Contrary to NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch’s recent suggestion that arming vulnerable women offers them an opportunity to protect themselves against rape and abuse, guns don’t actually make women safer. In fact, there’s plenty of research that shows the opposite to be true. According to the Violence Policy Center, for example, 93 percent of women killed by men in 2015 were murdered by someone they knew, and the most common weapon was a gun.
Yet gun-makers and the NRA have been trying to tap into this lucrative market of potential female consumers for decades. It’s part of the reason why the California-based Women Against Gun Violence (WAGV) was launched in 1993 by Ann Reiss Lane (who formerly served on the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners) and acclaimed feminist and author Betty Friedan. For the last 25 years, WAGV has worked to make California a leader in sensible gun legislation.
“We thought the best way to approach gun violence and gun issues was to start locally,” Lane told VICE Impact, “because in California it was very hard to get anything passed statewide [back then]. But we had a lot of friends on the Los Angeles City Council.”
One of the organization’s first big successes was pushing for better safety standards for handguns; they were particularly concerned about so-called “junk guns,” which were small, cheaply made and easy to conceal. “It turned out the gun was manufactured in California,” Lane recalled. “We joined with other organizations, we picketed the gun manufacturer, we tried to have suits brought against them for malfunctioning of this gun, and finally they actually moved out of California.” (According to research cited by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a year after one gun dealer stopped selling junk guns, the number of firearms sold by the dealer that were linked to crime showed a 73 percent reduction.)
“We thought the best way to approach gun violence and gun issues was to start locally."
Since its founding, WAGV has also been a big proponent of forging partnerships with survivors of gun violence. “We felt that if the public had to really deal with what it was like to be a survivor, that they would change their view of guns and gun violence,” Lane said. “It also gave the survivors an opportunity to turn their grief into action.” One woman, for example, lost two sons in two separate drive-by incidents. “She told her story, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Lane said. “And then I or some other member would propose some course of action, some letter to the city council or something to do with the state legislature.”
Lane added: “We were really too small to feel we could have a big impact on national legislation.”
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But that hyperlocal strategy has had a lot of success. By working closely with the L.A. City Council, for example, WAGV helped craft a mandate that requires handgun owners to safely lock up their weapons or face misdemeanor charges; the ordinance was first enacted in the city of Los Angeles before it recently became a proposed state law.
“As smaller jurisdictions start to enact those kinds of pieces of legislations, we can start to see a wave across the country and records of success that can form the foundation for national legislation."
In fact, it’s arguably because of that focus on creating change on the local level that California, according to the Giffords Law Center for Gun Violence Prevention, now has the strongest gun laws, and subsequently the lowest gun death rate, in the country.
“The incredible thing about this organization,” current board chair Laurie Saffian told VICE Impact, “is that the principles of education and advocacy have really remained the same since the founding. Women Against Gun Violence has not only always been out in the community with survivors sharing their stories, but also really informing the public about upcoming legislation, and not only on the national level.”
“I think one of the important things to note about Los Angeles and California is the concept of trickle-up legislation,” she continued. “When Ann was talking about how hard it was to get things passed statewide 25 years ago, that’s not the case today. What L.A. and the city of West Hollywood and other small municipalities were able to do was take on groundbreaking legislation, show its effectiveness, and then when we had the majority we needed at the state, we were able to get it passed statewide.”
"We can start to see a wave across the country and records of success that can form the foundation for national legislation."
The key, Saffian said, is to engage and educate the local community. “As smaller jurisdictions start to enact those kinds of pieces of legislations, we can start to see a wave across the country and records of success that can form the foundation for national legislation. What happens locally is extremely meaningful and saves lives every single day.”
For more information about Women Against Gun Violence, check out their website.You can also contact your representatives in Washington to urge them to support gun control reform.