Self-defense expert Paxton Quigley is arguing that handguns play a very important role in society: helping women defend themselves from potential rapists and other attackers. The specific points of her argument are fair, and should appeal to those who are crying out for more stringent gun control laws in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado. She’s in favor of banning both assault rifles and the online purchase of ammunition. Furthermore, she very sensibly advocates that anyone who is going to own a gun undergo extensive training on how to store and operate it safely. While I applaud her efforts to enable women to defend themselves from rapists, there’s one very important flaw in her premise: statistically, a gun won’t be of much use at all.
According to data compiled by the National Institute of Justice, “Between 85 and 90% of sexual assaults reported by college women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date.” While the statistic is less extreme once women leave college campuses, the number remains striking: two thirds of victims between the ages of 18 and 29 had a previous a relationship with their attacker.
If a strange man assaults you on the street or breaks into your home then yes, a handgun will enable you to protect yourself. The more we cling to that narrative of rape, though, the harder it becomes for us to eliminate rape in its most common forms.
I doubt most women would be willing to bring a gun on a date on the off chance that the man who paid for their dinner won’t take “no” for an answer. It’s one thing to talk about protecting yourself from strangers, but could you shoot your husband? Your best friend? And even if you found it in yourself to pull the trigger, would a judge and jury really believe a woman who says she shot her husband in self-defense because he was trying to rape her? Furthermore, a gun won’t protect you if someone takes advantage of you while you’re too drunk to consent to sex, nor will it stop someone from slipping a date rape drug in your drink.
I think owning a gun can be useful to help women to defend themselves, particularly if they’re living alone in high-crime areas where the risk of a break-in is elevated, and can also give them some peace of mind and confidence that they could defend themselves. Nevertheless, guns alone won’t stop rape.
Educating both men and women about the situations in which rape actually occurs (the fact that rape can occur in marriages and relationships, the fact that rape can occur of men by women, women by women, men by men, and any possible combination of genders, etc), and empowering people of both genders to intervene in situations that set off red flags (for example, stopping a friend from sleeping with a girl who’s too drunk to consent) will go a long way towards changing the way our culture views rape. We need to admit that the problem is more complicated than strangers in dark alleys if we’re going to fix it.