The Untouchable Gun

The gun debate from the viewpoint of a former domestic abuse victim

Ingela Canis
Oct 30, 2019 · 12 min read

In the US, guns have achieved a rather enviable status. We tote them around, use them in various celebrations, raffle them off, and even bless them in church. Guns are everywhere. We give them to young children for birthdays and Christmas.

Meanwhile, firearms are the second leading cause of pediatric death in the United States.

It appears as though toy guns are more heavily regulated than real ones. Toys are required to look toy-like, so as not to be confused with the real thing. But at the same time, gun manufacturers are targeting young children by making real guns smaller, cuter and more colorful.

It’s very worrisome, not only as far as the physical injuries and deaths of children, but also regarding the desensitization we see emerging in our youngsters. Whatever we see most of during our formative years is normalized. If everyday activities consist of watching our family members shoot guns, dad threatening mom with a gun, being taught to use guns ourselves, playing video games with the goal of maximizing carnage, and being told the world is full of evil and we have to protect ourselves with guns, I believe this changes the mind, and makes many of us colder. Research suggests that “…the mere presence of a gun is enough to elicit aggressive behavior”.

This is not to say that one needs to be staunchly opposed to guns. It is possible to be both for and against guns in general; i.e. pro-Second Amendment but also pro-regulation. This even though the nationwide grassroots debates tend to get a bit distorted. Gun regulation advocates are often mislabeled as anti-gun and as such disregarded and mercilessly mocked for their perceived weakness. Things such as “stopping power”, “bump stock” and “assault rifle” are tossed about in a (for non-enthusiasts) confusing and seemingly endless gun lingo mix. The argument is often made that people unfamiliar with the correct terminology have no say on policy. The validity of that aside, any attempt to have a real conversation therefore requires some basic preparation.

The US is currently dealing with a crisis of both mass shootings and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), and both are linked to the widespread and growing use of guns by abusers. Analysis of recent mass shootings indicates shooters often had histories of IPV, stalking, or harassment.

“In more than half of mass shootings over the past decade, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member as part of the rampage”.

In many incidents of mass shootings, the perpetrator mainly had his (they have all been misogynistic men) sights set on a person he considered to be his. She belonged to him but refused to behave the way he wanted her to, expected her to. She made him look bad. And for that, she, and anyone associated with her, must pay. What makes our young men feel so entitled and unable to handle rejection of any kind? Reducing access to mental health care is very dangerous in times like these. We’re not catching the red flags early enough. Or perhaps worse, we’re ignoring them.

As a domestic abuse survivor I can attest to the validity of reports that show a definite link between threats, stalking, PSTD and violence. My abuser liked to remind me, often, of his “Saturday Night Special” (a colloquialism describing a weapon of inferior value and quality and thereby implied suitable for crime), knowing how utterly uncomfortable this made me.

Even when abusers do not ultimately pull the trigger, the abuser’s use of and access to a firearm creates psychological terror for the victim. One study found that women who had been threatened with a gun by their abuser or feared one would be used against them suffered more severe PTSD symptoms than those who had not endured threats with a gun. According to the study author, “the fear of a firearm threat — just the fear of the threat, not even the actual threat — is significantly associated with PTSD. It’s stronger even than the link between physical or sexual abuse and PTSD”.

According to EverytownResearch.org, current federal law does not prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor stalking crimes from having guns even though “we know that stalking is a predictor of lethality in intimate partner relationships”. About 4.5 million women in the US today report having been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner and nearly half of female firearm homicide victims were killed by a current or former intimate partner.

One study found that 76 per cent of intimate partner homicides and 85 per cent of attempted homicides of women were preceded by at least one incident of stalking in the year before the attack.

While access to a firearm can provide comfort to domestic abuse victims, it does not necessarily make the victim safer at all. In my own experience, it can, especially in combination with hypervigilance and sleep deprivation, cause extreme anxiety and general worry over actually having to use the weapon at all. Most victims are just not comfortable with the thought of a midnight shootout in the doorway.

On the other hand, many women these days appear to have become overly confident in their ability to protect themselves because they have easy access to a firearm. This is true in my local area.

“A study of female intimate partner homicide risk factors found that even for women who lived apart from their abuser, there was no evidence of protective impact from owning a gun… And a California study found that women who purchased a gun died by firearm homicide at twice the rate of women who did not.”

It really doesn’t matter if you have the latest and greatest if you don’t know how to use it — under extreme duress and perhaps while half asleep. An adrenaline rush often causes reduced clarity of thought as well as severe trembling. And any predator is unlikely to pick a time and place where his victim is fully alert and ready to fire. My own experience has shown me that a stalker will keep close tabs on you. I often received random text messages commenting on what I was wearing or doing. Had I been observed purchasing a firearm at that time I have no doubt he would have prepared accordingly for that also.

There is a new disturbing trend of “posing” while heavily armed. We have to wonder how much of this phenomenon contributes to the armour-clad man-boys we see roaming around stores and coffee shops. How are we supposed to know if these are “good” or “bad” guys? How insecure, slighted, or trigger-happy are they? In this time of “selfies” and photoshopped reality, this is yet another layer of which to be aware.

In an article in The Atlantic, an anonymous Army officer is quoted saying:

“In the Army, firearms are stored under lock, key, and sometimes guard… and if a soldier cannot qualify with his weapon, he is not allowed to carry or shoot it on live-fire exercises or downrange.”

But we allow untrained civilians, often in deplorable physical shape and sometimes even of severely diminished mental capacity, to just sling these things over their shoulder and move about freely. Oftentimes the ensemble appears to be intended mainly to impress or terrorize, but regardless, the threat is real. Poorly trained people can be more dangerous simply due to their inexperience and carelessness. No argument for the right to bear arms can defend this. But what are these arguments in the first place?

“Responsible gun owners shouldn’t be punished for what others do”. Being responsible also means caring for the good of your fellow beings. If enough damage is caused by a certain behavior it is the responsibility of all of us to come together and solve the problem. We need safety and social responsibility in the face of an epidemic.

The 2nd Amendment. This is what most fanatics are known to cling to, without actually knowing or even being concerned about what exactly it says. The interpretation really is in question — still. You know, that part about the “well regulated Militia”. There is nothing well regulated about anything at the moment, and that’s precisely our problem.

“If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns!” This is just not a valid argument for many reasons, but it doesn’t apply at all if we’re talking about gun control only and not an outright ban.

Hunting and home protection. Most people agree that this is reasonable. What’s in question is the type of weapons that should and should not be allowed for these purposes.

If someone wants to kill someone else they will find a way to do it. Maybe, but it would certainly require more effort and planning, and the perpetrator would also be unable to enjoy that relative safety behind his killing machine. We need to at least try to minimize the carnage. How many of the recent massacres could have happened with such catastrophic damage without a rapid-fire weapon?

Restricting the speed at which a shooter can fire…is not only helpful in that it will slow down the shooting but also because it provides an opportunity for people to fight back against the attacker. The reloading is “one of the more dangerous times for the shooter.”

They’re coming for your guns! The “Slippery Slope” fallacy of taking things away in increments. No, the majority of regulation advocates don’t want your guns, they just want them regulated — in the same way cars are. To be able to drive you need to obtain a license by passing a visual test, a written test, a driving test, and then get registration and insurance. A car can be a deadly weapon even though that’s not its intended purpose. For this reason we have regulations for them. A weapon specifically designed to have a deadly function and nothing else should also have some.

The solution is more guns! Everybody should have a gun! This is absurd and has no benefit except to the gun manufacturers. If a kindergarten teacher’s solution to violent bullying in a class were to provide the entire class with some kind of weapon, it would not be well received.

Contrary to popular belief, open carry was not even allowed way back when in the Wild West. “…when you came into town, you had to either check your guns if you were a visitor or keep your guns at home if you were a resident.” says Adam Winkler, a professor and specialist in American constitutional law at UCLA School of Law. “I’ve never seen any rhetoric from that time period saying that the only thing that’s going to reduce violence is more people with guns”.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is childish fiction and mainly caters to those subjective to the fantasy of being a superhero. It also doesn’t answer several questions such as. How can we tell who the good guy is, prior to any incident? How can we tell the good guys from the bad guys if they’re all shooting at each other? What prevents a bad guy from using the good guy’s gun against him? How can law enforcement officers tell who the bad guy is in the chaos of an active shooter scene?

Could any of this gun frenzied fear-mongering have to do with simple greed? Fear-mongering works exceedingly well for gun sales. The NRA is even selling T-shirts.

Laws don’t mean anything. Outlaws ignore laws. Then why do we have them in the first place, for anything? Why is our incarceration rate the highest in the world?

Guns don’t kill people — people do. Yes, they do. Guns make it a lot easier. Why make it easier and faster for crazies to accomplish whatever is going on in their heads?

“If you don’t like guns don’t get one”. How does this help if it’s not suicide we’re concerned about, but homicide?

Not everybody is comfortable with or capable of handling a firearm. I am one of them. I’m not against guns; I just prefer not to be forced to have them be part of my regular attire. That includes being able to go to the grocery store without feeling like I’m the only one unprepared for the war I was unaware I was in.

Should people really be forced to carry around a lethal weapon at all times if they don’t want to? Some districts now expect teachers to suddenly take on the persona of a trained soldier should disaster strike. We’ve already seen many examples of what a terrible idea this is.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Other places are trying to force all residents to purchase and carry guns.

Why do we expect untrained civilians to capably handle high-stress situations that law enforcement and military personnel would have trouble with? Is every profession to be an extension of the armed forces?

Should an exhausted woman — newly separated from her abusive partner, broke and with toddlers in tow, sleep-deprived and overall jumpy, conditioned to walking on eggshells because of constant verbal attacks for doing everything “wrong” — be expected to confidently handle a firearm to protect herself and her children? I feel that this puts an unreasonable extra burden on her. This is what the police are for.

The emergence of Red Flag Laws AKA Extreme Risk Protection Orders is a step in the right direction for domestic abuse victims. These laws are designed to temporarily prevent individuals in crisis from accessing firearms through a court order.

Opponents claim this infringes on the gun owner’s right to due process. Proponents say it protects it. But why is it only the rights of the abusers we’re concerned about? Protection orders are signed every day. What makes this different?

The fierce backlash from gun owners and law enforcement in certain areas is dividing people further. Many districts even refuse to enforce these laws, declaring themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries”. It is unfortunate for the victims that this view exists. IPV is very real, but invisible and largely ignored.

Access to a gun makes it five times more likely that the abusive partner will kill his female victim. And every month an average of 52 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner.

A huge number of gun owners are simply worried about losing their guns, and they are very vocal in their opposition. They claim additional laws would neither stop criminals from acquiring weapons nor deter crime, and that regulations would affect only law-abiding gun owners. Many also believe that better enforcement of current laws and improved mental health services would be more effective. I question not only the validity of these claims, but also the underlying honesty.

If everyone agrees that better enforcement and access to health care are crucial, why are we reducing funding to both?

Why is the resistance to regulation so strong? The answer, in part, seems to lie in the fear of a “tyrannical government”.

Although this argument has some merit in theory, how is it that this potential scenario trumps the ones already underway? How would a private citizen ever stop a tank or a drone, even if fortified with an endless supply of rounds? The government will always have bigger and better weapons.

Nearly two-thirds of women (64%) favor stricter gun laws, compared with 55% of men. Adults with at least a four-year college degree are more likely than those who have not completed college to support stricter laws (72% vs. 55%).

I believe these statistics demonstrate what I already knew. Women, in general, tend to be a little bit more concerned about the welfare of others. They are also more likely to have experienced being on the wrong end of a gun in the hands of someone who “loves” them. The more educated we are, the more we tend to examine the consequences of our actions. We become less certain of our own superiority. In short, we think more.

This is not about taking away rights from responsible people. Responsible people realize that freedom from being murdered by a crack-brained predator tops freedom of everybody (sane or not) having access to whatever weapon they wish. It’s a matter of finding common ground and common sense.

Those who have experienced trying to escape a person who feels entitled to own you, by any means necessary, can relate to the utter disappointment I feel when gun owners proclaim their rights are being violated. The refusal by police to enforce laws designed to protect the victims creates the appearance of law enforcement siding with the abusers. What about the rights of peaceful unarmed people?

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1–800–799–7233. https://www.thehotline.org/help/

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Ingela Canis

Written by

Recovering naïve believer in genuine goodness. Finder of humor in the absurd. Introverted optimist navigating reality with the help of coffee.

Reformer

Reformer

An online platform for thought-provoking, critical, and contextual articles on politics, society, and policy.

Ingela Canis

Written by

Recovering naïve believer in genuine goodness. Finder of humor in the absurd. Introverted optimist navigating reality with the help of coffee.

Reformer

Reformer

An online platform for thought-provoking, critical, and contextual articles on politics, society, and policy.

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