by Paul Hager © 1995, 2000

[This article was written in October 1995 and appeared in the Bloomington Herald-Times]

Over the last few weeks, there have been 9 break-ins of women's homes by an unknown assailant or assailants. In 2 of these break-ins, the woman was raped. This is not the first time that there has been a spate of break-ins targetting women here in Bloomington. Although community leaders offered several sensible precautions that women could take, there was one that was never mentioned: obtaining a gun.

This omission is no happenstance. I've been active in women's issues for many years: I've done escort work for Planned Parenthood and participated in "Take Back the Night" marches and events. I've listened to local women political leaders and activists on the subjects of rape and spouse abuse. Not once have any of these leaders suggested that one choice women might make is arming themselves for self-defense purposes.

Professor Gary Kleck of Florida State University is one of the top authorities on guns and violence in American society. Like most social scientists, in the 1970s Kleck assumed that guns' effects on society were mostly negative. Beginning in the early 1980s, criminologists and sociologists -- Kleck among them -- who conducted original research on guns and crime found that their predecessors' research was often poorly designed, heavily biased, and drew erroneous conclusions. The modern view, held by most criminologists, is that prohibitionist gun control schemes are both unworkable and undesirable. Kleck's 1991 book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America remains the definitive work on the subject. To get some idea of the degree of consensus, see professor Samuel Walker's criminology text, Sense and Nonsense about Crime and Drugs (3rd edition) that includes a section on guns and American society. Lest people get the idea that the ranks of social scientists have been infiltrated by the NRA, it is worth noting that Kleck is a long-time ACLU member and a liberal Democrat, while Walker is a former ACLU National Board member, the author of the definitive history of the ACLU, In Defense of American Liberties.

Kleck notes that for violent crimes, victims are, on average, better off when armed with a gun. In robberies, the victim is best off (at a 17.4% injury rate) defending with a gun. Alternatives, including no resistance, use of a knife or other weapon, trying to evade or running away, all lead to higher injury rates. The same is true for assaults, where the risk of being injured is 12.1% for victims who resist with a gun. Kleck also looks at resistance to rape, and finds the same pattern: risk of injury is lowest for victims resisting with a gun. In addition, this group is much less likely to have the attempt completed.

Special problems exist for battered women. It has been observed that women are most at risk after they have left the abuser. This group probably stands to reap the largest benefit from choosing a gun for self-defense. A good discussion is Blodgett-Ford's "Do Battered Women Have a Right to Arms", in the Yale Law & Policy Review 509 (1993).

In both society at large and in Bloomington, the police are reactive. They investigate a crime after it has occurred. Moreover, they cannot be held liable if they choose, for whatever reason, not to defend someone. There will never be enough police for police to be universal bodyguards. Sadly, we are all on our own when it comes to defense against crime. However, there are steps that might well reduce the risk of break-ins and rapes in Bloomington. In the 1960s, Orlando Florida had been experiencing a significant number of rapes. A well-publicized program of self-defense and firearms training for women was instituted. Following the completion of this program, the incidence of rapes plummetted. Bloomington could do something similar. Make Indiana Carry Permit applications available around town. Police and sheriff's departments could work with local firearms safety/self-protection trainers to set up special women's courses. Shelters for battered women could offer such courses or facilitate them. This would be a proactive strategy to deal with violence against women in Bloomington.

I know -- this idea won't be implemented. Mayor Allison, and other women active in local politics, seem unalterably opposed even to considering such an approach, or the facts on which it is based. For them, the compact 9mm Glock 19 that one woman I know carries for personal protection is an object of pure evil. In their mind, it is an "assault weapon". I prefer to call it a safe, reliable, and effective "female empowerment device."