It should be obvious why gun control is good for everybody–this country has a horrific problem with gun violence and that poses risks we shouldn’t have to face in our daily lives. But there are reasons why keeping firearms out of circulation is particularly important for women. While the far too common mass shootings get a lot of attention, guns prove to be a huge risk for women in abusive relationships. According to the Violence Policy Center, the most common weapon men use to murder women is a gun. Women are almost always killed by someone they knew, often an intimate partner. Abused women are five times as likely to be killed by an abuser if he owns a gun.
Along with the very real violence women face, we are regularly confronted with the threat of violence. The internet has only increased that by providing women with a platform to speak their minds, and men the relative anonymity that allows their worst impulses to come to the forefront. Law enforcement, as well as platforms like Twitter, has struggled to deal with the very frightening threats in this new arena. One of the most disturbing aspects is the difficulty of determining when the threats have the potential to manifest as real-life violence.
Mother Jones has a terrifying story about the intersection between the gun rights debate and harassment of women, focusing on the abuse women face when they speak out in favor of gun control. Jennifer Longdon, who was paralyzed after being shot in 2004, faces threats on a regular basis:
Longdon is no stranger to such attacks. Last May in her hometown of Phoenix, she helped coordinate a gun buyback program with local police over three weekends. On the first Saturday, a group of men assembled across the street from the church parking lot where Longdon was set up. They shouted about constitutional rights and tyranny, and called people arriving to trade in their guns “sellouts.” (The program netted nearly 2,000 firearms with more than $200,000 in reimbursements.)
Some of them approached Longdon. “You know what was wrong with your shooting?” one said. “They didn’t aim better.” Another man came up, looked Longdon up and down and said, “I know who you are.” Then he recited her home address. The harassment continued, and the men showed up throughout the program, a Phoenix police official involved confirmed to me.
After a fundraiser one night during the program, Longdon returned home around 10 p.m., parked her ramp-equipped van and began unloading herself. As she wheeled up to her house, a man stepped out of the shadows. He was dressed in black and had a rifle, “like something out of a commando movie,” Longdon told me. He took aim at her and pulled the trigger. Longdon was hit with a stream of water. “Don’t you wish you had a gun now, bitch?” he scoffed before taking off.
While some within the gun rights movement have condemned such actions, there is a disturbing strain of misogyny to be found in groups who are being taken seriously within the policy debate:
Open Carry Texas takes pains to convey a clean, friendly image in the press. Last November, the group made national news after some 40 members armed with assault rifles showed up outside an Arlington, Texas, restaurant where four women from Moms Demand Action were having lunch. The group released a statement saying it was being misunderstood: “In reality, the peaceful gun owners were posing for a photo.” After a rally outside Austin City Hall this April, Grisham told the Texas Tribune, “We’re not out there to bait police officers or to scare the community. We wave, we smile, we hand out fliers. If we see someone who seems really nervous, we’ll talk to them.”
What the group hasn’t publicized are some of its members’ more degrading antics. In March, a group of them held a “mad minute” at a firing range, pulverizing a female mannequin with a hail of bullets. They positioned the figure with her hands raised in surrender, naked from the waist up. Afterward, they posed with the bullet-riddled mannequin, her arms blown off and her pants down at her ankles. “Mad minute” is a military expression referring to a burst of rapid fire, and Open Carry Texas members have often referred to Moms Demand Action as “mad moms.”
This is coming from the founder of a group that was invited to testify at the Texas Senate about gun policy.
We know we sadly have a long way to go to make progress on gun control in this country. In the meantime, we can thank the women who are continuing to speak out in the face of these threats, doing important work that will make this country safer for all women (and everybody else).