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Anti-gun myths harm women

By Wendy McElroy
web posted May 6, 2002

It is rare for a prestigious institution to nakedly compromise its research integrity to promote a political agenda. Yet this is what the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) does in an anti-gun press release (April 17) that trumpets its recent study on the murder of women.

"70 per cent of all women killed in industrialized nations are American:" this is the first line of the release. The second line reads, "Link between household firearm ownership levels and female homicide rates." Both statements are highlighted in bold italics.

Buried in the text is an admission that the "study cannot prove causation": meaning, it cannot and does not establish a link between guns and the murder of women. David Hemenway, the study's primary author, concedes further, "slightly less than half of all American females ...murdered are killed with a firearm."

But these concessions come only after the reader has been duly alarmed by statistics such as "84 per cent of all female firearm homicides" occur in America. And they are quickly followed by Hemenway's assurance that other studies link guns to a woman's risk of homicide. Lest anyone question whether guns could help a woman's self-defense, Hemenway concludes by stating that gun are "often bought for protection" but, clearly, this tactic fails to do "a good job" in "protecting American women."

The very title under which the study was published (Spring 2002, Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association) politicizes it: "Firearm Availability and Female Homicide Victimization Rates among 25 Populous High Income Countries." The title draws the link that the HSPH press release oh-so quietly grants cannot be constructed.

The suggested causality between guns and dead American women has not been lost on the media. In reporting on the study, for example, Reuters noted that American homicide rates were closely tied to gun ownership and quoted statistics from the anti-gun Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence site. Another news report ended with a link to the Brady Campaign as a suggestion of what readers could "do" about the homicide rate.

No one seems to question glaring inconsistencies between the study's findings and its clear but not-quite-stated conclusions. For instance, of the nations surveyed, Israel had the lowest female homicide rate. Yet it is common knowledge that Israel has a higher gun ownership rate than America.

Nor is the media comparing this study to other international data. Professor John R. Lott Jr. -- author of "More Guns, Less Crime" -- spent years researching the claim that high murder rates resulted from gun ownership. He concluded, "There is no international evidence backing this up. The Swiss, New Zealanders and Finns all own guns as frequently as Americans, yet in 1995 Switzerland had a murder rate 40 per cent lower than Germany's, and New Zealand had one lower than Australia's."

Superficial analysis shows that the study's quasi-conclusions aren't even consistent with data from within the United States alone. In the anthology "Liberty for Women," Richard Stevens -- co-author of "Dial 911 and Die" -- compared data from sources such as the Bureau of Justice. His essay "Disarming Women" found that, in 1973, American civilians owned approximately 122 million firearms and the homicide rate was 9.4 per 100,000 population. In 1992, American civilians owned over 220 million firearms and the homicide rate was 8.5. Over a twenty-year period, firearms almost doubled while the homicide rate fell by 10 percent.

There is no question that the HSPH findings are frightening: some 4,000 American females are murdered each year. But why is the data being stated in such a manner as to terrify women into an anti-gun stance? An honest study that admits its inability to draw causal links would simply state facts.

Women should be frightened by the high murder rate because they need to take self-defense into their own hands, including a gun if they so choose. Women need organizations like the Portland Firearms Training Team which has offered free Firearms Safety and Training courses to battered women in its area. When a newspaper article described how five battered women had been killed by abusers with guns, the Team vowed that other abused women would not be left defenseless.

Second Amendment Sisters (SAS) came to the same conclusion. In conjunction with the Patrick Henry Center, SAS has formed the Virginia-based Patriettes. Its press release (March 12th) stands in stark contrast with the one issued by HSPH. The Patriettes declares, "In response to the endless parade of the raped, the mugged, the stabbed and the murdered...the Patriettes refuses to allow women to be an easy target by empowering them to fight back and defend themselves with a firearm!" The Patriettes provide a one-day course on gun safety and handling after which women who have never held a gun can successfully apply for a concealed carry permit under Virginia law.

Ivy-covered academics should take a lesson from real women acting on the grassroots level: we won't be frightened into surrendering our right to self-defense. Don't slant the stats. Give us the facts and we'll decide for ourselves.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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