On Wednesday, if you wanted to get into a nasty argument with people you’d never met, your best bet would have been to click on the #LiberalTips2AvoidRape hashtag on Twitter and spend the next half hour “joking” about women in short dresses getting raped or making reductive comments about how much conservatives “hate women”. This exciting, interactive social-media conversation featured reasonable, measured points like this nugget:
#LiberalTips2AvoidRape Tell him you don't believe in guns and don't have one, but you called the cops and they'll arrive in 12 minutes.— divadoll123 (@divadoll123) February 19, 2013
Over time, however, things got a little off topic:
#LiberalTips2AvoidRape - ask Bill Clinton, he avoided jail for raping Juanita Broddrick.— 90 degree (@wac3rd) February 19, 2013
And some people who opposed the hashtag’s message stopped by to let Republicans know that they were being dick pig assholes:
this hashtag proves rape is a joke to republicans. good work guys. good luck in 2014 and 2016 as the pro-rape party #LiberalTips2AvoidRape— Amanda Hugankiss (@a_girl_irl) February 19, 2013
So it was just another day on the Web 2.0 or whatever, in other words. If you stuck around long enough to find out what all the internet people were talking about, though, you'd discover that conservatives were responding to a confused quote from Joe Salazer, a Democratic Colorado state representative, who seemed to indicate that he thought if women on college campuses were armed, they’d be firing a bunch of shots into the darkness because they were scared. (He later apologised.)
Conservatives were also outraged by a list of extremely stupid suggestions of what to do to stop a rapist that was posted by the University of Colorado. The list advised women to puke or piss themselves to “convince the attacker to leave you alone” and “tell your attacker that you have a disease or are menstruating”. The GOP has made headline after headline for being terrible in general on women’s issues and saying awful, offensive stuff about rape and abortion, so it’s not surprising that conservatives jumped at the chance to criticise liberals for similar gaffes. Republicans care about women too: they want to make sure they can own guns.
One point I don’t think a lot of left-wing types understand is that the right to bear arms is, to many people, every bit as important as the right to free speech, and one with a philosophical pedigree. (Some gun-rights activists trace the Second Amendment back thousands of years, to Cicero.) Guns aren’t a hobby – if you aren’t allowed to arm yourself for defence, you’re not truly free. The Black Panthers understood this, which is why they showed up brandishing weapons at the capitol building in Sacramento, California in 1967 to protest an early gun-control law.
But Republicans don’t stop at asserting that there are fundamental philosophical reasons for letting people own guns. Many appear to think that the more guns people carry around the better society will be, which is a different and weirder proposition – one that causes the right to push for extremely broad concealed-carry laws on the grounds that they make the world safer. Last month, Jim Banks, an Indiana Republican state senator proposed allowing college students to walk around campus carrying guns to cut down on rapes; when asked about that law, a Republican student senator at Purdue said, flatly, “Concealed carry prevents crime.”
The idea that more guns make cities safer is a bit like the notion that if we cut taxes, the government gets more revenue – it’s so crazy it just might work. Or not. There have been studies showing that adopting concealed-carry laws reduces violent felonies, but there has also been a lot of debate about the accuracy of those studies. It’s true that crime rates fell all over the country as states made it legal for more people to walk around armed, but those laws were going into effect during the 90s, when crime was dropping like crazy for reasons no one understands. Long story short, while concealed-carry laws don’t increase crime (as some people claimed they would back in the 80s), they don’t seem to decrease it either. That isn’t surprising – preventing crime is a complicated thing, after all.
Which brings us back to avoiding rape, an awful crime everyone wants to wipe out. For years, many liberals have pushed back against “rape culture” and called attention to the casualness with which sexual violence is perpetrated against women – in other words, they want to get men to stop raping women, instead of arming women against the inevitable rapes that will occur. (They also may point out that many rapists know their victims, and a lot of rapes happen in homes and dorms, not dark alleys where a weapon would be useful.) Conservatives, on the other hand, see women without guns as literally powerless. As usual, the two sides can't agree on anything because they're having completely separate debates.
What I haven't seen anyone bring up is that there are a lot of practical, non-ideological reasons a woman wouldn’t want to carry a gun for self-defence. Maybe she doesn’t have a couple of hundred dollars to spend on one, maybe she doesn’t want to be put in the position of having to actually shoot someone, maybe she’s worried that an attacker would take the gun from her and use it himself (if it happens to cops it can happen to civilians). A far less extreme option is carrying pepper spray or Mace, which is a nice middle ground between pissing on yourself and being ready to aim a killing machine at someone.
This "conversation" isn't about preventing rape, of course. It's about whether inanimate chunks of metal that fire smaller chunks of metal are good or evil. Liberals like Salazer think that if we let people carry their legally obtained guns around they'll start killing each other for no reason. That's ridiculous, but no less ridiculous than conservatives claiming that gun ownership will stop rapes, or eliminate crime, or stop school shootings. (Obama’s on board with that last idea.) Everyone, at this point, seems to think of guns as having magic properties. That's kind of a problem.