Be not afraid of any man,
No matter what his size;
When danger threatens, call on me
And I will equalize.
-- Inscription on a
-! 19th-century Winchester rifle
Violence is a social leveler.
The lesser person cuts the greater person down to size by killing him. (It is why Cain slew Abel.)
And not for nothing was the Colt six-shooter called "the great equalizer."
God created men, frontier Americans used to say, but "Colonel Colt made them equal."
Women, who are on average smaller and lighter than men, rarely feel equal to men when it comes to physical confrontations.
And there are few women who do not feel at risk at night (and often in daylight) on the streets of America.
So it is small wonder that as crime has risen in America, women have turned to guns as a means of protection.
Not only do guns seem to hold out the possibility of equality between victim and victimizer, but the very act of possessing, if not actually firing, a gun provides one with a sense of power.
So why are some women members of Congress rallying against gun ownership by women? And why are they opposing the National Rifle Association's new efforts to educate women about self-defense measures including the use of guns?
"The NRA has run out of markets," Eleanor Holmes Norton, congressional delegate from the District of Columbia, said Friday at a news conference in front of the NRA's Washington headquarters.
"Men have long been fascinated by guns. Children as well, which is why there has been a 93 percent rise in homicides by children. Women are all that is left and women have been targeted by the NRA.
"Women are virgins when it comes to guns. The safest course is to remain that way."
So should that be a woman's role when faced with violence? Innocence? Passivity?
"We're not here to make women passive," Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said. "But there are approaches [to safety] other than guns. There is the Domestic Violence Act. There is better street lighting and better lit parking lots. There are a whole lot of sensible things. Being a gun toter has not protected society."
But some women have decided not to depend on laws and better street lights. Between 1983 and 1986, the number of women with guns increased by 53 percent.
Today, the NRA says 17 million women own guns.
And the NRA has just launched an ad campaign promoting a "Refuse To Be A Victim" course for women.
But those members of Congress who spoke out Friday accused the NRA of preying on women's fears, pointing out one NRA ad that says: "He's followed you for two weeks, he'll rape you in two minutes."
"The NRA has one purpose: to scare women into buying guns," Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, D-Pa., said. "These ads are exploiting fear to sell a product, a product that kills more than it protects."
The two sides in the debate have a fundamentally different view of the relationship between guns and violence in America:
Pro-gun advocates say guns fight crime. Ours is a dangerous society, they say, and to protect yourself against the gun-toting criminal, you need to tote a gun yourself.
Anti-gun advocates say guns cause crime. And if we reduce the number of guns in our society, we will reduce the violence and make everyone safer.
After the congresswomen finished their press conference outside the NRA building Friday, it was the NRA's turn to speak.
"This provides women with empowerment," Tanya Metaksa of the NRA said about the new self-defense program. "They can take their lives into their own hands. Women can refuse to become victims."
The congresswomen disagreed.
"Women don't choose to become victims," Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. "Women have no choice when it comes to gun violence."
She then held up a newspaper clipping about a 39-year-old Connecticut woman who was chased through traffic by her ex-husband and then shot in the head.
"The NRA is trying to exploit tragedies by saying guns are the answer and guns will protect women," DeLauro said. "In fact, guns are killing women."