The demands of the Million Mom March were modest. The participants–750,000 who marched in Washington D.C. on Mother’s 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. That’s 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, they’ll 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 families.
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 women’s 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 this country.
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 culture’s 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 don’t 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 women’s 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 women’s reasonable needs for self-protection.
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 don’t 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 account.
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 doesn’t have to be a women versus women debate. Women who support gun control and women who own guns both make sense. It’s macho gun culture and senseless gun violence that do not.