Testosterone and Gun Control

Claire Joly: contributor to webzine Le Quebecois Libre
Marie Latourelle: economics student
Maryse Martin: business student
Karen Selick: lawyer and columnist for Canadian Lawyer magazine

As women and as individuals, we want to voice our opposition to gun control and to the sneering and sexist diatribe by Pierrette Venne in Le Devoir on February 6. First of all, objections to the prohibitionist laws in Canada do not come from a few members of the “stronger sex,” with “an excess of testosterone.” Second, if, as Ms Venne argues, the aim of C-68 is to protect the public, it misses its target completely.

Contrary to Ms Venne’s assertion, fewer restrictions on bearing arms would not lead to a society dominated a “cowboy mentality.” On the contrary: in the 31 American states where it is now legal to carry a gun, only 2 to 5% of eligible residents chose to apply for a licence. This small number of citizens, who are not more irresponsible or incapable than the politicians they elect, are enough to form a significant deterrent to violent criminals. Look at Vermont, where any adult resident who has not been found guilty of a crime has the right to carry a concealed firearm, without requiring the government’s permission. A number of Canadians will have noticed that people are not gunning one another down in the streets of this really rather peaceful state. More generally, the violent crime rate is 81% higher in the American states where bearing arms is more stringently regulated.

Like others before him, economist John Lott proves in a major econometric study (More Guns, Less Crime, University of Chicago Press, 1998) that the availability of firearms prevents more crimes than it causes accidents. It also appears that the availability of firearms has no effect on the suicide rate. When people, especially young people, do not have access to a gun, they find other ways of killing themselves: hanging, for instance. To illustrate this fact, we do not need to refer to any American publication, because the staff at the Conseil permanent de la jeunesse [“Youth Council”] did so brilliantly without meaning to or realizing they had done it, in a research paper entitled Le Point sur le délinquance et le suicide chez les jeunes (Quebec City, 1995).

Lott’s study also teaches us that if gun control regulations had been liberalized throughout the United States in 1992, some 1,500 murders and 4,000 rapes could have been prevented in that year. This is an interesting point. Generally speaking, gun controls are detrimental primarily to the people who are most vulnerable to violence and the least able to defend themselves in a physical struggle, namely women and the elderly.

Paradoxically, and for our safety (they claim), our elected officials are trying hard to deprive law-abiding citizens of their right to defend themselves. (It should be noted that self-defence does not include the right to execute justice oneself after the fact.) Canada’s laws have reached such a ludicrous point that it is now forbidden to carry pepper spray to protect oneself against a human aggressor, on the grounds that such spray could be used to commit a crime. This relatively mild means of defence has been a prohibited weapon in Canada for more than 20 years. The RCMP, on the other hand, uses it enthusiastically to disperse demonstrators.

What is a woman supposed to do if she fears for her safety or that of her children? Are the police going to provide a bodyguard to every woman who requests one? Of course not. What are we supposed to do if our work requires us to be out late at night? Safe in her well guarded Parliament, does Ms Venne expect women to arm themselves with rolling pins? Should they get used to the idea of being raped and accept it with a smile?

Even if the law allowed it, not all women would choose to carry a revolver in their handbag or keep one in their bedside table. It is every woman’s decision whether she feels threatened to such a degree that this is the only way to ensure her safety. But one thing is certain: women cannot rely on the state and its police to protect her from a sexual predator who attacks her in an underground parking garage, or from a violent ex-spouse who enters her home armed with a carving knife.

Women are quite able to see to their own defence, as long as the law does not transform them into criminals if they take effective measures to do so. In Canada, the gun control legislation of 1977 and 1991 has deprived us of this right. And yet, contrary to conventional wisdom, criminological studies show that self-defence with a firearm is effective (see for example Carol Ruth Silver and Don B. Kates, “Self-Defense, Hand-Gun Ownership, and the Independence of Women in a Violent, Sexist Society,” in Don B. Kates, Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out, North River Press, 1979).

It is unacceptable that self-righteous people who claim a monopoly on the truth should strip men and women of their dignity at the same time as their right to defend themselves, whether by practising kung fu, carrying pepper spray or arming themselves with a revolver — whatever they consider appropriate to guarantee their safety in circumstances that only they can know and understand.