THE BLOG
03/05/2013 12:22 pm ET Updated May 05, 2013

Guns and Women: Who Is Being Protected?

Among the demographic groups for whom the gun control debate is a matter of life and death, there is one whose lives are particularly vulnerable: women.

A fact: Women who live in a house with a gun are much more likely to be killed by that gun than to be protected by it.

In a nasty bit of marketing, gun manufacturers have been trying to sell guns to women under the guise of protection. They make them pretty -- small, pink, and easy to shoot, little enough to be hidden in a purse. Gun manufacturers use marketing and advertising to convince women that owning a gun will protect them.

The NRA and its allies are part of this advertising machine that tries to convince women, against all evidence, that they are better off by having a gun. Right-winger Gayle Trotter, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, argued that women can protect their babies with guns. Borrowing the timeworn canard of the Wild West, she called guns the "great equalizer."

Trotter is part of the Independent Women's Forum, a right-wing organization devoted to lime-lighting conservative women that support anti-women causes. She can be the token woman who can be useful for testifying against the interests of women. She was also against passing the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding to prevent domestic violence and to support victims of family violence.

Why would the pro-gun folks be against the Violence Against Women Act?

Perhaps because a preponderance of research finds that most violence against women is committed by their intimate partners, and that if there are guns in the house, women are the most likely victims. Most women are not in danger from strangers, but from intimate acquaintances, including their partners, and close relatives.

So the scenario that Trotter and the gun lobby uses masks the real dangers women face. These lobbyists know that they don't have much of an argument, but that if they can scare women by dramatizing the dangers from strangers -- often a racialized fear -- they can sell more guns, and also, crucially, not address the real cause of violence in the heterosexual family: male intimate partners who possess guns.

Another woman advocating the NRA line is Florida Republican state lawmaker, Stefani Carter. She uses the high rates of violence against black women to help the gun lobby. She makes an argument for more black women to buy and carry guns as protection against intimate violence, without any evidence that guns will prevent or stop the violence. In an opinion column in USA Today, she says that because black women were murdered at a rate nearly two and a half times higher than white women and because more than 90 percent were killed by males they knew, they need to have gun. What she leaves out is that ubiquity of guns likely caused the deaths, and that black communities have suffered disproportionately because of gun violence.

One study shows higher homicide rates for women in households with guns, and in states with higher gun ownership. Where there are more guns, women are killed in higher numbers.

In addition, according to the organization Futures Without Violence, in 1998, for every one woman who used a handgun to kill an intimate acquaintance in self defense, 83 were murdered by an intimate acquaintance using a handgun. In a household with domestic violence, a woman's likelihood of being murdered is eight times greater if there are guns in the house. In homicides of women, a huge majority (94 percent) were killed by a man they knew.

Another study found that batterers with guns were far more dangerous than those without them. Guns were far more likely to be used to threaten and intimidate intimate partners than to protect them. Women and children in households where there is such violence live with this daily fear that one day the gun in the house will be used against them. Guns also prevent women from leaving a violent partner. Even if women leave their partner, and we know that they are often in the greatest danger when they do, they still live with this fear that one day their violent ex-partner can hunt them down with a gun.

To be sure, the 1996 Domestic Violence Offender Gun Bill does prevent any person from being able to legally purchase a gun if that person has been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense or have a restraining order for domestic violence. But we know that guns are often purchased without any background checks, so it is not surprising that this law is not as effective as it could be were there universal background checks for all gun purchases.

Although we know quite a bit about violence against women, there remains much to be researched. While the existing studies provide the connection between guns and lethal incidents, we need more information on numbers of injuries and hospitalizations of women because of gun violence in the home. And there is so much research that we could have that would show us much more about the impact of guns: for instance, the medical costs of treating gunshot wounds, the days lost to injuries, how such injuries affect the lives of women and children.

We don't have this research because the NRA lobbied to prevent funding such research. Clearly, they were afraid of what the research might find.

The pro-gun lobby uses the notion of freedom and the Second Amendment to hide the clear preponderance of evidence that guns are dangerous for women. And it's not just assault weapons; the weapon of choice is most often a handgun.

Trotter came in handy for the gun lobby to show a woman testifying that she knew someone who felt safer with a gun. But the cherry-picked anecdote of one woman does not trump the preponderance of evidence from even the existing research studies that reveal the contrary.

Guns are certainly not the "great equalizer." This is the biggest falsehood that Trotter told that night. Such a falsehood benefits the gun industry at the expense of women's lives.

There are good reasons why the NRA lobbied to prevent research on the harms caused by guns. Ignorance and campaigns of misinformation have been good for the gun industry, but not for the well being of women and their families.

Its time to stop such a trade-off.

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