Testimony of Gayle S. Trotter
Senior Fellow, Independent Women’s Forum
Partner and Co-Founder, Shafer & Trotter PLC
Before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
“What Should America Do About Gun Violence?”
January 30, 2013
Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. We have seen unspeakable tragedy and now hear calls to action. This Committee has asked what America should do about gun violence.
Asking that question will undoubtedly invite impassioned debate in an area where reasonable and well-intentioned people can disagree on specific approaches. We all want a safer society. We differ on how to make our society safer and on whether some proposals, however appealing they may be, will actually increase public safety. And that is a key element of this debate. We need more than political philosophies to guide our discussion: We should consider the effectiveness of proposed changes. In a similar vein, President Obama said in his first inaugural address
This Committee should ask the same question about proposed gun regulations: What works? We should decline to accept any call to action that will fail to make Americans safer and, in particular, harm women the most.
I would like to begin with the compelling story of Sarah McKinley. Home alone with her baby, she called 911 when two violent intruders began to break down her front door. The men wanted to force their way into her home so they could steal the prescription medication of her deceased husband, who had recently died of cancer. Before the police could arrive, while Ms. McKinley was on the line with the 911 operator, these violent intruders broke down her door. One of the men brandished a foot-long hunting knife. As the intruders forced their way into her home, Ms. McKinley fired her weapon, fatally wounding one of the violent attackers and causing the other to flee the scene. Later, Ms. McKinley reflected on the incident: “It was either going to be him or my son,” she said. “And it wasn’t going to be my son.”
Guns make women safer. Most violent offenders actually do not use firearms, which makes guns the great equalizer. In fact, over 90 percent of violent crimes occur without a firearm. Over the most recent decade, from 2001 to 2010, “about 6 percent to percent to 9 percent of all violent victimizations were committed with firearms,” according to a federal study. Violent criminals rarely use a gun to threaten or attack women. Attackers use their size and physical strength, preying on women who are at a severe disadvantage.
Guns reverse that balance of power in a violent confrontation. Armed with a gun, a woman can even have the advantage over a violent attacker. How do guns give women the advantage? An armed woman does not need superior strength or the proximity of a hand-to-hand struggle. She can protect her children, elderly relatives, herself or others who are vulnerable to an assailant. Using a firearm with a magazine holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, a woman would have a fighting chance even against multiple attackers. In the Appendix to my testimony, I have summarized news accounts selected from the last twelve months involving women who, like Sarah McKinley, used a firearm to protect themselves and their loved ones against violent men who sought to harm these women.
Concealed-carry laws reverse that balance of power even before a violent confrontation occurs. In this way, armed women indirectly benefit those who choose not to carry. For a would- be criminal, concealed-carry laws dramatically increase the cost of committing a crime, paying safety dividends to those who do not carry. All women in these jurisdictions reap the benefits of concealed-carry laws because potential assailants face a much higher risk when they attempt to threaten or harm a potential victim. As a result, in jurisdictions with concealed-carry laws, women are less likely to be raped, maimed or murdered than they are in states with stricter gun ownership laws.
Research has shown that states with nondiscretionary concealed handgun laws have 25 percent fewer rapes than states that restrict or forbid women from carrying concealed handguns. The most thorough analysis of concealed-carry laws and crime rates indicates that there are large drops in overall violent crime, murder, rape, and aggravated assault that begin right after the right-to-carry laws have gone into effect” and that “in all those crime categories, the crime rates consistently stay much lower than they were before the law.” Among the ten states that adopted concealed-carry laws over a fifteen-year span, there were 0.89 shooting deaths and injuries per 100,000 people, representing less than half the rate of 2.09 per 100,000 experienced in states without these laws.
Armed security works. Brave men and women stand guard over Capitol Hill, including the building where we are now. Snipers stand guard on the White House roof. Politicians and other high-profile individuals, including prominent gun-control advocates, have admitted to having gun permits either currently or in the past.
Armed guards often serve in the employ of those who themselves advocate for more restrictions on gun rights. Political figures seek to restrict gun rights, and Hollywood celebrities somberly urge Americans to “demand a plan” to reduce gun violence despite their own roles in graphically depicting lethal violence on the screen. In both cases, however, many of these political figures and celebrities already have their own plan: They rely on guns to safeguard their own personal safety. For example, armed guards protected a suburban newspaper in New York after the newspaper published the names and residential addresses of gun permit holders, and the newspaper’s own reporter already used a gun for his protection. After publishing the story, the editors disclosed that their reporter owns a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum and has “a residence permit in New York City.”
While armed security works, gun bans do not. Anti-gun legislation keeps guns away from the sane and the law-abiding – but it does not keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Nearly all mass shootings have occurred in “gun-free” zones. Law-abiding citizens do not bring firearms to gun-free zones, so psychotic killers know they can inflict more harm in these unprotected environments. These laws make easy targets of the sane and the law-abiding. Gun-control advocates cheer the creation of legally mandated gun-free zones, touting increased safety while actually making citizens in those locations more vulnerable to the next horrible monster in search of soft targets. A moment’s reflection confirms that statutory provisions and bold signs do not create a gun-free environment. No sober-minded person would advocate that approach when protecting banks, airports, rock concerts and government buildings. Instead, these publicly designated areas have the effect of creating high-visibility soft targets – conspicuous environments where madmen can wreak havoc.
We need sensible enforcement of the gun laws that are already on the books. Currently, we have more than 20,000 under-enforced or selectively enforced gun laws. Gun regulation affects only the guns of the law-abiding. Criminals will not be bound by such gestures, especially as we continually fail to prosecute serious gun violations or provide meaningful and consistent penalties for violent felonies using firearms.
Recently, a talk show host inadvertently exposed the absurdity of gun regulation in the District of Columbia when he displayed a 30-round magazine on national television, thereby embroiling himself in a police investigation. Ultimately, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia decided not to prosecute the matter. “Despite the clarity of the violation of this important law,” he concluded, “a prosecution would not promote public safety.” Why is it permissible to possess magazines to persuade people that guns are dangerous, but not for a woman to possess one to defend herself against gang rape? Overbroad anti-gun regulations unduly increase prosecutorial discretion and result in selective enforcement of the law. Equal justice under law should not depend on whether a prosecutor has a political or ideological motivation to seek enforcement. Nor should justice depend on whether a prosecutor has the good sense to decline enforcement of a knowing violation that does nothing more than unwittingly demonstrate the law’s absurdity and overbreadth.
In lieu of empty, self-defeating gestures, we should address gun violence by doing what works. By safeguarding our Second Amendment rights, we preserve meaningful protection for women. Our nation made significant progress in that regard when, in recent memory, the United States Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
For those who believe in safeguarding the civil liberties enshrined in our Bill of Rights, you would think this was an unremarkable conclusion. The constitutional text expressly guarantees the right “to keep and bear Arms,” and that right is specifically enumerated – not implied – and guaranteed to “the people.” In other words, unlike many of the individual rights that the Supreme Court has recognized – some would say invented – you can actually find the right to bear arms in the literal text of the Second Amendment. Moreover, the Constitution guarantees a “right of the people” only two other times, both of which clearly describe individual rights: The First Amendment protects the “right of the people” to assemble and to petition the government, and the Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people” against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Even so, dissenting liberals decried “the Court’s announcement of a new constitutional right to own and use firearms for private purposes.” Ironically, this claim originated from those who agree with the judicial philosophy that has discovered new fundamental individual rights hiding within “penumbras” that are “formed by emanations” from “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights.” Adherents to this view maintain that the Bill of Rights generates “penumbral emanations” that create assorted individual rights. However, they simultaneously claim that enforcing an individual right expressly written in the black letter of the constitutional text is the “announcement of a new constitutional right.” One the one hand, shadowy secretions reveal the hidden meaning of rights secretly embedded in the Constitution and awaiting judicial divination. On the other hand, they view a specifically enumerated guarantee in the Bill of Rights as “a new constitutional right.”
Moreover, the dissenting justices claimed that a local law could ban private possession of any form of operable firearm because “the adjacent states do permit the use of handguns for target practice, and those states are only a brief subway ride away.” They called this a “minimal burden” on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, as if a law-abiding citizen who is facing down an attacker might somehow have the ability to coax him onto the subway and take a brief ride to the adjoining jurisdiction’s nearest target range. Adherents of this judicial philosophy – which purports to allow the restriction of individual liberties as long as “a brief subway ride” would transport an aggrieved citizen to another jurisdiction where the penumbral emanations flow freely – would assuredly provide more robust protection for rights of their own judicial invention.
These are two dramatically different views of our Bill of Rights. One approach has repeatedly created new rights found nowhere in the Constitution while unflinchingly limiting the Second Amendment’s “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” to protect only the right to have a gun in the army, as peculiar as that would be. The other approach, which has twice prevailed in the Supreme Court, takes seriously the people’s enumerated rights – the ones actually written in the Constitution – and respects the Second Amendment.
In lieu of empty gestures, we should address gun violence based on what works. Guns make women safer. The Supreme Court has recognized that lawful self-defense is a central component of the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. For women, the ability to arm ourselves for our protection is even more consequential than for men because guns are the great equalizer in a violent confrontation. As a result, we preserve meaningful protection for women by safeguarding our Second Amendment rights. Every woman deserves a fighting chance.
Thank you. It has been a pleasure to be here with you this morning to discuss these issues of such paramount importance to the safety of our citizens. I welcome any questions you may have.
Gayle Trotter | Senior Fellow, Independent Women’s Forum | Attorney
Wayne LaPierre | Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, National Rifle Association
Captain Mark Kelly | USN (Ret.) | Americans for Responsible Solutions
Nicholas Johnson | Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law
James Johnson | Chief of Police, Baltimore County Police Department | Chair, National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence
Gayle Trotter at the the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Gun Violence – January 30, 2013
Gayle Trotter Defending Womens Gun Rights
Gun Debate: Senate Hearing (01/30/2013) Gayle Trotter #1
Gun Debate: Senate Hearing (01/30/2013) Gayle Trotter #2
Gun Debate: Senate Hearing (01/30/2013) Gayle Trotter #3
Gun Debate: Senate Hearing (01/30/2013) Gayle Trotter #4