Stalking and Guns      by Lyn Bates

When Bonnie Campbell was the director of the Violence Against Women Office, some really stellar work was performed to collect information about crimes in which women are disproportionately targeted, and to make recommendations based on those findings. The legislation that established this office, the Violence Against Women Act, has resulted in a number of reports that make fascinating reading, and they are all available online.

One of their most influential reports was Stalking in America: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey (by Tjaden & Thonnes). It is available at http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles/169592.pdf Let's call this the Survey report.

The Survey report does a great job of defining stalking as "a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person to fear," and showing statistics on a wide range of issues related to stalking, from the age of victims when stalking first started to various kinds of police responses to reports of stalking. Along with the charts and figures, there are pages and pages of text explaining and discussing the stalking-related information.

What measures do stalking victims undertake in response to stalking? Fifty-six percent of women and 51% of men who were stalked took some kind of action to protect themselves from their stalker. For those people, Figure 1 shows what percentage of victims took which kinds of actions.


Figure 1. Self-Protective Measures Undertaken by Stalking Victims

As you might expect, the most common kind of action was to take "extra" precautions; 22% of people being stalked did this. The second most common action was to enlist the help of family and friends; 18% of victims reported that they did this. In third place, virtually equal to second, was obtaining a gun; 17% of stalking victims did this. Other actions, such as changing one's address, moving out of town, trying to avoid the stalker, enlisting the help of a lawyer, moving to a shelter, varying driving habits, or hiring a private investigator, came in far behind those first three self-protective actions.

So, almost 2 out of every 10 stalking victims surveyed who took steps to protect themselves got a gun. What a surprising, and interesting fact!

The text accompanying this figure in the Survey report is absolutely silent on this point. The fact that firearms are a common self-protection method is not mentioned, or commented upon. Anyone who read the text thoroughly but skimmed the figures would never realize that firearms play such an important part in stalking victims' lives!.

Another "page turner" is Stalking and Domestic Violence: the Third Annual Report to Congress under the Violence Against Women Act, US Dept of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Violence Against Women Office, Report Number NIJ 172204. It can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/vawo/grants/stalk98/stalk98.pdf). We'll call this the DV report.

The DV report deals specifically with stalking and its relationship to domestic violence. As you might expect, the two are often deeply related. In the section that talks about stalking in general, much information, text and figures, from the Survey report are incorporated, including our famous Figure 1.

Again, the text is absolutely silent on the point that firearms are the third most popular method of self-protection for stalking victims. Not the slightest remark is made about the fact that the Survey turned up such interesting information about how stalking victims protect themselves.

In NEITHER the Survey report or the DV report is this remarkable finding commented on. Did they not believe it? If that finding is false, then we are in real trouble, because the Survey has been counted on to be one of the most definitive ever on its subject matter, and has been the basis of subsequent policy decisions and laws.

Did they believe it, but just not want to comment on it? This is more likely. When a troublesome fact about guns being used in a positive way surfaces, many people would rather just ignore it. Calling attention to it might encourage other women to do the same thing.

These reports would have provided such a wonderful opportunity to mention the need for training, not just firearm acquisition. These reports are used as fundamental sources for the work of many other professionals who deal with domestic violence and/or stalking. The chance has been lost to educate them about how to think about guns as an appropriate defense measure against stalkers.

Are stalkers really dangerous? Some of them definitely are. A different researcher has determined that around 5-6% of stalkers attempt to kill their victims, or get someone else to try to kill them. Fortunately, less than 1% of stalking victims are actually murdered. So, it doesn't seem unreasonable for many stalking victims, who have no way of knowing whether they will be in that 5-6%, to take the step of arming themselves, just in case.

If only everyone who acquired a gun in that kind of situation also got good training, the world really would be a safer place.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns Sep-Oct, 2004 , Copyright © 2004, Lyn Bates