Last year, for whatever reason, the media powers that be decided that they would put India’s staggering sexual violence problem front and center. Rapes and, in general, discrimination against women, have arguably always plagued India. It’s a shame it took this long for the problem to be brought to the fore, but it’s here.
The thing is, when something becomes big news, it becomes big business the next day. And so, we have a gun that’s being manufactured in India being called the first one made specifically for women. The makers of the gun, according to a BBC report, started work on it after a student was gang-raped in Delhi late 2012, dying from her injuries soon after. On the business side, there’s certainly an element of crass, cynical tragedy profiteering. But, it does open up a valid debate as to whether or not guns in purses would be an effective response to sexual violence.
We’ll skip past the fact that this gun is made just for women (it’s smaller, fashionable, and comes in something resembling a jewelry case) – that’s no more than crude marketing. A .32 caliber revolver is going to require the same amount of training and arm strength to handle. Guns are guns. A lady gun is superfluous. The question is whether or not a gun – any gun – will actually make a woman safer on the streets – if this is actually a viable way to address India’s sexual violence problem.
The BBC article mentions a study conducted that concluded the opposite – that people packing firearms were significantly more at risk of being victims of violence. The problem is, you could probably frame a study to find whatever result you want in this field – victimhood and risk are frustratingly vague concepts once you start digging into them. Advocates of the use of guns could probably gin up their own studies that come to the opposite conclusion, and they wouldn’t necessarily be more or less valid.
For their part, gun proponents say that owning and carrying a firearm would be empowering for women, and would be a deterrent to potential perpetrators of sexual violence. These pro-gun arguments strike me as poor. A concealed firearm would not be an effective deterrent, for reasons that should be obvious – if men don’t know it’s there, they can’t be deterred by it. Even if women carrying firearms became widespread enough to where potential perpetrators would be concerned about their victims carrying firearms writ large, rapes don’t always come from men sneaking up on women in dark alleys. Rapes are mostly done by people known to the victim, people who use trust as a weapon to disarm their victims. There’s a limited number of rape scenarios where a firearm would actually be a viable means of defense.
It’s true that, for some women, carrying a firearm would be empowering. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is, empowerment does not equal safety or security, which is presumably what we’re chasing after here. In practice, carrying a firearm is probably going to be a mixed bag. For every woman that chases off a potential rapist with a loaded revolver, there’s probably going to be a woman overcome with nerves, and a man who takes advantage of that hesitation. There are going to be rapes made worse by men becoming more aggressive in the presence of a weapon. All of these women might feel empowered beforehand, but their actual safety in the event of a crisis strikes me as a roll of the dice – no better or worse than not having a firearm.
There’s another, far more insidious issue, which the BBC report brings up. Sexual violence has been such a pervasive problem in India because women are treated as second class citizens. Sexual violence continues because police have been unreceptive to allegations, because the safety of women simply hasn’t been taken seriously to a large enough extent. Women are often dismissed when trying to bring their attackers to justice – in that kind of an environment, should women really be confident that they can shoot an attacker in self-defense and have the law on their side afterward? Unlikely.
The saddest part, by far, is that we’re talking about guns as a solution to sexual violence. They aren’t. They aren’t because this all makes the mistake of putting the onus of solving sexual violence on the victim. Obviously, in this environment, women need to take every necessary step to protect themselves. But, the path to a solution goes through men. Sexual violence is a problem because there are rapists, not because there are victims of rape. India, and all countries, need to spend more time and money on research that seeks to understand the psychology of perpetrators. They need to start educational initiatives that encourage valuing women as human beings (shocking concept, I know), and start those initiatives at as young of an age as possible. Rape is a cultural problem, and always has been. A gun is only going to slightly tip the scales in a culture that, at its core, still allows rape to happen. And those scales aren’t always going to be tipped in favor of the woman.