Women in the World

07.25.12

Do American Women Need Guns? Self-Defense Pro Paxton Quigley Says Yes

As the debate over gun control rages in the wake of the Colorado shootings, one self-defense expert tells Abigail Pesta that handguns play an important role in society: they stop rape.

Paxton Quigley remembers the moment she decided to get a gun. It was more than two decades ago, when a female friend in Los Angeles called her late one night with some terrible news. A stranger had broken into her home through a bathroom window. She had called 911, but the police had arrived too late—a half hour after a brutal rape.

“I asked my friend, ‘If you’d had a gun, do you think you could have stopped the attacker?’” Quigley recalls. “She said yes.”

Quigley took a gun course soon after. “I had never shot a gun. I had never touched a gun. I was actually antigun,” says Quigley, who was working in public relations in Los Angeles at the time. “But I thought, ‘This is never going to happen to me.’”

That first gun course gave her a headache. “I didn’t like the noise; I didn’t like the kick of the gun. I got home and fell into a deep sleep,” she says. “When I woke up, I felt so good—I knew how to shoot a gun.” Quigley bought a handgun and took a range of shooting and self-defense courses. Since then, she has taught more than 7,000 women how to shoot, has written four books on why she feels women should arm themselves, and has even designed a handbag with a holster. For her most recent book, Armed and Female: Taking Control, she talked to dozens of survivors of violence and sexual assault. “Almost all said they could have stopped the attack with a gun,” she says.

She is quick to say that she is not advocating assault weapons. Following the recent tragedy in Colorado, in which the shooter reportedly bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet, then used weapons including a shotgun, a pistol, and a semiautomatic rifle to kill 12 people and injure dozens more, Quigley says she believes assault weapons should be banned and that ammunition should not be sold online.

“We all feel terrible about what happened,” she says. “I think it will be interesting if we can ever find out what motivated this young man to do this terrible thing. It’s emblematic of what’s happening in our society today—more people are irresponsible; more people are selfish. There’s less feeling about other human beings.” However, she says, banning all guns is not the answer.

“Every 2 minutes, a woman is sexually assaulted in the U.S. There are 207,754 victims of sexual assault each year. Eighty percent are under the age of 30,” she says, citing statistics from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, or RAINN. “That’s a lot of women walking around who are targets. They’re talking on their cellphones or texting, totally unaware of what’s going on. It’s part of the reason why people get themselves into trouble.”

“A woman will be antigun, but then once she’s assaulted, she wants a gun.”

It’s also why, she argues, women need a handgun. “There just aren’t many good weapons to protect yourself other than a handgun. If you want to stop an attacker, you have to think about the best means of stopping an attacker.” She adds, “It would be nice to live in a world of utopia, but that’s not the case. I’m a liberal. I’m pro-choice. I’ve never voted for a Republican. I just believe guns protect women.”

And what if the rapist also has a gun? “Then you better shoot first,” Quigley says. “If you feel that you can’t use the gun, don’t own it. You have to be ready to stop the attacker. Don’t hesitate. If you want to have a handgun, you have to be trained—I’m not just talking a course for an hour or two, but an all-day course at least. Then go to the range afterward and practice.”

An estimated 250 million guns are in private circulation in the U.S., according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. There were 8,775 homicides from firearms in 2010, according to the latest data from the FBI, with 6,009 of those homicides coming from handguns.

Quigley argues that “a large number of gun homicides are among young men, and a high percentage of these homicides are gang-related. This is not to say that these homicides are OK—far from it, but rather that these statistics reflect a subset of the American population and do not represent the broad-based population.”

Banning all guns is not realistic, she says, because “there’s a huge black market out there. You know who would be getting the guns? The bad guys. In Norway, they have very, very strict gun laws, and yet a man was able to get a gun and shoot a lot of people last year.”

She also argues that alternate weapons such as Tasers, pepper spray, and knives are not the best defense.

Tasers, which fire off a jolt of electrodes, incapacitating an attacker, can be a risky bet, she claims, because “you just get one shot” before you have to reload. “If it doesn’t hit, you’ve got a problem.” (If you miss, you can still use the Taser to shock the assailant by pressing the tip of the weapon directly against the person's body, according to Taser.)

As for pepper spray, she says, “It can be hard to use out of doors. It comes out as a long stream, and if there’s any wind, it won’t necessarily hit the attacker—and it could blow back and hit you. You also have to hit the skin, so it means spraying to the face at a fairly close range.”

Of knives, she says, “I don’t recommend knives unless you’ve been highly trained, because they can easily be taken away from you.”

She disagrees with the argument that having guns in homes means children will get shot. “Rarely do you hear about a kid getting hold of a gun and shooting it. Three-year-olds can’t pull the trigger,” she says. “Most law-abiding citizens have their guns in a safe.” She adds, “I get a lot of flak for my position. I try to explain it to people. Some will hear it; some won’t. So many women out there are now living alone or are heads of households. They have to learn to protect themselves, protect their families. I can tell you this: a woman will be antigun, but then once she’s assaulted, she wants a gun.”