Give Women Guns Give Women Guns
Issue 013

Give Women Guns

by Reihan Salam

October 29, 2008
In the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court found that banning handguns is an unacceptable infringement on our Second Amendment right as individuals to keep and bear arms. Whatever you think of the decision, it's clear that the debate over gun rights has changed forever. There aren't quite enough privately owned firearms in the United States for every man, woman, and child, but there are almost enough-an estimated 280 million guns. And you can't throw guns in a landfill: unlike your iPod, these deadly devices are built to last. Getting rid of guns is a fantasy, and even the most ardent gun controllers know it. So instead, the gun control movement is scaling back its ambitions by, for example, focusing on gun trafficking and tightening restrictions on who can buy guns. The idea is to reliably guarantee that criminals and crazy people have a hard time getting their hands on dangerous weapons, which is fair enough.But if we accept that we're going to live in an armed society, we should be sure that there are guns in the right hands-in women's hands. The gun rights crowd has long proclaimed that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Which is a partial truth. It is male people who kill people, and who also assault and maim and rob people. That's not to say that women don't kill, or that women are incapable of killing. But we know that females are far less likely to resort to violence than males, and we know that's true for other species, as well.
We should be sure that there are guns in the right hands-in women's hands.
Take chimpanzees and bonobos. Chimp societies are male dominated, hierarchical, and defined by violence. Bonobos are defined by high levels of social cooperation, egalitarianism, and strong female leadership. When we think of bonobos, we generally think of their pansexual, polymorphously perverse lifestyles, which certainly help mitigate conflict. Yet the relative strength of bonobo females is perhaps more important in explaining why bonobo societies are, as a general rule, so much healthier than their chimpanzee counterparts. Bonobo females form tight bonds with each other, which allow them to resist and even dominate their less sociable male counterparts. Any violence against bonobo females is met by a stinging counterattack.There is a lesson here for humans. If more women were armed, and if men were legally forbidden from packing heat, thus tipping the relative strength imbalance, we'd live in a far safer world.In Bare Branches, Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer, who together studied how emerging gender imbalances in Asia will shape the future security environment, argue that so-called "surplus males"-the product of the preference for boys in many traditional societies-tend to be even more violent than men in general, and that societies with a large number of surplus males are more inclined toward aggressive behavior. Arming women could help keep these tendencies in check.To be sure, this proposal would be unconstitutional and would probably strike most politicians as utterly insane. The idea of treating women and men differently offends our understanding of gender equality at a deep level. But treating women and men as though they are identical-as though women are as violent, dangerous, and abusive as men-isn't treating them equally. Rather, it is pretending that ignoring their deep differences is the best policy, even if that means that people will die or suffer as a direct result.Basing policy on enduring differences between women and men has applications far beyond fighting crime. Earlier this year, the economists Alberto Alesina, Andrea Ichino, and Loukas Karabarbounis suggested that women ought to be taxed less than men, to induce them to supply more labor. Because of entrenched gender norms, women tend to take on the bulk of household duties, whether they find them fulfilling or not. Men, in contrast, have been socialized into putting their careers first. By easing the tax burden on women, you could, in theory, counteract these powerful biases that work against women's interests. The end result just might be a world in which women's life horizons really are the same as men's.Salam is an associate editor at The Atlantic. He is the author, with Ross Douthat, of Grand New Party.Portrait by Forrest Martin
Recently on GOOD
Sign up to receive the best of GOOD delivered to your inbox each and every weekday
Give Women Guns