Dear editor:

After my first reading of Bryan Miller’s article “Guns & Women” [February 4] I decided not to write in complaining about the article’s misrepresentation of self-defense classes or the article’s irresponsible attitude toward self-defense. After all, at least the “Guns & Women” article portrayed women defending themselves in a positive light. However, MRL’s letter of 2/18 changed my mind, since it indicated that at least one reader assumed Ms. Miller’s portrayal of self-defense classes was accurate. For the record:

(1) Self-defense courses teach women much more than the “knee to the groin” technique. The Chimera course referred to in MRL’s letter does not even include the “knee to the groin,” since eyes, throat and knees are usually more practical self-defense targets.

(2) Self-defense courses emphasize prevention, use of assertive body language and verbal techniques, and role-playing. These techniques can often be used to prevent a situation from reaching the point where violence is called for; in addition, these techniques can be used to defend against sexual harrassment. How does Ms. Miller propose that gun-toting women respond to sexual harrassment–shoot the guy?

(3) MRL’s letter claimed that self-defense courses teach women to get angry and out of control. MRL cites the case of a Chimera graduate who injured a man who was not even attacking her. Aside from the obvious questions this example raises (if self-defense techniques are so ineffective, how did she manage to injure the man? What about the numerous gun owners who have mistakenly shot and killed people who were not even attacking them?), MRL’s claim is inaccurate. Self-defense courses do not teach women to get out of control, but instead to calmly assess the situation and decide what to do about it.

(4) Self-defense courses do not make the claim that there is one best way to respond to an attack (unlike Ms. Miller, who implies that all you have to do is show the assailant your gun and he’ll run away in terror). Rather, self-defense courses teach women that there are many ways to respond to an attack and that a woman being attacked must decide for herself what to do based on the circumstances. Studies show that the most effective defense against rape is one which incorporates several techniques, not just one. Women may well choose to carry a gun for self-defense, but it is not safe to depend on a gun as your only method of protecting yourself.

(5) What does Ms. Miller suggest a woman do if her only defense is her gun and she is attacked by someone she lives with or knows well, someone who knows where her gun is and blocks her access to it? Domestic violence causes more injuries to women than rape, automobile accidents and muggings combined. MRL’s references to rapes in the alley and “going forth defenseless” are ingenuous. The “coddled criminals in our society” who threaten women are mostly in the home, not on the streets.

Finally, the “Guns & Women” article implies that women are so weak and helpless that the only way we can possibly equalize the differences between women and men is to carry a gun. This is simply not true. Two out of three attempted rapes are stopped by women who yell, run, kick, talk, or fight their way out of danger.

Bonnie M. Juettner

W. Arlington

Bryan Miller replies:

I know that self-defense courses are not the end-all and be-all their advocates say they are because I’m a veteran of self-defense courses and they never helped me much. For one thing, I’m physically small. For another, I have scoliosis, which severely hinders me in many endeavors. I can only imagine how worthless most of the things I was taught in self-defense courses (which included “knee to the groin”) must be to someone with a real physical disability. Yes, body language is important, along with “verbal techniques,” but they’re not always enough. And women who rely too heavily on the things they learn at optimum-condition self-defense classes sometimes come to grief when real life declines to imitate art.

Juettner has raised some phony issues. Any woman in sufficient fear of her life that she’s arming herself against someone with whom she lives should leave. Moreover, I did not paint women as “weak and helpless”; we are only if we allow ourselves to be–which we do if we allow ourselves to be unilaterally disarmed. And, as my article made quite clear, the use of a gun is always a last resort.