I lived in New York for a decade without fearing for my personal safety. But in recent months, I have been terrified. In May, I filed for and received a temporary order of protection against a former partner.
More than five million American women alive today have reported being threatened with a gun, shot or shot at by an intimate partner, and more than half of the perpetrators of mass shootings in the past decade shot a family member, intimate partner or former intimate partner as part of their rampage. Every month, 70 women on average are shot and killed by an intimate partner. But states like mine make it legally cumbersome to defend yourself with a legally purchased handgun.
If my life is ever in danger, I want to be able to protect myself with a gun. And now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, I am one step closer to carrying one.
I grew up in the Ozarks, where many shooting ranges are run by state agencies and open to the public. I enjoyed going on early-morning hunting trips for deer, squirrel and turkey as a child, and was taught to respect the dangerous nature of guns; my stepfather works for a large outdoor sporting goods company. He buys and sells guns as part of his work. I was trained in how to properly handle and store them, and forbidden from even pointing a toy weapon at anyone.
It is exhausting to live in fear of someone who knows your habits showing up at your door. My former partner refused to accept the end of our relationship. As I detailed in my petition for an order of protection, for the better part of the past year, he has sent alarming and frequent messages to me, my family and friends through a number of platforms. Even after I asked him not to contact me and my loved ones, he reached out to my family and friends and asked them to persuade me to speak with him. This sort of controlling and obsessive behavior is alarming enough on its own, but also has made me fear what else he is capable of.
In April, he printed out dozens of photos of me and friends, and recorded a YouTube video of himself slowly flipping through them while reciting a poem he’d written. I broke down sobbing; it felt like there was no escape. For the next several weeks, fearful that he would show up at my home, I slept with a sheathed hiking knife under my pillow. My friends made fun of me for doing so, and with good reason: Even if my harasser had managed to enter my apartment and threaten my life, what was I going to do? Go Rambo on a man practically twice my size?
I firmly believe in legislation that will prevent criminals, including those who have been convicted of any domestic violence offense, from owning guns. And I am grateful that President Biden has signed bipartisan legislation that will narrow the boyfriend loophole that currently allows many abusers legal access to weapons, as well as enhance background checks for young gun buyers and support for red-flag laws, combat gun trafficking and fund desperately-needed community and mental health interventions.
I also understand why some of my fellow liberals would like to ban guns outright. But guns are already prevalent among those who don’t follow the rules: Despite strong gun laws in my state and city, illegal trafficking abounds.
The reality is that in addition to preventing abusers from owning guns, we must empower vulnerable citizens to protect themselves.
For law-abiding New Yorkers, there is currently no swift and easy way to protect yourself in your own home with a handgun. Even if you have no criminal record, no history of mental illness and no desire to carry a gun outside of your home, you must apply for an expensive handgun license. On June 23, the Supreme Court struck down an additional requirement to demonstrate a heightened need, or “proper cause,” if you want to carry your gun in public.
An associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Department of Public Management told me that based on anecdotal evidence, generally retired police officers, people who transport large sums of money, those who have an immediate and credible death threat and celebrities are more likely to be approved for licenses to carry handguns in public. And given the high cost of the application process, gun ownership is only really available to those with means.
I support background checks, waiting periods, assault weapon bans and gun control proposals that make it harder for people to obtain guns. We should strive for a world in which the only people with guns would be responsible citizens trained in firearm safety who purchased their guns legally, store them safely and use them only for hunting or sport shooting, or as a last resort for personal protection. Gun owners in New York should be required to take continuing education courses in order to renew their licenses. When gun owners are improperly trained and guns are not properly stored, there is a tremendous risk of injury to themselves and others.
But the truth is that the world we live in is awash in illegal guns. Ghost guns, which are assembled from components bought online and are untraceable, are prevalent in coastal states with strict gun laws, and hundreds have been seized by the New York City Police Department in recent years. New York’s onerous gun licensing requirements deter law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves. And while city officials boast that gun arrests are at a 28-year high and shooting incidents were down last month, murder, rape, robbery and assault were all on the rise when compared with the same time last year.
The unfortunate reality is that you are more likely to be shot and killed by a relative or someone you know than by a stranger if you are a woman. While most murders in the United States involve a gun, most gun deaths in the United States are actually suicides, and preventing gun deaths is as much about investing in mental health and our communities as it is about enacting purchase restrictions.
To be sure, estimates of defensive gun use, as Jennifer Mascia of The Trace recently put it, “are so squishy that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May removed all figures from its website.” It has previously cited estimates ranging from “60,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year,” but this is typically not a category tracked by law enforcement agencies, and stats presented largely depend on who is asking and the design of the study.
While recently visiting a state with less restrictive gun laws, I found exactly the gun I would like to buy: a small Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard, light enough for me to confidently handle and safely store.
It sells for about what a handgun license application in New York City costs. And as soon as I am able to legally buy and carry it without too much hassle, I look forward to sleeping soundly.