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Does Having Guns Make Women Safer?

Feb 6, 2013



I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, I'm happy I have a chance to tell you more about two women who made or are making an impression, one by speaking up, one by choosing not to. That's coming up later in the program.

But, first, it's time for the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on the week's top issues with our panel of women writers, journalists and commentators.

Sitting in the chairs for a new do this week are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website, The Wise Latina Club. Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. Also with us is Danielle Belton. She's editor-at-large of Clutch magazine online.

Welcome back, ladies. Thanks for joining us.

DANIELLE BELTON: Thanks for having us.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: It's great to be back.


MARTIN: Now, we want to go back to the subject we started with today and that's the whole debate over guns and gun safety. Now, earlier in the program, you remember that we heard from one of the cosponsors of a bill that, unusually, for these times, apparently attracted bipartisan support. It would increase penalties when someone buys a gun or transfers one to someone to someone who isn't supposed to have one.

But I want to talk about the role that women are playing in this debate on both sides. Now, one person, I want to point out, has been a guest on this program. She's an attorney. Her name is Gayle Trotter. She's with the conservative group, the Independent Women's Forum, and she testified on Capitol Hill last week against tighter gun restrictions. Here she is.

GAYLE TROTTER: Guns make women safer. The Supreme Court has recognized that lawful self-defense is a central component of the second amendment's guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. For women, the ability to arm ourselves for our protection is even more consequential than for men.

MARTIN: So I want to start out by asking each of you, do you think that that's true? Viviana, do you think that this issue is more consequential for women than for men?

HURTADO: I really don't, actually, and unlike many people who are advocates of gun rights, I've been a victim of a violent crime. Now, I am no Gabby Giffords, but when I first moved to Washington, D.C. six years ago, one week after I moved in, in front of my house, the very same day that my elderly parents showed up, we were gunned - we were mugged at gunpoint. My mother was separated from us. She was taken a few house lengths away from us. My dad and I were turned face down and we had guns pointed to our head. That night, God walked with us because we only had our stuff stolen and the bejesus scared out of us.

MARTIN: That's terrifying. I'm so sorry that happened.

HURTADO: But I don't think, that said, that, had I had a gun that night, I would be safer or it would have made me safer or things could have been different and that's because of variables. I had my parents with me. They're elderly. My father, because of illness, is slow to move. What are the chances that I would have been able to corral them, to have nerves of steel and to shoot at the perpetrators and not my parents?

MARTIN: Bridget, what about you?

JOHNSON: Well, I mean, I come at this from the perspective, not just as a woman, but you know, I was born in Inglewood, California, so you kind of come up with a given that, you know, you've got to have a certain degree of street knowledge to keep yourself safe in this world.

Now, I then ended up going into college and became a criminology major and that is where I actually learned to shoot. I learned to shoot on an AR-15, which Gayle Trotter was saying was a very easy gun for a woman to shoot and it is. You know, I also learned on a 12 gauge. It has a recoil. It kicks you back. You know, a nine millimeter Glock. I have small hands, you know, and your hands don't always fit well around the butt of a gun.

You know, but I think Viviana makes a good point in that - yes - there are situations where a gun wouldn't have been the best option for self-defense. You know, I also believe women should take self-defense courses, you know, etc., but I think that it is a feminist thing to be able to confidently stand your ground in the face of any threat and not count on others to protect you and, if that means that it is a gun in your hands that will do it at that point and in that situation, then - yes - I believe in that. I don't believe, however, in the argument that it's more a woman's issue than a man's issue. I think it's equal.

MARTIN: Danielle, what about you?

BELTON: I see self-defense as, obviously, an issue that both genders have to deal with and face. I don't necessarily think that the gun debate is different for women than it is for men because we are just talking about basic self-defense, home defense here.

Me, personally - I don't own a gun and there's been times in the past that I've considered it, but in most instances, I'm glad that I didn't, but that has to do with my own personal issues surrounding it. And so I feel like we have this tendency to give, like, these kind of catch-all kind of like generic solutions where it's like, oh, this woman wouldn't be a victim if she had a gun or this guy would have been able to protect these people if he'd had one. But it's like a gun isn't a catchall, one-stop solution to all of your problems, you know, that's ludicrous. These issues have complexities to them. They're all their individual issues. In some instances maybe a gun would help. In others it might not.

And I feel like in my case it definitely wouldn't have helped me. I was in an abusive relationship and I considered getting a gun after the relationship ended. But then later on I got diagnosed with severe depression and then bipolar disorder, and I'm extremely happy that I did not own a gun during that time period because I was not thinking clearly about my own personal safety at that point. And I shudder to think what would've happened to me if I'd had a gun during the worst point of my illness.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are talking about the role of women in the debate over gun violence. And our guests are a very honest group of participants today. That's Danielle Belton of Clutch Magazine Online. That's who was speaking just now, Bridget Johnson of PJ Media, that's a conservative libertarian online news website, and Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at website The Wise Latina Club.

You know, I am, I have to tell you from my standpoint - and I, yes, I know, I tend to go to the numbers because I kind of want to look at the big picture. But I see, you know, Gabby Gifford, you know, the congresswoman from Arizona who was, you know, so terribly wounded in the shooting incident at a political event. And then you see somebody like Gayle Trotter and you see a lot of women sort of taking leadership on this, which I certainly appreciate. But, you know, men are 82.6 percent of murder victims, who are killed by guns. African-Americans are six times more likely to be murdered. And the murders of white women declined across all age groups from 1980 to 2008. And so I just have to ask, you know, and a number of commentators, I have to say on a lot of the online sites and the sites are saying OK, why is it that the murders of in some cities like in Chicago where, you know, we had 500 people killed last year, why aren't we all crying over that? Why is it that these faces aren't the faces that come to our mind? And I don't know. I don't have an answer.

Bridget, do you? Do you?

JOHNSON: Well, I wouldn't say that the people who are out there right now promoting Second Amendment rights are not thinking about the murder victims in these cities. I...

MARTIN: Are they?

JOHNSON: I think, though that, you know, that there is obviously a concentration on, you know, like any lobbyist group here in Washington, you know, what is the point that is going to drive it home with legislators? You know, what is the point that is going to drive it home with public opinion? And I actually think that that right now if trying to run with the women need it for protection argument is actually a mixed bag for conservative groups that are pushing it. Because in the same group you have, you know, men who are putting women with weapons calendars up on their wall thinking that it's a sexy thing for a woman to be armed, but then not supporting women in combat who are armed to protect this country. So...

MARTIN: Interesting point. Interesting point.

JOHNSON: So there are mixed messages all the way around. And I think, yes, it brings in, you know, are we addressing the inner-city murders?

MARTIN: Danielle, what you think?

BELTON: Well, I definitely feel like the reason why you have people who will get upset when an unusual murder takes place with a gun, or like a high-profile case that gets a lot of attention because it's not considered typical. Like you pointed out in your statistics that often the main victims of gun violence tend to - gun violence tends to visit our communities - African-American communities and black men - a lot more frequently. And it's a sad fact of reality that if something has the appearance of being typical, even if it's something that is horrible, no one is shocked by it. No one gets upset about it.

Like I get upset and you might get upset and the people in these neighborhoods and the families who love these individuals who've been victimized would get upset. But the public at large, they expect people in the inner-city to die, like they're not shocked by it and the solution is no easy solution, so rather than actually deal with it and try to find a viable solution, it's much easier for folks just go with I just don't want to deal with this anymore because I see this problem year after year, so I'd rather just act like it doesn't exist. So people tend to get really wrapped up in the unusual shooting like Sandy Hook because it's like, oh, well, that could've happened to me. When people see a young black male who has been gunned down and they say that it's gang violence, they go, well, that's not me so I don't care. And that happens all the time, so I don't care. And so - yes...

MARTIN: Which is unfortunate because there's very...


JOHNSON: Because I guess having done a lot of reporting in this area, you know, and I'll just say, having experienced this in my own family that it's, you know, you add the sort of the stigma to the shock and the grief, is that not only is it that, you know, you've got the shock and grief, but then you want to have people make it your fault. And, you know, sometimes you are a willing participant but sometimes you just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and to sort of have that burden of having to say well, actually, I didn't deserve - this person I love did not deserve to die, is really actually very profound and I just, I can't even describe it.

BELTON: Well, look at the case with the young girl who performed at the inauguration and who is from Chicago who was just in a park with her friends and was murdered.

MARTIN: Viviana?

HURTADO: I was just going to jump in and say - and yet it's really important to think about the politics behind, for example, putting women on both sides of this debate. I think it's actually smart politics and smart rhetoric. A lot of people are looking at the polling data from election 2012 and are seeing the rise of new voters, including Latino voters, including single women voters.

The only thing is this - so what we're seeing is there's an emphasis on protection, which Bridget was talking about, has pros and cons, as opposed to the right to bear arms. It's more emotional. We've seen this as well with the debate around reproductive rights. It's about compassion and support, would say one group. And the same thing with immigration. It's about family unification. These are emotional arguments. The thing is, as Bridget brings up, it could backfire.

MARTIN: Bridget, final thought. Is there something we're overlooking here? As a person who's studying, you know, you have both an academic and a personal interest in this and you've also taken steps to make yourself competent around this issue, as opposed to sort of just as an intellectual sort of matter. Is there something you think people are overlooking?

JOHNSON: I think that the propensity of the black market to bloom is being overlooked in this because so when I was a criminology major, the fellow students - shall we say - had a lot of personal weapons that at the time were not allowed under the assault weapons ban. And, of course, it's very easy to modify a semiauto and...

MARTIN: I'm going to check your purse before you leave, by the way. I'm just letting you know.


JOHNSON: We used to say there was a fine line between criminal and criminologist. But that goes to knowing exactly what the criminal community is going to do to get around the new laws that are in place. And it's not going to be that hard with what's being proposed.

MARTIN: Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. She was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios, along with Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club. And Danielle Belton is the editor-at-large for Clutch Magazine Online. She joined us from St. Louis.

Ladies, thank you so much once again.

HURTADO: Thanks, Michel.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Michel.

BELTON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.