Guns Aren’t the Answer to Rape


What should we do to prevent rape?

This seems to be a core question that’s been making its way around our culture lately. Everyone seems to have an answer, and, more importantly, there are some predictable reactions whenever someone suggests something about rape. One of the most common “arguments” I get when I talk about rape culture is that, were we to arm every woman in the country, rape would end. When a woman is packing, no one wants to try and hurt her. Makes perfect sense, right?

Well, unfortunately not. Not only is saying “all women should just carry guns” the completely wrong way to think about ending rape, it’d be completely ineffective.

No one should have to carry a gun

First of all, no one should feel like they have to carry a gun if they don’t want to. Personal choice issues are obvious here. There are a multitude of things that make living in society much easier: having a computer, a car, the internet, etc., but we can all eschew those things and still survive and (at least theoretically) live free of harm. There is nothing that I can think of that you absolutely have to have to keep people from hurting you in our society, because we live in one that is peaceful overall. If you feel like you have to have a weapon to protect yourself, something is seriously wrong.

Think of it this way. When you go to choose a neighborhood to live in, what qualities do you look for? The first and foremost is safety. If you felt like you had to carry a gun everywhere you went in order to be safe, you would not be okay with that neighborhood. You would leave, or try and change it. The same is true of our society. If your answer to rape is truly that every woman should carry a gun, then something is seriously wrong with our society (which is, in essence, part of what discussions of rape culture are trying to get at).

Rape doesn’t really happen that way

Even if it’s a good idea to always be able to defend yourself when you’re out and about, the idea that arming all women would prevent rape is ignoring several crucial elements: the survivor typically knows the assailant; rapes are often facilitated with drugs or alcohol; the survivor is typically subdued somehow, even if not always by physical force. Tell me, how is someone supposed to get to a gun if they’ve been drugged, or are intoxicated, or if they are so exhausted from fighting their attacker that they can no longer move? Yeah, you can’t.

We don’t carry arms with our friends, with our boyfriends and girlfriends, or when we’re with someone we trust. There is no reason to expect we should (and, again, if you think that any person might be a potential rapist and, therefore, should be armed against, there is something seriously wrong with our society).

Suggests that people are “naturally” rapists

I will be the first person to admit and to say that rape, just like any other kind of violence, is not going to be completely eradicated from our society. However, again, if you look at the claim that women should simply be armed in order to prevent their own rape, there is a fundamental assumption in there that rape is natural, can happen at any time, and we should just prevent against it like we do a cold or natural disasters. You’re basically assuming that people (and, implicitly, men, although of course men are not the only ones who rape) are inherently rapists. And that certainly is a disturbing thought.

Should people have the option to defend themselves, their homes, their families with firearms if they so choose? Absolutely. But if your “solution” to the rape problem in the United States is that everyone must be armed all the time, and we can trust no one, then you have to see that there is something wrong with our society. And it is that very same “something wrong” that activists trying to change rape culture are trying to address. Besides, even while I choose to advocate for a society that allows guns, I certainly would prefer to live in one that doesn’t require them.

  • Anonymous

    So what is your answer? Is it more SlutWalks? Is it teaching men not to rape? The former is ineffective and the latter assumes all men are rapists.

  • DB

    This is a very disturbing column.


  • What do you believe the solution is?

    • I certainly don’t have all the answers, but i do have a few ideas that might help:

      1. Sexually empower women to say yes to what they want and no to what they don’t want.
      2. Empower men (yes, empower them) so that they don’t have to feel like they have to have sex with a woman to be a man and so that they aren’t threatened by female power.
      3. Teach everyone what consent means. I am not 100% behind the “yes means yes” campaign from Jessica Valenti, et al. However, I do think we have to shift from placing the burden of refusal on a partner and instead put the burden to GET consent from both people.
      4. Remove taboos around sex such that everyone is comfortable talking about it beforehand. The only reason it “kills the mood,” IMO, is cause people are afraid to talk about it and they feel awkward.
      5. Encourage young people to talk about sex (in a positive way), either with their parents or with other people. The more you engage with an idea, the more comfortable you are with it, and, the more responsible you are with it.

      • I’m not sure who Jessica Valenti is, but you make some pretty good points. Thanks.