Bullets are not a safety plan

June 14, 2013: I can’t believe it’s the six-month anniversary of Newtown. I took a moment to read this blog I wrote a few days after the tragic event. It feels as relevant to me today as it did 6 months ago. The conversations are the same and I feel frustrated and stuck. We simply have to move forward.  

Like many of you, I’ve been sad for days, affected by the horrible events in Newtown. I haven’t been able to talk much about it. One because I have an almost 4-year-old who just doesn’t need to process this, and two, because I can’t be very articulate when I am a sobbing mess. But yesterday something happened that made me speak up. A college friend posted on Facebook that she refused to live in fear, and was planning to get her concealed weapons permit.

I was a bit shocked to hear this from this particular friend. Although I grew up in the South where we have lots of experience around guns, this friend didn’t seem like one to go for the firearms. I was clearly wrong. And I was immediately scared for her and her family. I begged her to do her research and let her know that statistics show that owning a gun does not make you safer. In fact, areas with more guns have more murders. Combine that with the fact that most gun-related homicides are not found justifiable in the eyes of the law (that self-defense plea you were banking on isn’t all that solid), and it seems clear that having guns around makes you less safe.

But what about the fear? How are we supposed to feel powerful and able to protect our families? After a tragedy like this, it’s hard to reconcile the senselessness and sit with the fear. We want to fix it. Be bigger and stronger than it.

I know that a lot of survivors of abuse feel this way every day. Firearms play a big part in the lethality of domestic violence situations. In Washington State, gun-man-cardthe majority of domestic violence homicides are committed with firearms. Domestic violence victims are five times as likely to be killed by their abuser if that abuser owns a gun.

Gun violence has something else in common with domestic violence: most of the perpetrators are men. Why? This ad pretty much sums that up. Assault rifles are glorified in the media and marketed to men. This is a real ad for a Bushmaster assault rifle that says “Consider your man card reissued.” Feel like you lost your man card? Going out and using this should make you feel better! That’s what this ad is essentially saying. We have to change the course of this gun toting ship we are on. Something has to give. For the sake of the people we love and the communities we live in.

Stand your ground?

Marissa Alexander fired a “warning shot” into the wall of her abusive husband’s house because she feared for her safety. She was charged with 3 felony counts of assault. She argued that she was protected by Florida’s “stand –your- ground” law, but the judge and jury disagreed. She was arrested the day of the incident and is now serving 20 years in prison.

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Alexander

People often say things like, “there ought to be tougher domestic violence laws,” or “why doesn’t she just call the police,” or “she should get herself a gun for protection.” Marissa’s story is the sad reality of why those things don’t always work. And it’s exactly why those of us who do this work get so frustrated with that kind of advice.

It’s pretty clear that Marissa Alexander was abused. Even her husband admits that he was abusive on multiple occasions. She had good reason to fear this man. And she was angry. Apparently, this anger is what got her convicted. The jury couldn’t reconcile that she could be angry AND fearful when she fired that warning shot. The lack of understanding about domestic violence in this case is shameful.

But this story also highlights how even laws that seem clear, can be interpreted in different ways. Even though no one was hurt; even though she had been threatened; even though she thought she had the right to “stand her ground;” Marissa was charged and convicted of felony assault.

The systems that we have in place to address domestic violence do not always work. We cannot rely on the police to always do the right thing. We cannot rely on a jury to serve up justice when they don’t understand the dynamics of domestic violence. The problem is messy and the solution is not cut and dry. Yes, improving our domestic violence laws is a good thing, but what’s really going to help women like Marissa is for us all to realize domestic violence is our problem to solve―not the police, not the justice system, not the women being abused.

Gun love

My parents met at a gun club. I grew up in Georgia where guns are everywhere. I could get to at least one (loaded) at any given time in the house I grew up in. I played with them and showed them to my friends. Nothing catastrophic happened. I (and my parents) are stupid lucky.

Others have not been so lucky. Bullets have been flying around western Washington lately: an eight year old accidentally shot in her classroom, gun fights in south Seattle, children killed because they were playing with guns. The high profile shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida has shone a light on the controversial stand-your-ground laws in many states. This “I have the right to fight back” attitude combined with easy access to guns is obviously a deadly combo.

You could argue that the world we live in is dangerous, and it is up to us to protect ourselves. As an advocate for victims of abuse, I am keenly aware that danger (even in your own home) is a reality for many families. I can understand the been-knocked-down-scared-threatened-too-many-times emotional roller coaster that has some folks turning to guns to feel powerful again, to feel safe. I also know that the majority of domestic violence homicides in Washington State are committed with firearms, and whether or not those who were killed are the victim (as are most) or the abusive partner, this act still ruins more than one life. Nobody wins.

Do guns really make us safer, or does it just make those who carry feel safer? Are more guns in our communities a recipe for safety? I’m not convinced.