**Edited to clarify that I support women who choose to arm themselves with guns. The issue this post aims to address is the blanket-advice to arm all women, regardless of circumstance, to stop rape**
As a follow-up to the post "Kill all rapists!...", here are some practical considerations to take into account when trying to tell women that they all should arm themselves as a method of rape-prevention.
To start off, I believe that people are the experts in their own lives and are the only ones who can accurately decide what safety measures relate to their lives and experiences, and how to react in the moment when they are threatened/ attacked. If individuals are comfortable with owning and handling a gun, that's their prerogative and I don't begrudge them that. Women are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves if a gun will increase their personal safety, and of learning to handle the weapon safely, accurately, and effectively. My issue with the advice of arming all women as a measure to stop rape entirely is that it simply doesn't work as blanket advice for every individual and every situation. All too often, women are accused of not being serious or dedicated enough to their own personal safety if they're not willing to shoot and kill an attacker.
With that in mind, here are some quick groups that armament won't help, that I really don't think need any further clarification (or least I sincerely hope not):
- infants and children below the age that are legally able to carry firearms
- persons with disabilities that prevent them from being able to handle a firearm
- persons with mental health issues that would make possession of a firearm exceptionally unsafe and irresponsible
Another group is persons who may not be empowered to take violent action against their attackers/ abusers because of the severe repercussions they themselves could likely face:
- persons whose abusers are their caregivers (this can include children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities)
- persons who are being attacked by someone of higher authority: a police officer, a judge, a politician, a famous actor/athlete/physicist, a teacher, a coach, a religious leader, a parent, prison guard, etc.
- persons who are marginally housed or homeless and who are already have an adversarial relationship with the justice system
- persons of colour, whom the justice system judges much more harshly against, even in cases of self-defense, than identical cases involving white folk
Next, there are some people who may not want to have firearms:
- pacifists who do not believe in responding with violence under any circumstances, including those whose religious beliefs dictate such
- parents who are afraid their young children may get a hold of their weapons
- persons with abusive partners that have not been able to move out and have reasonable fears around keeping weapons in the household
- persons who are not comfortable around guns due to a history of family violence, PTSD, having lost a loved one to gun violence, or any other of a million valid reasons
Let's say that I'm walking through an alley (I know, I know - why would I do that if I value my safety and vagina?) Let's just say that there's construction on the street and all foot-traffic is being diverted through the alley. Let's say I hear footsteps coming up quickly behind me. I'm armed, I'm alarmed, and someone grabs my arm! I turn and fire off a bunch of shots into... a nun who was trying to return the wallet I dropped. Well, that was a justifiable homicide, right?
Ok, let's be more serious. Let's say that I'm on the subway and it's later at night, maybe around 8 or 9pm, and this far up on the line it's deserted except for me and a man who is staring at me. His stares are making me quite uncomfortable, so I try to keep myself occupied by reading Facebook on my phone. Then, I realize he's masturbating. Can I shoot him, yet? Do I have to wait to see if he approaches me? If I wait, am I just giving him signals that he's safe to assault me because he's already violated my boundaries and I haven't done anything about it?
How about I'm at a house party and a friend is drunk and being really overly friendly and handsy with me. She pulls me in for a kiss, even though I've been trying to keep her at bay all night. Do I shoot her now? Do I wait until she tries to stick her hand down my pants? And if she does, is that enough to shoot her? Or am I only supposed to be shooting men? And what if it's a woman sexually assaulting a man? Can he shoot her? Is this just the kind of protective violence we sanction in theory coming from straight ciswomen to straight cismen, or can people of any gender identity shoot anyone else who attacks them without concern for how the law sees them?
Let's say that I'm fast asleep in bed at home and I wake up and my husband of 20 years is having sex with me in my sleep? Can I casually reach over into the nightstand and grab my gun and shoot him? Do we run drills like we would fire drills so I can practice going throught the motions of shooting someone when suddenly woken up out of a dead sleep?
What if it's a Thursday afternoon and I'm catcalled on my way home from work? Can I shoot the catcaller in the face? I don't know if I ignore him or respond if he'll react with anger. I don't know if this interaction will escalate. I don't know if I'm in physical danger or if he just wants to spook and publicly humiliate me. How long do I have to wait to make sure?
What line has to be crossed before I get the go-ahead?
What threshold has to be met in order for me to shoot any of the people who make me sexually threatened in the course of a day or a week or a month or my lifetime?
Do I have to wait until it's "too late" and they've already penetrated me? How is carrying a gun then a prevention measure as opposed to a measure of vegeance and inhilliation afterthefact?
Does the advice of "carry a gun and shoot all rapists" have anything at all to do with a realistic notion of safety, or is it a gratifying way for people to feel like they're adding something constructive to the conversation without having to do any of the heavy-lifting of understanding how rape happens?
I don't know if the people who give the advice of "carry a gun and shoot all rapists" know how often women feel sexually threatened. The thing about sexual violence, is it's a part of a continuum of unwanted sexual behaviours, and we never know whether or to what degree it will escalate. That's not because we're not aware of our surroundings, or we're inexperienced, etc. It's because the degree of escalation is not up to us - it's up to the perpetrator.
Things like peeping, public masturbation, groping, breaking and entering, etc, can all be a pre-cursor to more extreme levels of sexual violence. Or the perpetrators may not escalate. The people they target do not know whether or not this will escalate, because we are not psychic.
If you really, sincerely think that giving a good number of the population access and permission to use lethal weapons against people who are sexually threatening, then be prepared for a lot of bloodshed, because these transgressions against our physical boundaries happen to a lot of people on a regular basis.
Or, you can start passing along some tangible, effective safety advice that can start working right now, today, towards reducing the instances of sexual violence, and that doesn't require people to kill each other.