Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Acceptable Losses

On three separate occasions in my adult life I have looked into a woman's eyes, and been utterly surprised to find her looking back at me in what I can only describe as abject terror. I had done something that, when I did it, struck me as completely innocuous, let alone nonthreatening. But a moment later I realized that I had, without intending to, placed another human being at fear for her life. Or worse. On several other occasions, I have intimidated or worried someone without meaning to. Nothing major. There was no perceived threat of imminent violence. Just a unintended, if unintentional, reminder that I was bigger than they, stronger than they and apparently, ready, willing and able to use that against them. It's one of those things that always lives in the back of my mind, because it generates a certain sensitivity to where I am, and who might be inhabiting that space with me - whether I know it or not.

I mention this in the context of a Rolling Stone article about the growing popularity of gun clubs for women. Now, this being Rolling Stone, the piece has a distinct leftward tilt to it. But that's okay. Everyone has their biases, and when people (or publications) wear them on their sleeves, they're easy to correct for. Now, I'm something off a firearms buff myself, although I don't indulge myself very often, so I'm all for it. If women want to spend their time shooting, let them. There are worse things that people could be doing. What worries me is the strain of social media reaction to the article that celebrates this as a wonderful blow struck in the name of women's rights. To paraphrase: Nature made the genders, but Sam Colt made them equal.

I understand the impulse to see a firearm as a means of evening the odds against someone bigger and stronger than yourself. As someone who believes in winning much more than I believe in fair fights, I understand the appeal of firearms simply as a means of making sure that you're still around to believe in winning. But I also understand the risks that this line of thinking presents. It's fairly easy for me to imagine that the terrified look that I'd accidentally triggered in someone being the last thing that I ever saw.

One of the women that I know owns a handgun, given to her by her father, and I'm glad she has it. I know as well as anyone that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away, and I'd rather that she was able to defend herself. (I'm less than pleased with the fact that she seems to have zero interest in learning how to use it well, but she doesn't answer to me in such things, so I don't hound her.) But when she was having mental health issues, and I and some of the other people close to her realized that a weapon in the home was a liability. When I told her, "You're not in a good place right now, and it's a bad idea for you to keep a gun right now; you need to let me have it," I imagined for a moment the coroner listing my Cause of Death as "Poor choice of words." People are right when they point out that it doesn't matter how big or strong you are when the other person has a gun. But to that I'd add that sometimes, it doesn't matter how well-intentioned you are, either. You can be shot just as dead.

None of this changes one simple fact - my chances of being shot by a woman; lover, acquaintance or stranger, that I've unintentionally frightened half to death are vanishingly small, and made even more so by the fact that I live alone (and so don't have to contend with what might be the most "likely" scenario, being shot by a jumpy significant other). So slim that it's really worth making the trade off for them having an increased ability to defend themselves against people who are more deliberately scary. But it's worth keeping in mind that it's not zero. When the authors of the Second Amendment wrote it, they understood that the simple fact that they were establishing a right to the public availability of deadly force meant that some number of people would be shot whom no-one ever intended. Pretending that we've somehow risen above that is unwise.

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