Guns Stop Rape

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom


by by Ari Armstrong, June 4, 2000

Are guns used mostly by criminals to commit rape, or are they used more often by women to prevent rape? Several letter writers have recently taken up this issue in the pages of the Rocky Mountain News. However, those letters have offered little more than conjecture. S.R. Aydelott of Golden stated, without any hint of justification, "Guns can, and usually do, cause rape." What are the facts of the matter?

Numerous statistical evaluations of rape are readily available, such as those compiled by the University of Arizona. The vast majority of rapes -- around 75% -- are committed by acquaintances. 84% of the time, the perpetrator commits the rape without using any type of weapon. In 6% of cases, the criminal uses a firearm in the commission of a rape.

It's difficult to get firm figures for the number of rapes annually, because many rapes are not reported. The figure lies somewhere around half a million per year in the U.S. Arizona cites 433,000 rapes for 1994. Thus, criminals use a gun in the commission of a rape about 26,000 times per year.

However, that in no way implies that 26,000 rapes could be prevented per year if guns were somehow banned. 84% of rapists use no weapon, and 10% use a weapon other than a gun, such as a knife. If criminals could be stripped of their guns, many would resort to other weapons or to their bare hands to commit rape.

How often do women use firearms to protect themselves against rape? That's hard to say because of the difficulty in finding reliable records of rapes, attempted rapes, and defensive firearms uses. In addition, it's difficult to tell if a crime stopped by an armed citizen might otherwise have ended in rape. Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University, estimates 2.5 million defensive uses of firearms each year against all crimes, most cases involving the mere brandishment of a weapon. In general, Kleck estimates a gun is used to thwart a crime about three to five times as often as a gun is used in the commission of a crime. Even using estimates lower than Kleck's, the number of rapes stopped by armed women rises to the tens of thousands annually.

Roughly 50% of female victims report that some sort of self-defense measure was helpful. Economist Lawrence Southwickomen estimates that women who offer no resistance to an attacker are 2.5 times more likely to suffer serious injury than women who resist with a gun. Even anti-gun zealot Arthur Kellermann admits, "If you've got to resist, your chances of being hurt are less the more lethal your weapon." Because males are often physically larger than females, women gain more advantage by carrying arms.

But women don't have to actually use a gun defensively to stop rape by carrying arms. That's because civil arms deter criminals from ever trying to commit a crime in the first place. Using the most detailed statistical regression studies ever compiled on the subject of crime, Yale Professor John Lott found that liberalized concealed carry laws reduced rape by 5.2%. Because a few states like Colorado have refused to pass liberal, shall-issue concealed carry laws, an estimated 4,200 additional women are raped each year.

When we add up the effects of deterrence and resistance, then, it's clear that many more women defend themselves against rape by using a gun than are raped by a criminal with a gun. When we add the fact that many rapists could commit their crime with some alternative weapon, whereas women cannot defend themselves as effectively without a gun, the conclusion is obvious: when it comes to stopping rape, a gun can be a woman's best friend.

The Colorado Freedom