Guns, rape and self-defense

This is part one in a planned three-part discussion on gun culture in America. This post is a response to something a friend sent me. The other two posts will have a broader focus.

A friend of mine sent me this article, which is a response to something John Scalzi wrote about the desirability of guns for self-defense. He wanted my take.

To save you from having to follow the links, here’s my breakdown:

On the desirability of guns for self-defense – a former Marine talked about his perception of the reality of owning/using guns for self-defense.

His basic response was that, guns kill people. Given that, unless you are going to take the time to get trained to use the weapon properly and safely you are putting more people at risk than you will ever help, that even people who are trained miss the person they are aiming at more often than not (70% of the time) because fast-paced, high stress moments do not make for good marksmanship. And last, that if you do use your gun in self-defense and you use it correctly and you hit your “target” there is a solid chance that you will kill another human being. Make sure you are okay with that before you decide on a gun as your primary self-defense tool.

Scalzi’s response was to say that he agreed with many of this man’s points, while also supporting a person’s right to own guns as part of their personal security system, but that he hopes gun owners engage in significant training and be responsible with them. And then he infuriated gun fetishists, the folk who open carry AK-47s because GUNS EVERYWHERE!, by saying that when he sees them he doesn’t see a strong, confident patriot, he sees someone who is afraid of everything all the time.

So, the response – a long piece about how using guns for self-defense is really the only rational thing to do in this world, especially when it comes to preventing rape.

First this man talks about prevention of rape and sexual assault. He does give a passing nod to education – making sure that everyone knows what rape is, not using taking advantage of drunk people as a humor device in movies, and otherwise giving more people a clue and compassion for what rape is and what it does to the victims.

Then he talks about sociopathic rapists, not just the clueless, bumbling “oops, was that rape?” nice guy rapists, but the drug your drink with the intent to rape you, jump out of the bushes to ravage you type rapists. He says there is no preventing them, just as you can’t prevent a rabid dog from biting, or an arsonist from lighting things on fire.

I want to pause for a moment here to say that I think he paints the sociopathic rapist with a very broad brush. I personally believe that there are a lot of social and cultural factors that go into creating people (often male) who believe that other people’s bodies (especially women’s) are up for grabs. While it is intimidating to think about changing our culture because it feels like a huge task, it is not an impossible one. Culture shifts all the time, I don’t understand the resistance to doing it with deliberation and foresight to create a better, safer world. Unless, of course, you are one of the people who benefits from the current power dynamics and who would lose status by promoting equality.

Saying, “This is the way the world is, live with it.” sounds depressingly defeatist to me. Especially as a historian who knows that this is not the way the world has always been, and therefore this is not the way the world has to be. Nor is it the way the world is everywhere now. There are cultures where rape is statistically at zero. Rape is not an inevitable consequence of sharing space, it is a result of imbalanced power structures.

So to me, the sociopathic rapist is, like the sociopathic arsonist, a product of our culture, which means that if we really want to, we can change not the individual, but the circumstances that created them, over time. It is within our power.

create change

It’s not a question of can we do it, it’s a question of WILL WE?

However, in the meantime, in this current reality, yes, we have rapists.

So – what do we do about them right now?

The author discusses avoidance. He states that educating people on ways to avoid attack is not blaming the victim, because the agency is on the attacker always.

And… In many areas of life this is true. While I am encouraged to lock my car doors, and my house doors, if I fail to do so and my car is stolen or my house is broken into, the police will still come, they will still file a report, they will still follow-up if there is enough evidence for them to do so – and in the meantime hopefully I have insurance that will reimburse me for those losses, regardless of how lax I was in protecting my possessions.

If I am violently assaulted or killed, the police will again arrive, take reports, collect evidence, process the evidence and (unless I am a person of color) do their best to find the perpetrator and bring them to “justice.”

However, if I am raped… That all breaks down. Yes, the police might gather evidence and put together my rape kit. But the chances of them processing it… slim to none. (Though that is starting to change.) The chance of them pursuing the case – that will depend entirely on who the alleged rapist was, whether I act properly victimized, and how many of the “don’t get raped” rules I broke, because while this author believes that agency always belongs to the attacker – when it comes to rape, our culture and our justice system disagree.

Again, that is the part we have to change as a society. And all the guns in the world aren’t going to move that needle.

But yes, by all means, let’s avoid dangerous situations. For women that means wearing burkas and never leaving the house. Oh wait, that doesn’t prevent rape either. Damn, what’s a girl who wants to exist to do?

And so we get to: Reaction – how to react or respond to your rapist.

Guns and violence.

The author states that, “The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage.” And he does list a bunch of links and studies which show that guns and violent resistance do deter aggressors.

And then after making sure we know and believe that violence ends violence, he states that therefore bringing a gun to your rape is the best way to prevent the rapist from completing the rape.

EXCEPT (and these are his words, so I don’t even have to do the dirty work here!) “It’s less effective for date rape, rape involving drugs, marital rape.  It’s most effective against direct physical attack, which may or may not be part of the above.”

In other words, bringing your gun (that you are trained to use) to your surprise attack rape could, possibly prevent it. But, that still leaves the other 90% of rapes (on college campuses) or 78% of rapes nationally.

And this is really where the “just get a gun” argument falls apart for me, and for most rape survivors that I know. Bringing a gun to our rape means pointing a gun at and possibly using a gun against someone we know, and possibly even someone we love. And that is true for the VAST MAJORITY of rape victims.

Date rape, acquaintance rape, marital rape… These are the most common forms of rape. And yet they are taken the least seriously unless they are accompanied by additional violence and are the least talked about because – what the fuck do we do about them? Do we really shoot the perpetrators? Because it turns out, women who do that tend to end up in jail. Oddly “Stand Your Ground” and even basic self-defense arguments don’t seem to work out so well for us. Funny that.

stand your ground

Stand your ground. Unless you’re a woman.

And even if going to jail for defending ourselves wasn’t likely, we would still have to live with killing someone!

When I think back to my rapes, my sexual assaults, my stalkers even… Could I have killed any of them? Who would I be now if I had to add that to my conscience?

The author says that by calling the police on my stalker I was committing violence by proxy (except, of course, the cops never showed up. But in their defense they did say that if he managed to break in and rape me they would come collect evidence afterward, so there’s that.) and that really, I should have taken matters (violence) into my own hands instead of outsourcing it. And sure… I was already there. If I’d had a gun I could have killed him and felt safer for a minute. But somehow I imagine that the same cops who wouldn’t come to my defense when I called them, would have arrived in a flash if I shot my stalker off my porch. Cops tend to frown on citizens taking matters into their own gun warmed hands. And even if I did get off on a self-defense plea… Once the initial feeling of safety wore off, I would still have to live with having killed someone. I don’t know about that.

(And as for simply brandishing the gun to get him to go away, this is a person who my father dangled over a three-story balcony while threatening to rip his balls off and force him to eat them if he ever came near me again. And that didn’t work. Clearly his fear response was underdeveloped.)

Even this author, a male survivor of sexual assault, admits that a gun would not have prevented his assault – because he was drugged and could not use it.Which is sort of ironic since the person who drugs a drink and rapes is the exact example of the sociopathic rapist that cannot be stopped, except by a gun, that he cites to remind us feminists that insisting on culture change is somehow enabling the aggressor.

Meanwhile, in many of those drug & rape scenarios there are witnesses and additional participants who do nothing. Do not speak up, do not intervene, do not call the police and certainly do not pull out a gun and insist that the rapist stop raping on behalf of the drugged victim. Why? Because of the culture that we have created that says other people’s bodies (especially women’s) are up for grabs. But yeah, changing that and getting people to intervene when they see sexual violence happening is totes enabling the aggressor.

Bringing a gun to your rape, might prevent it. But… I wonder, and I would love to see the study that says how determined and able to use the gun you have to be for it to work as a deterrent. Is it enough to point a shaky gun in the general direction of an aggressor while sobbing? Do you have to have clear eyes and something that looks like good aim from the barrel end of the gun? Do you have to look like you really will, and are able to, pull the trigger?

ready to fire

Are you feeling lucky, punk?

As someone who was taught gun safety at a young age and who married a gun owner, the first lesson I was taught was only point it at things you INTEND to put a hole in. Ie; if you’re not planning on firing it, don’t point it. If you can’t follow through it’s better not to get it out at all. So bluffing with a gun is out.

Finally, the author talks about the “myth” of being disarmed and having your gun used against you – but says he can’t find any examples of that.

So, I’ll give him two. I am a 5’6″ 135ish pound, untrained civilian woman and I have disarmed two men with guns. In both instances I was in my 20s and much smaller than I am now. I disarmed one physically, taking the gun from him and disarmed the other by talking him down. Granted the one I talked down was threatening himself, not me. But the one that I disarmed physically was pointing it at me. It was not hard to take it away from him. I could teach most able-bodied people how to do it in a couple of minutes of practice. Why? Because most people with guns think the gun will protect them from action. They rely on your panic to stop you from moving at them.

As for women having their own guns used against them, yes, there are records of that happening too. Remember that most rapes occur within the framework of an intimate relationship or solid acquaintanceship. This means that many perpetrators have access to the victim’s gun, and that even if the victim is holding the gun – there are some confusing emotions roiling around in there and her grip/aim/resolve might not be as strong as that of the person who thinks he is entitled to her body.

Yes, sometimes guns have stopped violence. They have also escalated it. And redirected it. And made it worse.

Ultimately, do I think women should be allowed to own guns for self-defense. Yes, if that is the method they choose – but like Scalzi, I think they should engage in significant and ongoing training and be responsible with their guns. Also, I think that all people who use guns as their primary method of self-defense should recognize that having a gun is not a guarantee of safety.

As a nation, I would like us to consider whether adding more guns to the gun pool instead of limiting who gets to go swimming in the gun pool is the national safety strategy we want to pursue.

More on that in Guns in America – Part II & III

It’s less effective for date rape, rape involving drugs, marital rape.  It’s most effective against direct physical attack, which may or may not be part of the above. – See more at:
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at:
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at:
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at:


Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

3 responses to “Guns, rape and self-defense

  1. Pingback: Still me, but with less swearing | ThinkBannedThoughts Blog

  2. Pingback: Challenging the Roots of Violence | ThinkBannedThoughts Blog

  3. Pingback: empathyeducates – Challenging the Roots of Violence

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