Moms and Guns
by Adriene Sere
The demands of the
Million Mom March were modest. The participants--750,000 who
marched in Washington D.C. on Mothers Day, and
tens of thousands of others in cities across
the country--are calling for all handguns to be
registered and for all gun owners to be licensed. They
want a mandatory waiting period and background check
before every purchase of a handgun. They want safety locks
on all handguns, a limit of one handgun purchase per
person per month, and the enforcement of existing gun
control laws. Thats not a lot.
It's especially not a lot when you consider current the
level of gun violence: an average of 12 children a day
are killed by guns in this country. Since 1960, more than
a million Americans have died in firearm suicides,
homicides, and unintentional shootings. In 1996 alone,
more than 34,000 Americans died by gunfire. How could
anyone oppose relatively meager demands for gun control?
But the pro-gun lobby thinks the demands of the Million Mom
March are too much. As a rule, they oppose all forms of
gun control. Give an inch, theyll take a mile, they
reason. Mandatory safety locks would simply bring the
government that much closer to taking all guns away from
law abiding citizens.
So what is the pro-gun lobby doing to fight back against
the potentially influential political message of the Million Mom March?
They are trotting out other moms who tell the media that
they depend on guns to protect themselves and their
Some of these gun owners are defensive, saying they
choose to own guns because they are good mothers.
If you care about your children, you should make
sure you have the ability to defend them, one woman
told the Associated Press. They (the Million Mom
March movement) are demonizing us because we chose guns
as a method of defense. The Moms 4 Guns website is
more aggressively accusatory: There is a group of
women who want to take away or severely infringe on your
right to protect yourself and your family. They call
their effort the Million Mom March.
The gun control movement formally responds to these
womens concerns with abstract statistics, such as
those that show women are in greater danger if they have
a gun in the house. Informally, many of them respond with
contempt for women gun owners, characterizing them as
crazy and in cahoots with the rampant gun violence in
The gun control argument has thus been framed: women who
oppose guns versus women who own guns.
And who gets off the hook? Men. Male violence. Macho
culture. Macho laws.
The Million Mom March, however sensible and important
their purpose, is partly responsible for allowing this
contrived, dead-end, woman vs. woman opposition. They are
the ones who insisted on the importance of gender in the
debate, but insisted on it only inasmuch as gender
defines them as caretakers, pointing to polls that show
women are much more likely than men to support gun
control. In the meantime, the movement has failed to
challenge the male supremacist culture behind the
proliferation of guns and gun violence--from male
cultures romanticization of guns, to the sick hobby
of sports hunting, to mass slayings committed by males,
to the weapons of a military currently used for
aggression and imperialism.
The Million Mom March is playing it safe: While we
acknowledge that guns may be necessary for hunting, law
enforcement, and national security, the proliferation of
firearms intended for one purpose only--killing another
human being--has become untenable.
As is now being argued in the media, there are many women
who own guns to stop those who would hurt or kill them or
their children. In other words, they dont have guns
to kill another human being, but to stop a human being--a
man or group of men--from raping or killing them, or
hurting their children.
The Million Mom March, along with the rest of the gun
control movement, avoids dealing with the complexities of
womens need for self-defense. At the same time, the
movement shrinks from making an explicit challenge to the
male supremacist culture that gives rise to gun violence.
In this way, the movement generously hands the NRA the
opportunity to exploit womens reasonable needs for
The gun control movement, rather than showing serious concern for women's safety, condescendingly
treats women as an abstract, homogenous group that can
be understood through statistics. The reality is that
women are not a homogenous group, but are thinking
individuals in individual and often dangerous situations.
Consider these scenarios:
A woman frequently camps alone in the National Forest.
She carries a gun. One day, deep in the woods, five men
surround her, hooting, looking forward to the fun they
are about to have. She has her hand hidden in her
backpack, wrapped around her handgun, and says calmly,
her words laden with warning, Have a nice day,
boys. The men look at each other, and move on. They
dont want to get hurt.
A woman is walking alone at night in her own
neighborhood, which is not known for its safety. A man
crosses the street and attempts to assault her. She pulls
out the gun she is carrying, points it at him, and tells
him to leave. He does.
These are true stories, and there are many other such
stories. While it may be statistically true--as the
gun-control lobby insists--that more women are killed by
intimates than by strangers, and that having a gun in the
house makes it possible the gun will be used on a family
member, the women behind these stories do not fit neatly
into statistical frameworks. Like all women, they must
negotiate with male supremacy on a day to day, night to
night basis, and in their individual situations, guns
were the safest and smartest way to do that. Their
experiences--they averted an attack, and no one got
hurt--do not appear in any statistics.
Effective gun control
laws are urgently needed. But the movement for gun
control sabotages itself by invoking gender, while
neglecting to put forth a substantive gender analysis.
They invite the perfectly sound "counter"
argument that many women need guns for self-defense.
Perhaps the problem arises when they fail to take gender
into acount when creating and putting forth their agenda.
The vast majority of gun violence is committed
by males. Many women
have safely used handguns for self-defense in situations
in which no other weapon would have been reliable for
self-protection. An agenda for gun control is certainly
limited if it doesn't take such important factors into
The Million Mom March campaign, and the gun-control
movement in general, is not publicly asking for an end to
all private ownership of handguns--despite what is
obviously their dream demand of abolishing all handguns.
The pro-gun control movement could be compatible with the
desire of many women to own guns for self-defense. There
doesnt have to be a women versus women debate.
Women who support gun control and women who own
guns both make sense. Its macho gun culture and
senseless gun violence that do not.
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