Rape in Nevada, which had decreased since 1994, rose dramatically in 1997. According to "Crime and Justice in Nevada 1997," a collection of statistics compiled by the Nevada Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the rape rate rose almost 18 percent last year. The horror of rape has been brought home to residents of Las Vegas, where a serial rapist has attacked seven women since December of 1996. Although Metro Police officers have worked diligently to make an arrest, their dedication cannot change a fundamental reality about personal safety: Law enforcement personnel cannot possibly be present to ensure the security of every citizen at all times. Ultimately, individuals are responsible for protecting themselves against violent predators. More and more women have recognized this, and have made the choice to arm themselves.
Overcoming the Hype
Women interested in exercising their Second Amendment rights would be wise to avoid the message sent by the dominant media. The "mainstream" press is, at best, skeptical of the ability of firearms to prevent crime. Last summer a Media Research Center study found that of 103 segments on evening network news programs, pro-gun control stories outnumbered anti-gun control stories by 70 to 6 (27 were neutral). Women’s magazines appear downright hostile to gun ownership. A typical anti-gun article ran in Vogue in 1995. The magazine printed a story about a single woman seeking information about a handgun for protection. A neighborhood teen brought over a gun to offer advice. Tragically, he shot the woman’s child by accident. "For every case of justifiable homicide with a gun," claimed Vogue, "there are 43 unnecessary deaths." That figure is commonly cited, but its validity is questionable at best. "Every gun owner needs to understand why this scare stat is deceptive to the point of being fraudulent," writes Lyn Bates of the organization Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment (AWARE). The 43-to-1 sound bite, from a 1986 study, has been widely discredited by a number of critics. Eighty-five percent of the "gun deaths" counted in the study were suicides. The study also completely excluded cases where guns were used to wound or scare off an attacker. These criticisms are rarely included when the 43-to-1 figure is referenced. "Twenty years worth of research," Tallahassee Democrat Editorial Page Editor Andrea Brunais wrote last year, "now shows that Americans use guns for self-defense in far greater numbers than criminals use guns to commit crimes."
The media’s bias regarding guns is beyond question, but women seeking the truth about firearms are also deceived by the leaders who claim to speak for them—the most prominent females in America today are vehemently opposed to Second Amendment rights. Names from the entertainment industry need hardly be mentioned, and the nation’s highest-ranking women in politics and public policy, including Sarah Brady, Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Janet Reno, are ardent supporters of gun control. The resistance of radical feminists to guns is difficult to explain, given that poor, minority and single women are much more often victims of violent crime than rich, white and married women. The organization Women Against Gun Control (WAGC) pulls no punches about female anti-gun activists, calling them women who believe "turning us into a nation of unarmed, helpless victims is the answer to crime."
Getting the Facts
Although they receive little notice, a number of female self-defense organizations and publications strongly oppose the message sent by feminist leaders and the media about guns. Advocates of female firearm ownership stress the need for women to educate themselves before purchasing a gun. "Right off the top," insists Tod DeBie of WAGC, "if you do not have experience shooting, make sure to get training before you start looking for a gun." "The very best way to figure out what kind of gun is right for you is to go to a gun club or a course where you have the opportunity to shoot several different types and sizes of guns," recommends AWARE. Many gun manufacturers now tailor their products to the female market, and many businesses provide clothing and accessories to help women carry a concealed firearm.
Guns in the Home, Guns on the Street
Using a gun to defend one’s home in Nevada is easy. The state places no restrictions on firearms in residences, so women concerned about a home invasion—the Las Vegas serial rapist attacks women in apartments—need only pass an instant background check to arm themselves. Women who feel they are at risk outside of their home must obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. While the anti-gun movement continues to insist that concealed-carry permits incite law-abiding citizens to gunplay, mounting evidence indicates that this is not so. Researcher John Lott, in his new book More Guns, Less Crime, has shown that concealed-carry permits do not cause crime, and they are a significant deterrent to criminals. Northwestern University law professor Daniel D. Polsby summarized Lott’s findings in a recent issue of Reason: "Apparently, when more people are on the streets packing heat, criminals tend to redirect their predatory activities into lines where they are less apt to meet armed resistance." But if a woman is attacked, no tool—such as a stun gun or a "rape whistle"—provides a better way to resist than a firearm. Self-defense experts believe—and studies support—that women who do not offer significant resistance to attackers are more prone to be raped and injured. As WAGC puts it: "Guns are the great equalizer. Guns give women a fighting chance."
Thinking of the Children
Understandably, the first concern many women considering gun ownership have is the risk a weapon may pose to their children. The National Rifle Association recommends that parents address the issue of guns the first time their child shows an interest in them. Avoiding the subject, according to the NRA, is a mistake: "Talking openly and honestly about gun safety with your child is usually more effective than just ordering him or her to ‘stay out of the gun closet,’ and leaving it at that." In addition to communication, the NRA and other advocacy groups suggest children attend formal training. The NRA’s Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program has educated 8.6 million minors in firearm safety since 1988. Trigger locks are one tool parents can use to ensure gun safety in the home, but mandatory trigger lock legislation could be fatal to those in immediate danger. As the NRA notes, no gun storage policy "can possibly meet the needs of all American gun owners, whose circumstances vary. … it is and should remain the responsibility of the individual firearm owner, not the government, to determine how to ensure that guns are safely stored."
The decision to become armed is, of course, up to each individual, and no woman should buy a gun without first learning the facts about safe firearm ownership. But it is unfortunate that advocates of female firearm ownership are not full participants in the debate over the best way to combat violence against women. Any discussion of effective female self-defense strategies that does not include guns is irresponsibly hollow.
D. Dowd Muska, a non-smoker, is a contributing editor for Nevada Journal, the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s monthly magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.