What’s more dangerous, guns or sex?
Obviously, the context matters. But with a total abortion plan proposed in my state, I want to revisit an old blog post about how we conceptualize control and regulation of supposedly harmful things.
In one of my blog posts at MySexProfessor.com, I explored some of the overlapping areas between gun culture and rape culture. I argued that the question of gun control cannot be a neutral issue in a country where domestic violence and rape are so prevalent and skewed in such a gendered way. I’d like to expand on some of those thoughts here, and I’ll try not to cover too much of the same ground.
One concept I’d really like to bring to the table here is harm reduction, or the idea that humans will always engage in potentially risky/harmful/dangerous behaviors regardless of their legality, so we might as well do what we can to minimize those risks in a realistic manner. I’m generally a fan of harm reduction tactics when it comes to substance use, sex work, STIs, and abortion. People are going to do these things, so it’s in our best interests to make them as safe as possible. Does that mean shouting from the rooftops about how great they are, and pressuring everyone to do/try them? Not necessarily. But it does involve removing layers of shame and criminalization that prevent people from accessing adequate health care, or being able to interact with law enforcement to get help when they need it.
So, how might we apply the concept of harm reduction to guns? I think it looks like acknowledging that people are going to get their hands on guns in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons, and thus we need to start from that point and move forward with sensible policies. However, unlike some of the sex-related examples above (particularly abortion, STIs, and sex work), there is not a culture of shame surrounding guns. Rather, there is a culture of glorification. That means our approach, from a cultural perspective, has to be a little different.
This also ties in a standard pro-gun argument, that the criminals will always get their hands on guns, so civilians should be armed too. I think that a harm reduction approach would demand more accountability, though, and further state that since people are always acquiring guns, we should aim to make it safer through education and responsibility. That might look like the mandatory firearm training that other countries have… though I’m somewhat skeptical about America’s ability or willingness to implement universal education about, well, anything (*cough* sex education *cough*). Similarly, a harm reduction approach to guns might implement restrictions on certain kinds of access, as Connecticut did here, with results that pointed to lower gun deaths. Is it a perfect approach that solves all problems? No. But from a harm reduction stance, it doesn’t have to be, it just has to be a step in the right direction, a move aimed at protecting more people from the worst kinds of violence.
The other concept I’d like to expand on here, which I didn’t touch on in my original blog post, is that of regulation and licensing. Access to abortions – and even contraception – is highly regulated. Some regulation is undoubtedly good, to make sure that the pills and products being purchased are safe, and that the procedures being performed are done by trained professionals.
One of my friends drew a parallel to the auto industry and licensing drivers: they’re not trying to ban licensing, because they know that licensing drivers contributes to their business rather than drying it up. I wonder why the firearms industry doesn’t think in similar terms? Why it might not take pride in setting high standards for gun owners to aspire to, so that they could afford its undoubtedly high quality products? It’s worth mentioning, too, that calls for regulation are very rarely calls for outright banning – well, at least when it comes to guns. The same, sadly, cannot be said of abortions.
Somehow, in complete contrast to guns, sex topics are framed are being illegal or highly restricted because engaging with them is “against your best interests.” I discuss this in detail in my blog post about sex work being illegal in part because people are supposedly incapable of determining whether something is harmful to them or not. Abortions are similarly restricted, with needless waiting periods and more limits on accessibility, because apparently women don’t give any deep thought to what happens their bodies and need more guidance.
One might envision an argument wherein acquiring guns is not always in someone’s best interests. That would take quite a bit of mental gymnastics, however, as the idea of not having instant access to guns is illegible in contemporary American society. I think it says a lot that it’s hard to even imagine an American culture that is not replete with firearms.
I don’t have answers, unfortunately. My role as a scholar and writer is to provoke thought and discussion, to encourage people to weigh reasoned arguments and evidence. Others have provided round-ups of studies, and evaluations of arguments, and I’ll direct people to those if there’s a desire for it. For now, though, I’d ask you to consider: what might a harm reduction approach to guns look like? And is there a way to talk about regulation that doesn’t fall back on the slippery slop argument that regulation is but the first step to banning something? Because if that’s always the case, we should all be up in arms about the regulations imposed on driving, on alcohol and substance use, and, yes, on various sexuality-related practices ranging from comprehensive sex education to zoning-imposed bans on strip clubs to abortions to gay marriage.