A tattoo-covered, rat-tailed, bulky-armed, middle-aged, Vermont libertarian once asked me, â€œWhat are you going to do when you get raped in an alley? You think the government is gonna come save you?â€
Leaving aside his misguided assumption that my rape was inevitable, the question wasnâ€™t all that absurd. Itâ€™s a situation that many gun-rights advocates hypothesize, and their answer to the question is pretty straightforward: buy a gun, learn how to shoot the gun, and use that gun when you need it. These same people argue that gun-ownership can actually prevent the massacres we saw at Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Newtown. Guns act as a deterrent, they say: If the teachers at Sandy Hook had had weapons, not only could they have shot Adam Lanza, but also Lanza wouldnâ€™t haveÂ even daredÂ to attack knowing that the teachers would be armed.
Okay, maybe arming schoolteachers is an outlandish idea. But I get it. Really, I do. The world is a scary place, and dangers are everywhere. So why shouldnâ€™t responsible gun owners be allowed to carry weapons for self defense?
And public polling shows that the number one reason that gun owners own guns is to protect themselves from danger. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013, 48 percent of gun owners owned guns for protection, 39 percent for hunting and shooting, and 2 percent because of the constitutional guarantee. The vast majority of gun-owners own lethal weapons because of the tangible benefits: it makes them feel safer. Not because of some vague and ambiguously worded constitutional right.
But whyÂ guns?
Why not tasers? Why not tranquilizers? Why not stun guns? Why notâ€¦ pepper spray? Why not some non-lethal method of self-protectionâ€”something that would stun my attacker, and provide time for me to escape and call the police to have him arrested, jailed, and tried in court? My attacker would remain alive, and his guilt and punishment would be determined by the American justice systemâ€”not Madhu the Vigilante.
I found this question particularly relevant a few weeks ago, during the height of the George Zimmerman trial, when the jury found Zimmerman to have acted in self-defense. But I wonder: does a right to self-defense involve a right to take away anotherâ€™s life? Or does a right to self-defense simply mean a right to your own life, a right from harm, a right to run away and save yourself? We have all heard that well-loved phrase: â€œguns donâ€™t kill people, people kill people.â€ Sorry, itâ€™s a fact, gunsÂ doÂ kill peopleâ€”Zimmermanâ€™s gun killed Trayvon Martinâ€”but stun guns and tasers and mace do not.
I find especially odd the inconsistencies within Americaâ€™s self-defense and weapons laws. The security tech firm, Brickhouse Security, recently released an infographic titled â€œLess Lethal Weaponsâ€ (below) that compares the laws regarding lethal and non-lethal weapons in different American states. It reveals the incredibly tight restrictions or outright bans on non-lethal, defensive weapons (like pepper-spray and tasers) in many states; at the same time, not a single state has a complete ban on gun ownership.
Yet, non-lethal weapons are just as effective as typical handguns: in less than half a second, stun guns and tasers cause intense muscle spasms and extreme disorientation. They can be used from a distance (the $300 Taser International C2 can be used from as far away as 15 feet) and cause no permanent damage or long-term consequences. Which is great, because there is a reason that victims donâ€™t decide sentencing or punishment in American trials. In fact, in this country, neither guilt nor innocence exists independently of the legal systemâ€”and everyone deserves a fair trial before theyâ€™re rendered deserving of the death penalty. By shooting a lethal bullet into the heart of an attacker, a victim sentences their aggressor to death before theyâ€™ve been granted their sixth amendment right to a fair trial.
But then why arenâ€™t these non-lethal weapons as easily available? How am I allowed the right to kill someone, but not right to plain and simple self-defense? Shouldnâ€™t we be defending not a right to bear arms, but a right to bear pepper-spray?
So, to the angry libertarian guy with stretched-out and faded tattoos: What am I going to doÂ ifÂ I feel threatened by a man following me down a dark alley? Since Iâ€™m from Virginia, maybe Iâ€™ll keep some pepper-spray in my bag, guaranteeing myself exactly the legal rights Iâ€™m afforded, without threatening the rights and lives of another.