year ago it would have been shocking news: a governor publicly telling women to get a concealed handgun permit so that they can defend themselves against a serial killer. Hardly politically correct advice. Yet, in this post-9/11 world, no overwhelming calls are being made for a retraction of the governor's statements. Contrast this with the typical recommendation that women behave passively or simply make sure that their doors are locked.
Louisiana's governor, Mike Foster, last week pointed to the undeniable: Police, while extremely important in fighting crime, simply can't be there all the time. People should "assist" the police in searching for the killer, but "you have a right to get a [concealed] gun permit. . . . if you know how [to use a gun] and you have a situation with some fruitcake running around, like they've got right now, it sure can save you a lot of grief."
The governor's advice is excellent, yet seldom heard. Despite all the free suggestions offered in the media, the U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey has shown for decades that resistance with a gun is by far the safest course of action when one is confronted by a criminal. The probability of serious injury from a criminal confrontation is 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than resisting with a gun.
Men also benefit, but the benefit is smaller because there is, on average, a smaller difference in strength between violent criminals, who are almost always men, and male victims than for female victims. For men, passive behavior is 1.4 times more likely to result in serious injury than resisting with a gun.
In my own research, I examine county crime rates for the entire U.S. from 1977 to 1998. Murder rates decline when either sex carries a concealed handgun, but the effect is particularly pronounced for women. An additional woman carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for women by three to four times more than an additional armed man reduces the murder rate for men.
Cases where women use guns to save their lives and the lives of their families occur all the time, though they are rarely given any news coverage. Take a few cases just during the last week of July:
Nashville, Tennessee. A man broke into a woman's home at 3:15 A.M. on a Sunday morning. In what police described as "a violent home invasion" the woman stopped the attacker by shooting him in the leg.
Reno, Nevada. A maintenance man began punching and slapping a female nightclub owner after she complained about the quality of his repairs. She first tried unsuccessfully to defend herself with a knife. When the man continued his attack, the woman, a concealed-handgun permit holder, pulled a handgun from her purse and fired a warning shot. The man fled the scene.
Albuquerque, New Mexico. A woman in her 30s was awakened at 1:30 A.M. on a Saturday "by a flashlight pointed toward her face and with a man straddling her. he threatened to kill her." She struggled and was able to get a hold of a gun, fatally shooting the attacker three times in the chest.
Macon, Georgia. A 67-year-old woman stopped two men from robbing her by pulling a shotgun on them. When they saw the gun the robbers ran out of the store.
Many women live in fear of crime, but as these stories indicate locking yourself in your home doesn't guarantee safety. In all these cases, there was simply not sufficient time to call the police and wait for them to arrive. How else could these women have handled men who were much stronger then they are?
Some people find it hard to believe that, as research shows, there are two million defensive-gun uses each year. After all, if these events were really happening, wouldn't we hear about them on the news? Gun crimes inundate the news, but when was the last time you saw a story on the national evening news (or even the local news) about a citizen using her gun to stop a crime?
Unfortunately, the advice offered by Governor Foster is rarely heard. Yet, in the wake of September 11, the usual "if you simply give attackers what they want everything will be O.K." attitude is being seriously questioned. For some, that rethinking couldn't come soon enough.