge-dismisses-epidemi…(link is external)

[19](link is external) Papas, Stephanie. (2013, January 14). How the government stifled gun research. Live Science. Retrieved October 10, 2014 from http://www.livescience.com/26253-government-stifled-gun-research.html