Time to Stop Restricting Abortion and Start Restricting Assault Weapons

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, calls for restrictions on the manufacture and sale of a variety of guns, especially assault rifles such as the Bushmaster .223 used by the shooter in his rampage against women and children, have grown stronger. Of course, this creates a strange situation for pro-choicers, who are usually on the end of arguing that restrictions on abortion don’t do much to reduce abortion rates, allowing gun nut anti-choicers (the two tend to go together because gun nuttery, like anti-choice nuttery, is based in a weird mix of misogyny and psychosexual issues) to squee “gotchas” at us. So, I figured I’d go ahead and shoot that nonsense down and explain here why restrictions on the sales of guns and restrictions on access to abortion are very, very different things.

1) Access to safe abortion care makes the world a better place, whereas the proliferation of guns does not. This isn’t a matter of personal opinion, but a demonstrable fact. A Harvard-based review of a multitude of studies has shown that places where there are more guns have higher homicide rates. Researchers concluded, “We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides,” and also, “After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide.”

Meanwhile, researchers from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health compared two groups of women who sought abortions, those who got the abortions and those who didn’t. They found that, despite anti-choicer claims that forcing childbirth on women is good for them, women who were denied abortion were much more likely to be on public assistance, to be living under the poverty line, and to be suffering domestic violence.

The conclusion is clear: If you want a society with fewer homicides, less domestic violence, and less poverty, you would restrict gun sales while liberalizing abortion laws. That our country has done the opposite in recent decades demonstrates our priorities are completely screwed up. 

2) Gun control works, but restricting abortion does not seem to reduce the abortion rate. Not all bans are created equal. Citing research from economist Richard Florida, Ezra Klein argued in the Washington Post that gun control does, in fact, work.

Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths.

A map of the results:

Correlation doesn’t equal causation, of course, but these results hold up across countries, as demonstrated by the Harvard study. Some times simple restrictions can dramatically reduce gun violence, further suggesting a causal relationship.

In contrast, countries that ban abortion have a higher abortion rate. Why there is a difference isn’t so hard to figure out. Guns are manufactured products, mostly made by wealthy corporations and using expensive materials with processes that are hard to replicate. Abortion is a simple procedure that requires very few and inexpensive materials. Plus, people who don’t know what they’re doing attempt abortions all the time, which is why illegal abortions are so unsafe. Someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing is unlikely to attempt setting up an illegal gun factory in their house.

Plus, there’s the need gap: Women who need abortions will often do anything to get them. But people don’t need guns. Which leads me to point #3.

3) Abortion is a necessary medical procedure, whereas guns are mostly toys. Women seek abortion because they feel they cannot give birth right now, and they are right to believe as they do. Research into why women have abortions shows that women need access to abortion in part to meet their financial and familial responsibilities or have greater control over their futures. Most of them have children and need to be able to prevent future births in order to take care of the ones they have.

Pro-gun advocates claim that they “need” to be able to buy guns, but their claims are iffy at best. First of all, few proposed laws restricting gun sales are aimed at ending all gun ownership in the country, but are more based on restricting some guns, such as those that can be used to murder a bunch of people at once or the semi-automatic handguns that are used in your more day-to-day murders.

More importantly, the claim that guns are necessary for self-defense is simply not demonstrated by the facts. Despite having nearly as many guns in this country as people, use of guns in self-defense is incredibly rare. And even more rare is the image that gun lovers have, where a totally law-abiding citizen is attacked by a criminal and successfully uses the gun to defend themselves. Most of the time, what the person who claims “self-defense” was doing was what judges and criminologists would call “escalation.” From the Harvard researchers:

Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal, even assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and to carry a gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly from his own perspective.

In addition, they found that emergency room records demonstrate that criminals who are treated for gunshot wounds are almost never shot by law-abiding citizens, but by other criminals. When a gun is in the house, it’s far more likely to be used to intimidate intimates—mostly men trying to control wives and girlfriends—than it is to be used against a legitimate attacker.

The reality, and I say this as someone who grew up in Texas and has been related to and friends with gun owners all my life, is that responsible gun owners use them for two purposes: As toys and for hunting. Gun control advocates are mostly focused on the ones people buy primarily for shooting off and feeling tough. Finding other hobbies besides shooting is not too high a price to pay so that schoolchildren can learn their ABCs without getting shot in the head by a maniac. 

When crafting legislation, it’s important to avoid being simple-minded and assume that a ban is a ban is a ban. The evidence is clear that abortion restrictions and gun restrictions couldn’t be more different in how they play out in the real world. It’s time to stop restricting abortion and turn our attention to guns. 

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  • coralsea

    Excellent article — well said.  I have relatives in Alaska who use guns as tools (e.g., hunting, in one case, shooting a bear that had battered down the door of their house and was coming inside), and I have no problem with responsible hunters (although I don’t wish to hunt myself).  But there really is something totally Freudian about the need so many people have to own handguns.


    Also, living in the Chicago area, where many of the gun deaths involve “innocent bystanders” who just happened to be there when the gangs start shooting, it is readily apparent that more guns will just result in more bullets flying around and wounding or killing “noncombatants.”  Yes — you can kill someone with a baseball bat, but if you swing and miss your target, you aren’t going to kill the two-year-old or the Grandmother sitting on their front steps a block away.


    As for the necessity of safe and accessible abortion, many of the folks in the anti-choice are just as caught up in magical thinking as the gun nuts.   Women need to have control over their reproduction.  After all, they are the ones who have to face the stark financial and domestic issues from pregnancy.   I guess, though, that THEIR self-defense and their ability to defend, nuture, feed, and house existing children is somehow less important than allowing the paranoid to own assault weapons and carry hand guns at all times.

  • jbutrus

    Reasonable people differ as to whether abortion should remain legal and available in America.  I think it should, however, I recognize that many rational and well-meaning people disagree with me.  Reasonable people do agree, however, that the abortion procedure kills a living fetus.  That an unborn child in America has no legal rights does not change this fact. Last Friday alone (the day of the Newtown massacre) Planned Parenthood killed 1,232 fetuses (unborn children). 

    In concluding that abortion is good and assault weapons are bad Amanda Marcotte ignores the fact that abortions kill unborn fetuses (i.e., unborn children).  I agree that abortion does not present much of a moral dilemma if you take the dead fetus out of the equation.  (Aside from the assassination, how did you like the play Mrs. Lincoln?) 

    Moreover, Ms. Marcotte ignores the fact that the show of force (i.e., the presence of firearms and other weapons) deters crime. Crime statistics cannot track crimes deterred, and therefore, underestimate the number of lives guns save.  For example, gun shops, even those in high crime neighborhoods, almost never get robbed.  I can’t find a single documented case of a shooting at a gun show, let alone a mass murder.  In contrast, schools and other gun-free zones (sitting duck zones?) seem to attract mass murderers.  Following the 911 attacks the government assigned national guardsmen carrying assault rifles to airports around the country and assigned armed air marshals to flights.  None of these guardsmen or marshals fired a single shot in defense of self or others.  Nevertheless, one cannot reasonably conclude this show of force did not deter crime.

    We need to train qulaified schoolteachers to carry concealed weapons so they can protect our children when a murderer comes to school. Like air marshals, these armed and trained teachers should remain undercover. (Note: Connecticut officials assigned ARMED guards to schools this week.) Never again should children be forced to cower under their desks awaiting execution while an unopposed rampaging murderer moves through a school.  People who genuinely care about children want to protect them. 

    Strained rhetoric no matter how glib or artful will not make us safer.   

  • datasnake

    Also, to put it a bit more succinctly, if guns are banned people won’t start making their own from wire hangers and knitting needles.

  • freetobe

    As a  grown woman now and a small child who had a handgun right next to her by a burglar in an open window of my house and a drug crazed ex-boyfriend who was threatening to kill himself in my upstairs bathroom.( I went up to try and calm him down and he turned the loaded shotgun on me). I still don’t own a gun. I saw the gun as unpredictable as the next person who handled it. In other words I was around guns all my life. My mother owned a handgun but kept it locked up. Every boyfriend and even my ex-husband was a hunter and owned several rifles or bows. I did not like them they were so loud I thought they were going to burst my ear drums! Although I do see why they like to shoot at targets or clay pigeons.( My mother was a fan of skeet shooting and a member of the NRA. It is a challange of skills and is  harder than it looks.) I get all that and i do not think they should ban all people from certain guns. Most people are responsible with them. BUT in a case of drugs being abused or even alchohol they become dangerous. Most women who own guns for protection wind up being killed by them!

    To me it seems that the same people who advocate guns for their freedom and then turn around hide behind God and call themselves pro-life are loudly proclaiming HYPOCRISY. Guns = death God=love  How come all the people who are pro-gun and also pro-life are remaining silent on this latest mass murder of 20 INNOCENT, BORN , CHILDREN????? Wher is your so called pro-life stance now??? Where is your faith in  God who should be protecting you to the point where you can live in this world with out the debilitating fear of your neighbor threatening your life if you don’t own a gun? and finally why are you so afraid of death when you should know that heaven  is a better place? HYPOCRISY of the finest.


  • cmarie

    Keep in mind though of course there are thousands of women who have sucessfully defended themselves from crime, including rape because they were armed.  I think an important part of being a gun owner should be attending gun use and saftey courses (much the same way a medical professional or teacher has to maintain credits every year to keep his or her licence current).  And of course the old quote is still true… no one needs an assault rifle to kill a deer.  The only reason I imagine anyone would need an assault rifle is if he or she is either in the military or part of a S.W.A.T. team and even they have their weapons provided for them.  Also it’s worth keeping in mind the whole issue of mental health.  It appears that (much like most recent shootings) this young man suffered from a host of mental health issues. Perhaps if his mother had to attend a gun safety course as a gun owner she would have known that no one in his condition should have been living anywhere near a gun.   

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Since fetuses maim and murder mothers, ALL abortions are self-defense!

  • coralsea

    I’m not sure that I believe your statement that “thousands of women have successfully defended themselves from crime” with guns.  Which women are you talking about?  Police officers?  From what I understand from the study conducted from researchers from Harvard published in 2011, the majority of guns kept in people’s homes that are ultimately used to wound or kill people wound or kill family members.  Also, unless you have the gun with you all the time (including when you are out on the street or driving your car), are you really going to be able to get to it in time to kill someone who is menacing you?


    I was mugged twice.  I if I had had a gun in the first case, I wouldn’t have been able to stop the attack (unless I was carrying it out, in my hand, which might not have gone over too well in Washington, D.C.).  I may have been able to shoot my attacker as he fled (I kicked and pummelled him successfully enough so that he fled), but would this have been smart?  I MIGHT have hit the guy, but I expect it would have been a questionable shooting.  More likely, I would have hit a passing car, pedestrians on the other side of the street, or the apartment buildings along the street; depending on their construction, who knows if the bullet could have killed someone inside?  It happens–a lot–in Chicago.


    The second time I was mugged was a case of relatively sustained “close combat.”  The teenager tried to push me back into my rental car and abduct me.  If I had had a gun, I think it was just as likely that, if I had managed to get it out of my purse or a shoulder holster (if I was that Gonzo about it — this did happen in Texas, so I guess that would have been okay), I think it is just as likely that he would have gotten it away from me and then used in on me.  Again, I managed to “win” out of ferocity, panic, an abiding willingness to hit as hard as possible, stomp on the guy’s fingers with my not-so-high but plenty hard-soled heels when he tripped, and pummel him with my briefcase.   But once again, firing a pistol might have resulted in deaths or injuries from “friendly fire,” since this was all taking place in a hotel parking lot.  I personally do not wish to cause a death or injury to some poor by-stander, even if it is in self-defense — but this is my preference.


    I was also raped once, but it was a date-rape situation and the guy over-powered me.  I guess that, if I had been carrying a pistol in my purse, I could have shot the bastard afterward, but I don’t know that the justice system, especially back in the 1980s when this happened (and date-rape was at the time an obscure topic if discussed at all), would have been willing to let me walk away.


    So — for me, being assaulted isn’t an abstraction.  Still, I don’t wish to own a gun because I don’t see how, barring carrying it EVERYWHERE (and in some cases, it can simply be taken away from you and used by your assailant), that it makes me “safe,” but I do know that its presence could imperil others.  More guns and shooting means more people hit, especially in urban areas.  


    Another issue:  the threat isn’t always that clear. Not to quote TV shows, but I occassionally watch the series “Flashpoint,” which is about a S.W.A.T Team.  One of the reasons I like the show and find it suspenseful is because the writing demonstrates how difficult it can be for responding officers to parse a situation.  Who are the bad guys?  Who are the good guys?   I understand that if YOU are being threatened, you will know who the bad guy is.  But what if other gun zealots show up, anxious to demonstrate their prowess in stopping a raving shooter?  Will THEY know who the “good guys” are?  If they shoot at you — do you shoot back?  Remember — bullets can travel long distances.  Is it wise to encourage a bunch of civilian gunslingers to enter the fray?  This may be a stretch if you are in your home, but it’s not that much of a stretch out in public.


    Guns Have Their Uses: My sister and her family live in Alaska, and by Alaska, I mean in an area where they have to look out the window before they leave the house to make sure they aren’t walking into a bear or moose.  They hunt — that’s how they get their meat.  They also sometimes have to use their guns for self-defense — like when a large brown bear busted down the door of their house and came raging inside, looking for food.


    I don’t have a problem with hunters (except for the stupid ones who get drunk during deer season and shoot cows).  However, as you noted, you don’t use an assault weapon for hunting.  Nor do you use a handgun.  The hunters I know are all super careful about safety.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the same can be said for a significant percentage of the people who buy handguns.  If they buy them for target shooting — fine.  At least they are good shots.  But this vague idea of self-protection or family protection–I don’t think that it passes muster. 


    I do have to say that when I was growing up in the 1960s in a suburban area, most of the dads had guns because they were World War II veterans.  Because guns in the home were the norm at that time, kids knew better than to do stupid things like point them at each other and pull the trigger (or at least, most kids did, although there were tragedies).   At this point, however, it seems that either kids have gotten a lot more ignorant, or parents just don’t impress upon them the way that our parents impressed on us, that guns are not toys.  I had the shocking experience about 10 years ago of visiting a neighbor when the neighbor’s son’s playmate came running out into the livingroom with the neighbor’s husband’s handgun (I don’t know what kind it was), and began gleefully “shooting” at the son, who was screaming at his friend that “you aren’t allowed to touch that!”  Fortunately, the gun wasn’t loaded.  Could you imagine if it was?  Where my sister lives in Alaska, kids understand guns (although there are still accidental shootings), but down here in the lower 48, even if you explain the dangers to your own kid, can you be sure that a neighbor’s kid understands the danger?  Or if you are really anti-gun and haven’t discussed gun safety with your kid, are you sure that he or she is never going to go into another kid’s home who has guns, with potentially tragic results?


    And of course, guns are useless for “personal protection” if they aren’t loaded or accessible.  But ensuring that they are there and ready to go in the rare circumstance when you need them and can actually get to them in time to shoot your assailant before he can get to it to shoot you (remember, most people are killed by “loved ones,”) brings with it more risk than, in my opinion, owning a gun for home protection is worth.


    What can people do to stay safe?  I have a list of my own because I am still somewhat hypervigilant from my experiences.  For starters, know where you are and be aware of your surroundings.  This means no iPod and no chatting on the cellphone or texting while you are walking around.  When you appear distracted or tentative, you make yourself a mark.  At home, keep doors locked and don’t leave keys outside.  Put a deadbolt on your door from the house into your garage and lock it; acquaintenances I’ve made working in “bad neighborhoods” as an environmental consultant cheerily showed me how easy it is to use a thin metal bar to pull the “release” cord on a garage door, get into the garage, and then walk right into the house.  Make sure that your sliding glass doors can’t be lifted up into the frame and derailed and removed.  You can do this by driving nails above the doors into the frame.