Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Trustees, guns and money

Sharon Gregson, New Democratic Party member, COPE Vancouver school trustee and gun enthusiast, has been getting a bit of attention over the past few days.

I suppose that's only to be expected when you loudly announce that women need concealed guns to protect themselves. The NDP is widely (and only somewhat inaccurately) seen as the most anti-gun of all the major parties. And Gregson hasn't just spoken out on this, she's gone and gotten herself a concealed weapons permit in the United States, bought a couple of handguns, including a Colt .45, and taken up target shooting. Gregson says she wants to start a debate.
"I don't think we should be embarrassed or ashamed of the fact that we're legal gun owners who enjoy a sport and want to talk about protection issues particularly if they apply to women."

Her opponents - who were political friends of hers until a few days ago - are taking a different line.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that arming women makes them safer," Cukier said. "In fact, the evidence is quite the contrary, that more guns results in more deaths and injuries."

But Gregson said she's not advocating that women run out and buy guns.

"What I'm advocating for is, at least, a discussion in Canada about where we want to be in the long term around guns, so that we are formulating our public policy based on research and experience, not on an automatic knee-jerk reaction that guns are bad."

Cukier argues that discussion isn't necessary.

"I don't think we need to have a wider debate about carrying concealed weapons and handguns for self protection. It runs contrary to Canadian traditions and it certainly runs contrary to Canadian law."

Eccchhh, evidence and research. Everyone wants more of that, thinking it will back up their own position. I have my doubts that it will, and not just because there's so much bad research out there. Look at John Lott and his much-criticized research methods, his bizarre "Two per cent" assertion and his fake Usenet persona to boost his own side.

I like to think of this as the Switzerland vs. Somlia issue. Switzerland and Somalia both have lots of guns. One is a miserable, war-ravaged country where warlords killed one another until they achieved a kind of nasty detente, and got thrown out by fundamentalist Islamic judges. And that was an improvement for most people. Switzerland also has lots of guns, and is a peaceful, prosperous and boring place. The difference isn't just in the number of guns. It's in the level of prosperity, culture, history, geography and a host of other factors. You can't just magically either take guns away and make people peaceful, or give them lots of guns and, um, make them peaceful, as folks like Lott have suggested.

The most disturbing thing about this Gregson-inspired debate for me is that it seems to be about the bogeyman of the random rapist. I know that women are randomly attacked and raped, on the streets, in their homes, places of work, and schools. But first, how often will they be able to get a gun quickly enough to defend themselves? I have no doubt that if all women were armed, some rapists would be shot in the head. But I also have no doubt that some accidental deaths would result, and that some women would see the guns turned on them.

It also does nothing to deal with domestic violence against women, in which the vast majority of victims find themselves complicit in covering up their abuser's crimes.

The problem is not primarily that women are defenceless. There will always be people who are defenceless, whether because they are children, elderly, disabled or simply unwilling to carry a gun.

The problem is primarily that there are men who prey on women. The gun debate is about a symptom, not the cure.

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