My impossible-to-find George magazine article on guns from 1999
GEORGE MAGAZINE, JULY 1999
Ruger Is a Girl’s Best Friend
About a year ago a mugger just waltzed right up to me on a bridge here in Washington, D.C. It was early evening and I was a stone’s throw from my apartment in what is considered a nice neighborhood, as neighborhoods go in “Murder Capital” – the richly deserved nickname for the nation’s capital. I won’t belabor my cunning and completely fortuitous escape, except to say that for the few minutes I was standing there waiting to be mugged, I was fuming. I knew he knew I didn’t have a gun.
It’s illegal here in Murder Capital. Not merely illegal, but a felony carrying up to a five-year prison sentence. Just as I could look at my prospective mugger and see that he was not the kind of fellow who would be a fanatic about property rights, he could see from fifty yards that I was not the type to be casually committing felonies.
I wanted a gun, but more than that, I wanted him to think I might possibly have a gun. I wanted him to at least accord me the respect I get from criminals in other cities, where they have to exercise a little creativity, lying in wait, sneaking up from behind, hiding in bushes and dark alley-ways, that sort of thing. No, in Washington, they just walk right up to you on a brightly lit street. As an apparently law-abiding citizen, I am ostentatiously defenseless.
But let’s forget about completely defenseless little me on the bridge for a moment.
The framers’ primary reason for including the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights was so that the people could defend their liberties against a tyrannical government, just as they do by virtue of the vastly overrated First Amendment. As Alexander Hamilton observed in Federalist, No. 29, if the government were to “form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens.” Some may be willing to rely on withering editorials in the New York Times to preserve their liberty. I’d prefer a tasteful Sigsauer.
If the courts ever interpreted the Second Amendment the way they interpret the First Amendment, we’d have a right to bear nuclear arms by now. Interestingly, the Supreme Court is constantly having to remind Americans of their First Amendment rights, issuing over a hundred decisions in the past half century alone. The Court has only ruled on the Second Amendment in a handful of cases ever – the last time in 1939. But still, about half the citizenry deeply, passionately believe that they have a right to bear arms. Give the First Amendment no support from the courts for over half a century and see if anyone remembers why we’re supposed to let Nazis march in Skokie.
But the half of the country that intuitively assumes a right to bear arms don’t live in my neighborhood. That’s why I’m getting exasperated with the constitutional argument. Too few people – girl people in particular – appreciate the central point: Guns are our friends.
When it comes to the First Amendment, everyone gets warm patriotic feelings, tearing up over John Stuart Mill’s “marketplace of ideas.” They think immediately of our right to engage in political speech, scientific research, and avant-garde art and to burn politicians in effigy (or maybe that’s just me). Speech on the fringe, like Aryan Nation propaganda or Screw magazine, is understood to be an unpleasant if inevitable by-product of a freedom we cherish.
But with the Second Amendment, all we hear about is the downside. It’s all Screw magazine. No upside, just school shootings and the apocryphal danger of “gun accidents.” In 1945, for every million Americans, there were 350,000 firearms and 18 fatal gun accidents. By 1995 the supply of guns had more than doubled to 850,000 per million, but fatal gun accidents had plummeted by two-thirds to only 6 per million.
Guns are our friends because in a world without guns, I’m what’s known as “prey.” All females are. Any male – the most sickly 98-pound weakling – could overpower me in a contest of brute force against brute force. For some reason, I’m always asked: Wouldn’t I prefer a world without guns? No. I’d prefer a world in which everyone is armed, even the criminals who mean to cause me harm. Then I’d at least have a fighting chance.
What the arms-control faithful really want is a world without violence – not a world without weapons. These are the ideological descendants of the authors of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which purported to outlaw war. But we can’t have a world without violence, because the world is half male and testosterone causes homicide. A world with violence – that is to say, with men – but without weapons is the worst of all possible worlds for women. As the saying goes, God made man and woman; Colonel Colt made them equal.
Prey like me use guns against predators about a million times a year. Fifteen different studies (including studies sponsored by gun-control groups) estimate that guns are used to stop a crime several hundred thousand times per year at the low end and several million times at the high end.
I especially want criminals to have to worry that I might be armed. In numerous surveys, criminals have confirmed the blindingly obvious point that they are disinclined to attack a victim who might be armed. Countries with those fabulously low murder rates and fabulously fascistic gun-control laws – like Canada, the Netherlands, and Britain – have more burglaries of occupied homes than we do in the armed-to-the-teeth United States. Canada’s burglary rate of occupied homes is over three times that of the United States. Although murder is lower in Britain, rape, robbery, burglary, and assault are all substantially higher than in the United States.
It must be said, the framers were not unaware of the crime-prevention qualities of firearms. Standing armies in this country and in France had become nothing more than roving bands of criminals. The Second Amendment was, in part, a response to these earliest cases of police brutality. (Why is it that the same people who have the least confidence in the police and military are the most willing to allow only the police and the military to have guns?)
Democratic darling Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote, “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms … disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
That night in Washington, by the way, I was rescued by a man. I’m all for men, I like to have them around all the time. But they can’t be. Sometimes they have to go buy things for us. More pertinently, sometimes they’re ex-husbands coming after us with machetes. We live in a world in which men are supposed to freeze when we say “no,” our bodily integrity is sacrosanct, we are autonomous beings, I am woman hear me roar, but we’re not allowed to defend ourselves from a physical attack with the only effective means possible. Just stand waiting on the bridge, and hope for a nice man to come along.