The Femo: New directions for gun control debate

by Ashleigh McEvoy

Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed four gun control measures. The committee approved along party lines — with all eight Republicans voting no and all 10 Democrats voting yes — a bill that would extend background checks to private gun sales. The Obama administration has estimated that many as 40 percent of gun sales go unscreened under current law — mostly sales between private individuals. Also passed was a bill that would increase grant money for school security and that would draw from the Justice and Education Departments to form a task force on the subject. This bill has enjoyed bipartisan support.

The committee voted once again Mar. 14 along party lines to approve the controversial legislation championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would renew a ban on assault weapons. The Assault Weapons Ban — passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 — expired in 2004. This new bill would outlaw ownership of certain weapons and prohibit magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. It would leave exempt from the ban 2,258 rifles and shotguns that Feinstein has argued should be more than sufficient for hunting, sporting, and protection purposes.

Finally, the committee endorsed a bill that would heighten penalties for those convicted of so-called “straw purchases” — when an individual buys a gun on behalf of someone who is forbidden to own one. NBC reports that a recent study has found that 30,000 to 40,000 straw purchases are attempted per year. All four measures will proceed to the floor under the discretion of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), but it is believed that gun control legislation has an uphill battle to fight, particularly in the House of Representatives.

A thought-provoking spin on the gun control debate was highlighted by liberal political analyst Zerlina Maxwell’s appearance on Fox’s Sean Hannity Show. The segment addressed the role of guns in women’s self-defense. Is a woman safer if she carries a gun? Can guns be used effectively to prevent an attack or rape? Is this a legitimate argument against strict gun control legislation? If we curtail the public’s access to weapons, are we leaving women vulnerable? Are we ignoring the needs of domestic violence survivors, future victims or those living in less safe areas?

In the segment, Maxwell pushes back against this position, stating, “I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Don’t put it on me to prevent the rape.”

She has since received a slew of the most hateful, disgraceful messages one can imagine — full of racial slurs, death and rape threats, and degrading sexist comments. These messages — including tweets and Facebook messages — are inexcusable and made even more revolting by the fact that Maxwell acknowledged being a rape survivor herself in the Fox segment. My heart goes out to Zerlina Maxwell, and I can only hope that the individuals responsible for such hatred take a moment to seriously reconsider their despicable behavior.

Nevertheless, her commentary offers an intriguing angle on the gun control debate, one perhaps not much discussed. To me, the answer seems clear: Though it is a well-intentioned potential fix, providing women with guns for self-defense could go horribly awry. Who is to say that the attackers themselves would not gain control of the weapons during the scuffle? The woman could be injured, and the gun could fall into the wrong hands, be stolen, or be used improperly. Though as a woman I understand a desire for protection, I agree with Maxwell that the onus should fall on rapists not to rape. I believe in striving for a culture that strongly condemns violence against women, rather than injecting more guns into the system. To me, such an approach seems to be a Band-Aid, failing to attack the root of the problem: gender inequality and systemic violence.