Lyla Cicero says that all too often, when a gun is available in the home, a woman dies. So why are we not doing more about gun control?
Although details about the identities of the Aurora shooting victims are slow to emerge, it is safe to say a male perpetrated unspeakable violence against a number of women, as well as other men. Sadly, male violence toward either sex is not an unusual occurrence. When it comes to guns, women are astronomically more likely to be on the receiving end of a bullet than the one pulling the trigger.
From 1976 to 2005, women were 23.5% of all homicide victims and 11.2% of perpetrators. In short, women are significantly more likely to be murdered than to murder, and that’s not to mention the suffering women experience as a result of male-on-male violence. No doubt losing a son to gun violence, incarceration, or a death sentence for murder can feel like death to a mother. Why are we putting up with this?
Let’s take a closer look at Aurora for a moment. I’ve heard a lot of male voices over the past few days stating that if only one or more of the civilians had been armed, this tragedy could have been prevented or curtailed. One acquaintance argued he’s been training to use his firearm for 30 years and he would have, “taken that asshole down before he killed anyone.” These voices may be chivalrous, heroic, hot-headed, macho, coming out of fear, denial, posturing, etc., but there is one thing they are not: They are not based in fact. You don’t have to be special ops or have weapons training to know that.
Here are the facts: The theater was dark. Two canisters of tear gas had been thrown. The killer was wearing full body armor. The police arrived in 90 seconds. The police had to wait until a malfunction caused the perpetrator to pause during loading to take him down. I’m sorry if I find it hard to believe that my buddy who’s been training for 30 years would have 1) been able to see, 2) fired in the right direction, 3) hit the perp and not anyone else, 4) kept his cool in one of the most traumatic situations imaginable, 5) not been tripped up by the chaos of the other patrons, 6) somehow pierced the body armor, and 7) done so within 90 seconds or somehow had better luck than then cops after they arrived.
We all know what would have happened if this guy had been in that theater: more people would be dead. I personally would rather take my chances with trained law enforcement than find myself in the middle of a blind gun battle between a male homicidal psychopath, and a bunch of male “heroes” with varied levels of training and completely unrealistic expectations of their ability to impact the situation.
While male-on-female violence is common, what was less common about Aurora was that the women who were shot in the theater did not know the shooter. The following statistics are from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. While more than half of murders of men occur outside the home, 73% of murders of women occur in the home. For women, the random attacker is by far the exception. When women are killed with guns, it is usually by a man they know, in their own home. I’ve heard the argument many times in the last few days that if people had more guns, they could fight back against violent criminals. However, women living in a house with a gun are significantly more likely to be victimized. These women are 3.4 times more likely to be killed and 4.6 times more likely to commit suicide.
Having a gun increases the likelihood of being shot for everyone, even when socioeconomic and other factors are accounted for. But there is no question that for women, less guns would mean less chance of dying at the hands of a gun. It might be empowering to imagine women with our own guns, able to protect ourselves from male violence, but the fact is that’s not what’s happening.
In a 2011 Gallup poll, 23% of women self-identified as gun-owners. This was a significant increase from just a decade before. Almost a quarter of us do have guns, but the vast majority of these women are choosing not to pull the trigger. From 1976 to 2005, we were only 11% of murderers. In 2004, for example, males were almost 10 times more likely than women to commit murder. By large majority, men have more guns, and they are astronomically more likely to kill. They are also more likely to die. Are they reaping what they sow? Perhaps. But sadly, an all too common outcome when a gun is available in the home is that a woman dies.
Three quarters of women are choosing not to own guns, and those who do are less likely to use them. However, women are still being shot. This is not only an issue of safety, it is an issue of equality. Women’s safety in our society is drastically skewed compared to our likelihood of being dangerous.
According to a survey conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, even a large majority of NRA members support tighter gun control laws. I think everyone should be in favor of tighter gun control laws, but for women, this is a no-brainer. No matter what we’d like to believe, the statistics are clear. If our homes don’t have guns in them, we are more likely to stay alive. The argument that more guns are the solution falls woefully short when looking at these female-specific statistics.
It’s time we say no to male-centered gun and cowboy culture, say no to fantastical stories and grandiose promises of heroism, no to misguided claims of “freedom,” and start looking at facts. Men aren’t using their guns to save damsels in distress or prevent mass murder. They are pointing them at us, our sons, and our loved ones, and pulling the trigger. We can explore the important reasons why men are more prone to violence, try to break down cultural norms and the impact of gender role expectations. Of course we need to have those discussions. But let’s start small, let’s start big, let’s just start improving gun control wherever we can, because the less men with guns, the less folks will die. Let’s take these guys’ guns away and then work on why they’re so likely to use them. After all, there is one statistic in our favor: We have the voting power to do it.
Lyla Cicero has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and focuses on relationships, sexual minorities, and sex therapy. Lyla is a feminist, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive blogger at UnderCoverintheSuburbs.com, where she writes about expanding cultural notions of identity, especially those surrounding gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @UndrCvrNSuburbs.