Armed to Defend

Quelling fears with a gun by Laura Snyder

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005

The range is clear. The line is set. Ready … fire!

BANG. BANG. I squeeze the trigger on the Glock 9 mm and fire twice at the paper-human outline in front of me. Two perfect little holes appear side-by-side in the thoracic cavity of my target.

Nice work, Laura, says the rangemaster.

When my sister graduated from college, she got an expensive ring. My friend got a new car. I'm asking for a handgun.

The decision to arm was easy for me. While I haven't grown up with guns or spent Saturday afternoons shooting skeet like my grandpa, gun ownership just makes sense to me. If I have the option, of course I'm going to choose to defend myself, not stand by and become a victim of a crime. I hope I will never need to shoot someone. But, as I learned in June at Front Sight, a firearms training institute outside of Las Vegas, I would much rather have a gun and not need it than need a gun and not have it.

Gun opponents argue that there are other methods of self-defense. I agree. I hope to return to Front Sight to take their empty-hand defense course someday. Yet, no matter how skilled I aspire to be in martial arts, I know that if I'm pitted against an attacker who is bigger and stronger than me, I don't stand a chance.

I've done some research and found that other methods of self-defense are also inadequate. Victims armed with knives are six times more likely to be injured in an attack than victims armed with guns and twice as likely to be injured than victims who do not resist. Stun guns require three seconds of close contact with an attacker to distribute the electrical charge, and the Mace we buy is diluted and virtually useless against an attacker, especially one who is drunk or on narcotics. That leaves me with guns as my first — and only — choice of self-defense weapons.

My friends' reactions about the gun class varied. I learned that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of a woman wielding a gun. But women with guns make perfect sense to me. Our bodies are not built like men's. We weren't made to be warriors. In an attack, a man could easily overpower a woman. But guns are the great equalizer between the sexes. They put us on even ground. I know that if a potential attacker knew I had a gun, I would be safe.

How can I be so confident? Because empirical evidence suggests criminals avoid armed victims. In Orlando, in 1966, a series of brutal rapes plagued the city. In response, the Orlando Sentinel Star and the local police department trained 6,000 women to use guns in self-defense. The newspaper gave incredible coverage to the training, hoping to discourage the rapist or rapists from attacking for fear that the women might be armed.

One year later, none of the trained women had needed to use her gun. None of the women had turned the gun on a husband or boyfriend. And there had been no accidental shootings. While the number of rapes in 1966 was 36, in 1967, the year after the training, there were only four rapes. In addition, Orlando saw a 25 percent decrease in both violent assault and burglary, making it the only city in the United States with a population higher than 100,000 where crime actually decreased in 1967.

I'm not preaching that every woman should own a gun. It’s a big responsibility. And if you aren’t committed to educating yourself and practicing frequently, a gun might not do you much good in a real emergency anyway. I’ve taken steps to educate myself about guns and will continue to do so as a responsible gun owner. Gun owners aren’t paranoid eccentrics who will one day go crazy and kill someone out of anger. They’re simply people like me, who choose to be responsible for their own safety instead of becoming victims.