The Intersection of Guns, Gender, and Violence

The Sandy Hook shooting has brought guns into the spotlight once again, and as I’ve read about this issue in the blogs I follow I’ve been fascinated by the different ways in which gender has been brought into this discussion. I’m going to offer some quotations from several of these articles, along with a bit of commentary.

First, Sam Harris responded to Sandy Hook by arguing that the answer is more guns, not fewer. His argument, which was covered by fellow Patheos blogger Hemant Mehta, was that if more people have guns for self defense, everyone will be safer. Sean Faircloth of the Richard Dawkins Foundation responded to Harris’s comments (Hemant covered this response as well), and in his response he brought gender into the picture:

In an ironic coincidence, Harris’s piece on gun control was published on the same day that The Violence Against Women Act was unjustly shot down in the U.S. House. Firearm assaults on female family members, and intimate acquaintances are approximately twelve times more likely to result in death than are assaults using other weapons. Two-thirds of women killed by spouses are killed with guns. This is not some minor secondary issue, yet Mr. Harris did not delve into it. It is the heart of the matter—a form of chronic and pervasive domestic terrorism.

It is impossible to claim to address gun violence in American while failing to address domestic violence against women.

In his response to critics (which Hemant also covered), Sam Harris addressed Faircloth’s points about gendered violence as follows:

I share Faircloth’s concern about the safety of women. Ironically, the danger that men pose toward women is my primary reason for thinking that guns should be legal and available to responsible adults. As someone who was raised by a single mother, and as the father of little girl, I tend to view all questions of self-defense through the lens of what will enable a woman to protect herself from a man who is bent upon raping and/or killing her.

This is where making the ethical case for guns is easiest. Generally speaking, men are larger than women, and even where no difference in size exists, men tend to be much stronger (especially in the upper body). Women, therefore, are at an intrinsic disadvantage in any form of unarmed combat with a man. That’s not to say that women can’t be trained to protect themselves effectively. The average man would be demolished by Ronda Rousey. But a man with the same skills will always tend to have an advantage over a woman, whether in striking or grappling—or even when fighting with non-ballistic weapons like knives, clubs, etc. As my friend Rory Millerpoints out, “size, strength and reach really matter with any hand-held weapon… and stronger people tend to be quicker as well. This is a huge genetic stack in men’s favor… All of that was neutralized by the introduction of the handgun.”

Yes, drunken fights between couples can turn needlessly deadly in the presence of a gun. But guns are not the reason that so many women live in terror of men—because guns obviate every difference between a man and a woman relevant to violence. Again, I will be accused of peddling NRA propaganda about guns being “an equalizer.” But it’s not propaganda if it’s true. I’m not saying that guns are the solution to the problem of domestic violence. Clearly, there is a need for strict laws, good policing, psychological counseling, women’s shelters, and other resources. Above all, women must refuse to stay in abusive relationships. But when all else fails, a gun in the hands of a woman trained to use it is the best solution that civilization has found for the problem of male aggression. Indeed, there are situations in which a gun in the hands of a woman who is untrained can suffice to save her life. An ethical argument for the banning of guns must tell us why it would have been preferable for this woman to have been armed only with a frying pan.

Fellow Patheos blogger Sierra actually addressed this exact issue in a post last month in which she pointed out that despite what the NRA might say about guns being an equalizer, growing up around guns and even with ready access to guns and the ability to use them did not make her feel safer from her abusive father – in fact, the reverse was the case.

A question occurred to me as I proofreadmy last post about how my father’s violence and gun ownership gave him unnatural power in the household:

Why didn’t guns make me feel safer?

After all, I was a pretty good shot. I knew how to load, unload and clean the guns properly. I knew where they were kept. My father had even instructed me on how to defend myself: Never point a gun at someone if you aren’t going to use it, he’d said, because that gave them the opportunity to get it away from you. Aim for the abdomen and shoot to kill, he’d said, unless you knew you could reliably hit the person in the leg. Even then, he’d warned, you never knew if your attacker had a gun, so crippling him might backfire.

So why didn’t it occur to me that my father’s guns could protect me from my father? After all, the NRA propaganda that saturated my youth said that handguns were equalizing forces in society. It didn’t matter if you were a tiny, skinny person or even a child – if you had a gun, you could defend yourself.

I don’t think that’s true anymore.

When someone initiates violence, you usually don’t get to prepare. Especially not the kinds of violence I would have faced as a young woman.

If my father had decided to attack me, I can imagine two possible scenarios: in the first, he would have premeditated the attack and come after me with a gun. In that case, I wouldn’t have time to grab one myself before he appeared and shot me. Game over. In the second scenario, he would fly into a rage and attack me with his bare hands. In that case, I’d have had to already load the gun and have it ready at my side – which he would have noticed, since he knew where the guns and ammo were kept. Keeping a loaded gun on hand in case he planned to attack me would be more likely to tip him off and incite a rage episode than protect me from one. Besides, if he discovered that I was keeping a loaded gun by my side, he could use that as evidence to discredit my own mental health.

In the abstract, sure, having a gun could make me safer. Being able to shoot does even out whatever physical disadvantage I could have against an attacker. But in the real world, it doesn’t work that way. In the real world, guns don’t equalize power; they give more power to those who already have it. In the real world, there are variables. There’s a lot of guesswork to defending yourself. And frequently, those who are most in danger of violence are the least able to use guns to their advantage,  because their attackers are already close to them, already familiar, already more likely to instigate gun violence and better able to rationalize using it.

Based on everything I was taught, my father’s guns should have been a source of self-defense and safety to me, even against his own violence. Instead, they were instruments of terror, reminders that he held my life in his hands. It didn’t occur to me that I could have used them to defend myself against him then; now, looking back, I still don’t think I could have. They didn’t equalize anything. Guns don’t defend the weak; they empower the powerful.

Of course, an anecdote’s just an anecdote, right? Well, yes. Except that the facts back up Sierra’s argument. Here’s an excerpt from a fascinating article from last summer that looked at what science has to say about whether owning guns increase a person’s safety:

One article published in 2011 by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (which isn’t indexed by PubMed) had several damning things to say. The article, written by David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health, summarized the scientific literature on benefits and detriments of keeping a gun at home. He writes:

For most contemporary Americans, scientific studies indicate that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns. There is compelling evidence that a gun in the home is a risk factor for intimidation and for killing women in their homes.

On the benefit side, there are fewer studies, and there is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in. Thus, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents not to have guns in the home.

Regarding the statement about killing women, it appears that there is a gender differences at work. ”Whereas most men are murdered away from home,” wrote Hemenway, “most children, older adults, and women are murdered at home.” Women tended to be murdered by a spouse or a close relative, and “the increased risk of homicide from having a gun in the home was attributable to these homicides.” Lethal assaults were 2.7 times more likely to occur if a gun was present, suggesting that the idea of guns being used for protection is evidently mostly a myth.

“Most of the women were murdered by a spouse, a lover, or a close relative, and the increased risk for homicide from having a gun in the home was attributable to these homicides.” In the case of battered women, lethal assaults were 2.7 times more likely to occur if a gun was present in the house; no protective effect of the gun was found.

Read the whole thing.

Even as I have watched gender being brought into the discussion on guns in the context of domestic violence, I have also seen it discussed in the context of the Sandy Hook shooter’s own identity – like all but one of the 62 mass shootings over the past thirty years, the perpetrator was male. This reality has led to some feminists arguing that we need to discuss the connection between masculinity and violence.

The fact that 61 out of 62 mass murders which happened over the past 30 years were committed by men is not considered particularly noteworthy because, in a country where 95 percent of violent crime is committed by men, it’s not noteworthy. It is expected. We’ll assume the shooter is a man unless told otherwise and then we’ll be surprised.

Can we talk about how fucked up that is for a just a second, please? Because we don’t talk about it–or if we do, we talk as if it’s somehow inevitable. We accept essentialist beliefs about the genders and consider it “natural” that men are aggressive and women are nurturing, and so–while we hope that community norms and social conditioning will keep men’s “natural tendencies” towards violence in check–we are in no way surprised that when those checks fail, those who turn violent are overwhelmingly men.

That is exactly backwards. The social conditioning that happens is in the reverse. We teach men to be aggressive. We teach them that is the very essence of “being a man.” We say that women are supposed to be caring and compassionate and we tell men not to be like women–to beanything but a “girl.” We teach men that anger is the only acceptable emotion for them to express–and violence is an appropriate way of expressing it. We police their masculinity in a million small ways every day from the time they are even younger than the children who died in Sandy Hook. In Katz’s words“We socialize empathy out of boys all the time.”

And then we act as though this state of affairs is natural–as though the rules of masculinity are ordained and not systematically enforced. It’s not. There is nothing inevitable about the fact that 95 percent of violent crime in this country is committed by men.

The author of this piece asks why we haven’t been discussing the fact that almost all mass shooters, and nineteen out of twenty murderers, are male. I think the answer isn’t that complicated. First, given that male is the default category anyway, people don’t always notice the pattern. If all but one of the shooters had been, say, Asian, we would be talking about that. But the other part of the reason, I think, is that feminists are accused often enough of being men haters that we shy away from doing things like discussing connections between masculinity and violence.

But you know what? I think having discussions about why the vast, vast, vast majority of mass shooters are male is actually the pro-man route while ignoring those discussions is the anti-man route. Why? Because not trying to figure out why gun violence is overwhelmingly male means buying into an assumption that men are somehow just naturally more violent than women, and that assumption leads to some less than positive ideas about men. If instead we ask why men commit more gun violence than women, we can look for the various social factors that result in men committing more gun violence than women and then work to bring about change rather than simply assuming that men are naturally more violent than women.

Anyway, like I said, I’ve been finding discussions of the intersections between guns, gender, and violence thought provoking. What have you read on this nexus? What are your thoughts on the articles I’ve excerpted from above? What do you think about Sam Harris’s suggestion that women should arm themselves against domestic abusers and Sierra’s contrasting personal testimony? What are your thoughts on masculinity and violence? I’m especially interested in hearing some male voices.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • OurSally

    Once again Libby Anne points out the real problem skulking behind all the others.

    Like most Europeans, I attribute this to not enough genuine education for the footfolk. You can fix this, you know, though it isn’t easy or cheap, the investment pays in the long run.

    How did it get this way, actually? The majority of settlers in the States came from Europe, so how did it get so divergent? They brought the best of intentions with them, what happened?

  • Dionigi

    First of all if people generally men have a tendency to loss of temper or violence then the proximity of weapons will increase the chance of them being used. secondly the states are fed a steady diet of propaganda that it is good to outwit the law and that law enforcement officers are stupid and any country hick with a bit of intelligence can run circles around them. The statistics from around the world show that easy access to guns leads to higher murder rates and higher accidental death with guns. Look at Japans statistics against the US higher gun ownership leads to more gun related problems.

  • Didaktylos

    It’s really very simple – an assault attempt made in the heat of anger will very likely be only half-hearted. The trouble is that a half-hearted attempt to use a pistol at close quarters will not be half-arsed.

  • jemand

    Women who DO use guns to protect themselves from abusive relationships, can very often be charged with murder. It’s not really a socially accepted solution.

    • JannieJ

      I was thinking the same thing jemand..

  • Ember

    Jemand makes an excellent point. It connects right back to rape culture – we shouldn’t have used violence because we shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place. I’ve been in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship. When I was struggling to get out of it, the first thing everyone wanted to know was why I hadn’t filed a restraining order. As if everything was all in my head and I wasn’t to be taken seriously unless I had a restraining order… As if I somehow wanted him still, and was leading him on by not being firm enough. Truth is, I’ve seen family members go through much worse than I did, and restraining orders more often incite further harassment than offer any protection at all. I didn’t want one, but it didn’t make my situation any less serious.

    I can really see it in my head:
    “Officer, he had thrown me against the wall and starting choking me, so I shot him.”
    “Well ma’am, if that’s what he’s been doing, why were you still living here?”

    That being said, guns aren’t the answer to abuse. That level of abuse doesn’t happen overnight. There is way too much time to act to justify the use of guns as a solution for people in abusive relationships the way we justify using them as a solution to the acute threat of being mugged in the street. We need better help for people in abusive relationships – both in support for the abused, and mental help for the abusers. It needs to never get to the point of life and death.

  • Aimee

    I am looking up the case, but I recall reading about a Florida woman who shot the ceiling to fend off her abusive husband so she could escape and is being charged with attempted murder. Somehow “Stand Your Ground” doesn’t apply to battered women all that often. Imagine that.

    Also, the idea that a gun can help with domestic violence means that the abused person would have to keep a loaded gun on them and use it when next attacked – this usually is used in court to prove premeditated murder, not self defense.

    I think another good point about more guns = more safety from guns (which fails basic common sense as well) is that it concedes a degree of death of innocents. Say the theater shooting had someone in attendance who managed to kill the shooter – a good number of people still would have died before that happened. Or Sandy Hook – some children would have been shot before a defensive shooter could have stopped him. This is best case scenario where the defensive shooter is well trained and psychologically capable of making an accurate killing shot without endangering other innocents or being killed themselves. Or hell, the mother of the shooter owned guns and that certainly didn’t protect her from them.

    How many kids get killed from guns their parents own (by accident, murder or suicide)? How many kids are saved because their parent owns a gun? I am not sure there are accurate studies about such a thing but I don’t imagine that it is worth it.

    And about the prevalence of deadly violence from men – this is a men’s issue we need more discussion of. Men are murdered and murderers at a higher rate in the US than many other comparable societies so the idea that it is innate is debunked. They also have higher rates of suicide, largely because of likelihood to use guns (women attempt it more, men succeed more). Yes there are societal issues at work – glorification of violence, male anger being encouraged as part of masculinity, devaluation of empathy – but gun violence involves guns! At some point we have to address the guns!

    I think was most breaks my heart about gun enthusiasts is the bleak view of humanity it requires. Hell the bleak view of men it requires, because as the stats say men are more likely to kill and be killed. I feel it is related to rape culture in a way, in that people would rather keep the status quo with all the problems it entails rather than address the need to fundamentally change a facet of society to make people safer. There is a weird sort of privilege at work as well, as I primarily see white male gun rights enthusiasts with white women being the next biggest group, despite the fact that minorities are more likely to be killed by guns.

    I can’t parse it all out, but yeah… gun rights debates gets me about as riled up as abortion debates now.

  • Amie

    I agree with Jemand.
    If a woman uses a gun to protect herself from an abusive partner and kills that partner, she may be charged with murder and the onus will be on her to explain why she did it in self-defense, which puts the abused woman under more stress and trauma.
    Our little boys need to be taught that real strength lies in kindness and compassion to others.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    Yes to Jemand and Ember. Guns aren’t a quick easy fix to volatile situations. Even if a gun is used as clear cut self defense there is a legal proceeding to follow. An abuse victim who shot her abuser still has to trust a judge/jury to see it as self-defense. You can’t just shoot someone and call it a day- this isn’t the old west.

  • Kate

    It amazes me how simple some people imagine it must be to shoot an attacker, especially considering that abuse or sexual violence is typically perpetrated by someone close to the victim.
    I’ve often thought about what I could have done differently to protect myself when I was raped by my former boyfriend. I only struggled against him with my arms and my legs. When I did get an arm free, I pushed against his shoulder and chest, trying to shove him off of me. In that moment, I could have instead stabbed him in the throat or eye to make him recoil and give myself a chance to run. I could have bitten him for the same effect. If I had, building a case against him would have been much easier. But for all of the sexual and psychological violence he committed against me, he was someone I cared about. I did not and still do not wish violence or injury on him.
    If I couldn’t bring myself to hurt him with the limited methods available to me, how much more difficult would it be (in the unlikely scenario of immediate access to a gun) for someone to shoot an abusive lover or relative knowing how likely it would be to kill or permanently maim? It seems that often one of the most powerful advantages abusers have is that their victims care about them.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    I’m still trying to sort my thoughts on this subject into something coherent. I agree with all the previous commenters who point out that acting in self-defense doesn’t guarantee an acquittal. Based on what I’ve read previously (I’m afraid I don’t have any links off the top of my head), self-defense can be an especially difficult legal defense for women, because when women are successful at defending themselves it’s usually because they used lethal force, and juries don’t always think that’s a proportionate response to the situation. And based on everything I’ve read by self-defense experts, you need to end a fight really quickly if you want to survive, especially if your assailant is stronger than you. For most women, that means killing or severely injuring their assailant. And that can result in a murder conviction. The advice of gun advocates and the realities of the justice system don’t seem to coincide.

    I do keep a fencing foil under my bed, though. :)

  • TKB

    I’ve spent the vast majority of my life against guns, largely soaked in gun control arguments, reaction, and rhetoric. Currently, I’m a woman living with a significant other who is pro-gun rights and has a concealed carry permit which he uses for self-defense. He has introduced me to the ‘gun-nut’ arguments, reaction, and rhetoric.

    I’ve asked him time and time again why he feels the need to carry at all – he tells me that he would rather have it on his person and not need it, than to be without it and need it. In response, all I can really offer is empathy — I’ve been mugged before, early in the morning on a Sunday and it one of the shittiest feelings in the world even when I know it’s not my fault. My parents were terrified and gifted some mace to me for Christmas that year. I would be lying to say I would never consider carrying. Even though I should not have been robbed and ideally, it should not have happened, it still did. A crime was committed against me because I was a target – a well-dressed woman with a purse going to her car. They never found the man who robbed me, though he gained nothing of value beyond a personal journal – easily replaced items and nothing worth killing over. But in the back of my mind, there is that nagging worry that asks, “What if it had been worse?”

    And so I consider my options.

    It was a a rude awakening to the idea that, what the world should be (the de jure) – that people should not assault or rob me, that they should ask consent before initiating any intimacy – and what the reality is (the de facto) – that people are going to do it anyway — can’t always be relegated to a fallible system, exactly the points which Harris addresses regarding law and the police. That shootings are given more free-range in a gun-free zone, that any weapon is given as much free-range as its physical limitations permit in a weapon-free zone. You could say I’ve become a ‘gun-nut’ by that philosophy alone. In learning further about guns from my SO, I find I’m becoming comfortable with them very slowly as I learn more and consider the arguments of each side. Knowledge, in this regard, is empowering and takes away from danger in addition to the dangerous mystique.

    Being introduced to guns, I’ve come to realize that I have been afraid of them and that they have been elevated to almost an untouchable level in my mind. A conversation with a friend of mine who isn’t pro-gun in the slightest made this clear to me by telling me his thoughts on guns in just a few sentence: “It’s just another machine to me. You learn to use it right or you pay the price.”

    The NRA is right in that it is just a tool, but gun-control advocates are equally right in that it is an terrifyingly effective tool. I think gun control advocates are correct and consistent in limiting the number of rounds to a magazine so as to put a cap on the limits of that effectiveness. We have similar caps and control for food and drugs. Gun control arguments that a gunman can be heroically tackled in that vulnerable moment of reloading sounds about as plausible as some NRA heroic figure stepping in to shoot the same gunman and save the day. In both accounts, the argument relies on the likelihood of some anonymous hero stepping in – armed or not, it doesn’t matter. One or the other happens, even if the heroes turn out to be the police.

    “It seems that in pretty much every case, the presence of guns positively correlates with injury or death.”

    Of course they do. That’s what they’re designed for. My question is how and in what context do these interactions take place. They don’t happen in a vacuum. I’m not concerned about suicides – people acting on themselves – as much as I am about other people acting on other people. I can’t control other people’s actions nor am I responsible for them; I can only react and act.

    With regard to male violence, I ask many of my male friends why their part of the population is so disproportionately violent – they rattle off the standard physiological answer of more testosterone and evolutionary pre-disposition. It’s natural. Men are more predisposed to crimes of passion. What flabbergasts me is that, as moral, rational-thinking adults, they know better than to act in line with what is ‘natural’, to act on the impulse of a ‘crime of passion’. They. Know. Better. And yet it happens at a disproportionate rate regardless.

    And I know better, too. Which is why I am doing my extensive research into this topic before I even think of owning one or moving in that direction. However, I want to keep my options open. (I’ve found that http://www.corneredcat.com is a great resource for this going over the legal aspects in addition to just basic safety, training, and the culture itself.) I own a lot of things that could kill me if used improperly – a car, bleach, rope, knives, personal prescriptions, etc. The list goes on. People do a lot of stupid things and kill undeserving individuals when they are ignorant, unsafe, and generally disregard the responsibility that entails the use of any weapon. I am not responsible for them.

    Currently, I don’t think owning a gun is a right, but a privilege, a responsibility, an option allowed in the U.S. For Switzerland and Israel, the oft-most cited ‘gun havens’ have a high visibility of guns, they also have stringent rules associated with them, including mandatory training courses to be taken every few years, depositories for ammo and guns when not in military use, extensive and thorough mental, intellectual, and physical examinations. We could learn a helluva lot from this. Who do we allow to have this privilege?

    I’m still on the fence about owning one and I think the U.S. is currently at a no return point given the ubiquity of guns in this culture. And if it ever came down to it, I would be have to be very decided, able but not eager to exercise that privilege, and be certain that I would have the necessary legal knowledge and personal judgment to make the right decision if I ever have to try and fight or protect myself. Nevertheless, my instinct is to run away and try to de-escalate tension, before I ever try to confront.

    It’s still a puzzle I’m trying to piece together.

    • Rovin’ Rockhound

      You are much more likely to be shot during a mugging if you have a gun. I come from a country where crime is rampant and have had several friends and acquaintances killed in the last 15 years during muggings. All of them were known to carry guns and probably drew them (one for sure – the girlfriend was also shot but survived to tell the tale). I also know lots of people who were mugged (and had guns pointed at them) but survived because they complied. Most muggers have no intention of killing you – the gun is just there for intimidation. Unless the mugger is 20 feet away when he first threatens you and you are the fastest draw in the west, having a gun is bad for you.

      But here’s a study to support my anecdotal evidence.
      http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2008.143099?prevSearch=%2210.2105%2FAJPH.2008.143099%22&searchHistoryKey=

      • TKB

        Thank you for the link and study. It’s well and good to hear arguments and anecdotes, but solid studies always make me feel a little better. If you’ve any more in depth such as this, I’d love to read them and consider their merits as well.

        One thing that bothers me continuously is that rigorous, in-depth studies, at least from what I have tried to find, are few and far between on both sides. I’d love to be able to find more direct sources for many European laws and policies on gun control as well.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    So tired of uninformed or ignorant men talking about how a gun will keep you from being raped. Pray tell, how does one protect yourself with your gun if you are more likely to be raped by someone you know and trust rather than a stranger? Does one sleep with their gun?

  • machintelligence

    A male voice here, but the topic is so complicated that I’m not sure it is possible to do it justice in a comment. I will limit myself to why males are more violent. Good background reading includes Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene” and Steve Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” and “Better Angles of Our Nature” . The whole male patriarchy/male violence problem relates to the differential parental investment in males vs females. Males have basically two reproductive strategies: be a “sperm donor” and impregnate as many women as possible, leaving them to care for the children; or go the monogamy (or polygyny) route and assist in the rearing of children. Women are pretty much precluded from the minimal investment option by their biological makeup. They need to carry the embryo to term and then nurse for a few years until the child can manage solid food. With modern technology and infant formula, this restriction is eased somewhat, but the bulk of parental investment is still on the shoulders of the female. Typically this results in mating being a female choice model. Evolutionarily males would then have to compete for females by display or territoriality — which they do. Some of the territory displays can be violent, but from an evolutionary point of view, that is not a real problem. Males are expendable, and losing at the mating game is the same as death from the point of view of the genes. (This is, of course, an over simplification.) Violent behavior can be an advantage for males.

    Females have a different perspective on the mating game. They can choose a “sperm donor” male and have no help in rearing the child or pick a monogamous type who might lack some of the advantages of the first type. Since all behavioral traits have a heritability component of .25 on up, picking the first type male increases the chances that her male offspring will follow in their father’s footsteps, and try to impregnate as many females as possible. This could be an advantage to her genes, since her sons carry half of them. Choosing the second strategy will probably result in more surviving offspring, since there are two parents around to raise the children. There is a trade off, but violence has no advantage for the female.

    There are some complications, though: dominant males can seek to restrict the choices of the females, and since they are the larger, stronger and aggressive of the sexes, they can be successful.
    Also a problem is the fact that a female might bond with a “good provider” type of male and then have children from one of the “sperm donors”. This is a disaster from the good provider’s point of view as he has all of the parental investment and no genes passed to the next generation to show for it. This leads to extreme jealousy and eunuch harem guards.

    This all leads to the conclusion that males are going to be the more violent of the sexes; single young males especially so. We can predict that having a family will also substantially reduce violent tendencies, except in the case of cuckoldry.

    I don’t have any great solutions to this problem, but according to Steve Pinker, having women around who are capable of interacting with men and making choices, and not having an excess of young males in the population are calming influences on male violence. A reduction in the value of personal honor also seems to be a characteristic of less violent societies.

  • Anat

    Mike the Mad Biologist also responded to Sam Harris. His point: Had the victim of the Steubenville gang-rape been armed she’d have ended up worse as that gun would have been used against her. And had a family member used a gun to avenge her it would have harmed the prosecution of the original crime.

  • http://wayofcats.com WereBear

    Why is violence so overwhelmingly male? I think that’s the human sex that gets told THAT’S how they are supposed to solve problems.

  • Azura

    I know for a fact that if there had been a gun in my house when I was growing up, I’d be dead. My first attempted suicide was at 11 years old, and I didn’t stop trying until I was 15. Not to mention I was suicidal because of an abusive mother that I could certainly imagine would’ve shot me if the option were there (she had post-partum and rage/stress management issues). I know @TKB, you say you don’t care about suicides since they’re acting on themselves, but mine was one case amongst 3 or 4 known to me at the time. If any of us had guns, we would be dead. One of us was picked on enough that I could even see a school-shooting occurring. Grief, terror, and worthlessness do strange things to people, and if our parents had guns I at least for sure would be dead.

  • http://customers.hbci.com/~soupfour/guns.htm Nathan

    I couldn’t figure out how to get links to work in my comments, so put a link to an html version of this in the ‘website’ field.
    After the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed Kasandra Perkins and then the Sandy Hook shooting, I considered the issue of guns, gender and violence. Although I haven’t changed my conclusion, it will be impossible to think about these things as a detached observer after the murder of one of my high school classmates by her husband in St. Paul last weekend. I didn’t know her well in high school and hadn’t seen her since graduation, but she was one of those outgoing, friendly people in a small-town school and it is hitting me harder than I would have thought.
    I know that it’s nothing new for men to abuse or even prey on women with or without guns. After reading the book “Devil in the White City” – recalling events from the early 1890s – I wonder how many other men have gotten away with things on the scale of Dr. H.H. Holmes. He certainly didn’t need or use a gun during his reign as a serial killer.
    It seems like the arguments deflecting blame from guns can be summed up as more guns, more God, or more of both. And we need more guns, God or both because we are basically angry, uncontrollable people at heart bent on killing whether or not we have a gun. And we’re told that guns are just a tool. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.
    Sam Harris seems to be recommending more guns based on viewpoint that I think is flawed in a way similar to my own misunderstanding of evolution when I was growing up. I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around how a cat turned into a dog, because once one cat turned into a dog there wouldn’t be any other dogs to mate with and the new species would die out. So evolution couldn’t happen, right? It wasn’t until I educated myself and realized it’s populations that evolve into different species and not individual animals that suddenly change that things ‘clicked.’
    So it makes more sense to me to look at the culture and society as a whole instead of isolating each instance of gun death or mass shooting. Certainly, in an individual instance, a gun in the hand of the target may have helped save a life. But by the same token, taking the gun out of the hand of the offender may not have prevented a death. An additional gun may have stopped the Sandy Hook tragedy or kept Kasandra Perkins alive or kept my classmate alive. But just because we take the gun away from Jovan Belcher or Adam Lanza or my classmate’s husband it doesn’t guarantee a happy end to the situation. The one view I saw over and over in editorials and on Facebook was that given he was a football player, Jovan Belcher would have found a way to kill his girlfriend so it didn’t matter whether he had a gun or not.
    I would argue that, as a society, having more guns available isn’t helping. And I think I’m backed up by studies indicating that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. Just in the past two weeks I have read in the news of a man shooting his granddaughter in the middle of the night because he thought she was an intruder and a 4-year-old shooting his 2-year-old brother with a loaded gun found under his parents’ bed. The granddaughter survived, the 2-year-old did not. So are all these guns for self-defense worth these accidents?
    If more guns are the answer, then why don’t places with restricted or lower gun ownership like Japan, Canada, Australia and Europe have murdered people on every street corner?
    I can use the same countries as examples against the ‘more God’ argument, too. Why does India, China, Japan, Australia and Europe have lower rates of gun deaths if those countries and regions have either moved away from Christianity or never been Christian to begin with?
    And the idea that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” and “guns are just tools” seems patently ridiculous to me. There are guns designed to hunt and there are guns designed to shoot people. Certainly you can use shotguns and bolt-action rifles and even a bow to kill people, but you certainly couldn’t do so on the scale of Sandy Hook or Columbine or Aurora. Handguns and AR-15s may be tools, but they are tools designed for one thing: shooting people. If there are other tools available that do anything similar with anything nearing the efficiency, then I’d want those banned, too.
    I wonder at the mindset of those who advocate wide-spread gun ownership. Do we really have so much to fear that we need to own a gun? I know I don’t. I don’t own anything that’s worth giving my life for or worth taking a robber’s life. How about my family? I want to protect them, but I also know having a handgun in the home dramatically increases the risk of accidental shooting for those same family members. And, taking the wider view, it’s proven more likely to be a family member or acquaintance inflicting the abuse, injury or death.
    I wonder about the morality of it from a Christian’s viewpoint. Are they going to get to heaven and be waved through because the person they shot and/or killed was a result of self-defense? Do Christians fear death so much that they need to delay Heaven? Do Christians really value their possessions so much to delay their “treasures laid up in Heaven?”

  • Sue Blue

    I’ve been asking this exact question, with the same points, repeatedly on Hemant’s blog, on two stories on Richard Dawkins’ Foundation blog, and on the “Unreasonable Faith” blog – and no one’s responded. It’s been ignored, like people either can’t believe I brought it up, or they think I’m some sort of troll. I pointed out that women, even trained, gun-owning-and-gun-loving women, aren’t grabbing their guns, cramming hundreds of rounds into their magazines, and heading out to shopping malls, theaters and schools whenever they have a psychotic break or major depression or untreated schizophrenia…or are just sick and tired of all the bullshit and abuse they’ve had to put up with in both the public and private sphere. It’s just obvious to even a casual observer that men are much more likely to resort to gun violence and mass violence when stressed. My point was not that women are somehow morally superior, or more timid than, men – just that we need to examine the reasons why this situation exists. Maybe I just came across as a “man-hating feminazi”.

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  • http://www.wemagine.fr Mervin Sassman

    Ce site me permet de découvrir de nouvelles choses. Encore merci


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