Last week, I read a provocative piece from Thembi Ford of Clutch Magazine, called “Is It Okay to Own a Gun?”
Ford writes that she felt compelled to pose this question after an incident where a close friend of hers was forced to brandish a gun at a lurker outside of her first floor apartment window. Ford writes, “She waved the man off, yelled for him to go away, and put a stern look on her face. That didn’t work, so she pulled out her gun and pointed it at him. That still didn’t make him leave (she ended up calling the police, who escorted him away), but it scared me plenty.”
Yeah that would scare me too. I thought this was interesting because just the day before reading it, I was on the phone with my younger brother, who asked me if I wanted to apply for a permit to carry. This, of course, was coming from my brother, who just a year ago would have sworn off guns completely. However that was before our hometown (Philadelphia) began to lead the nation in per capital murders. I could hear the angst in his voice as he recounted the tale of the teenage son of a cop, who had been murdered in a suspected gang initiation just feet away from his job. My brother, who is a father of three boys and a little girl, worries constantly about the prospects of having a gun in the house. But that day, he began to ponder their safety without a gun in the house. I worry too – not just only about my brother, his wife and my niece and nephews but my own security.
Many people, particularly women, fear guns. The perception is that only criminals, street gangs and white male patriotic right-wing nuts want to own a gun. Black women, as a whole, seem entirely absent from the gun discussion. In fact, Tyler Perry’s Madea only pulls her piece for comic relief. Prior to Zoe Saldana big gun-toting in Columbiana, the only other time I can remember seeing a Black woman packing serious heat in popular movies was Pam Grier in Coffy and Foxy Brown. And when Rihanna sung about shooting down the guy that sexually assaulted her, that image was demonized and completely banned from television.
However, women, particularly women who live alone, don’t have the luxury of fear. I remember being a teenager in Philadelphia, coming home from work at night; I got off the bus at the corner, which dropped me off around the corner from my house. I was met and accosted by a guy, who smelled of a mixture of weed and liquor. He pulled out a gun, stuck it in my side and pushed me into the shadows, away from public view. And as I pulled off my rings and necklace and emptied my change purse for the little bit of cash I carried, the perpetrator went on about how he normally doesn’t like to stick up “sistas” but he really needed the money now. I can still feel the brisk Fall wind on my sleeveless arms as he snatched my leather bomber and then ran off like a literal thief in the night.
That robbery occurred almost two decades ago. Reading the newspaper and watching the local news of home invasions, subway near death beatings and women being brutally attacked in their homes, I am certain that my own personal fear is grounded and shared by a collective conscious of many women, who truly don’t feel safe in their environments. According to statistics from both the Violence Policy Center and the National Organization for Women (NOW), somewhere in America, a woman is raped every 2 minutes. In 2009, 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner, which averaged to around three women per day. And of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third was killed by an intimate partner.Young women, low-income women and some minorities are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and rape, with African-American women facing higher rates of domestic violence and murder than white women.
Yet, conventional wisdom says that owning guns doesn’t necessarily make you less of a target for domestic violence, rape and murder. Even using our best preventive measures we learned as young girls, you cannot predict or even stop a perpetrator hell bent on causing harm. Likewise, women victims of domestic violence living with a gun in the home were three times as likely to be murdered as women who were not. Not to mention that from 2001 through 2007, over 4,900 people in the United States died from unintentional shootings, with 8% of such shooting deaths resulting from shots fired by children under the age of six. That’s why the decision to carry or have a gun in the household should not be taken lightly. And whether it’s a gun, martial arts, pepper spray, or learning how to stop a perpetrator by jamming the biggest key on your key ring in his/her eye, our self-defense is something that every woman shouldn’t take for granted neither.
And it appears that women are becoming a little more conscious to their safety concerns. A 2009 study has found 70 percent of shop owners are seeing more female buyers than ever before, as reported by the Washington Times. As of right now, I am not among those women, although I plan on owning a gun in the near future. Recently I found a letter stuffed into my mailbox from our district police department alerting us residents to a series of home burglaries in our neighborhood. The letter wanted us to be aware and take prevention measures. I will not say for sure that owning a gun would prevent someone from breaking into to my house when I’m not there however I really don’t want to be home alone in the house without a gun if a break-in happens too. It’s all about options, you know?
And while I am not a official gun owner, my brother and I have been going to the range since my 34th birthday to both practice target shooting and familiarize ourselves with firearms. This has given me a newfound respect for guns. Not necessarily because I feel powerful holding a pistol or revolver but because I now realize the immense responsibility that comes from being a gun owner.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.