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A Call to Arms: Controlling Access to Guns Must Become a Women's Issue : PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE

June 20, 1993|ANN REISS LANE | Ann Reiss Lane is a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission.

If you're thinking of buying or now own a handgun, here's a sticker you can place on its barrel: "Warning! This gun is 43 times more likely to be used against you, your family or a friend than against an intruder."

As a police commissioner, I am disturbed by the idea that the best response to the problem of rising crime and diminishing police resources is greater citizen access to handguns. One of its advocates has even proposed arming able-bodied non-felons to act as an auxil-iary police force. The belief that this will make us safe defies rational thought.

There are now nearly 200 million guns in private hands in the United States--enough for every man, woman and child older than 5. If guns were the answer, we would be the safest society in the world. Clearly, we are not.

My years with the Los Angeles Police Commission have convinced me that the unchecked proliferation of guns only serves to feed violence. Police officials agree that if there were no handguns on the street, there would be a significant downturn in violent crime and homicide. Furthermore, more guns would not assist the police in their already difficult task of ensuring public safety. If anything, more armed citizens on the streets would only increase their burden. How much more difficult would it be for an officer to determine if the individual confronting him or her with a handgun is a dangerous felon or a law-abiding citizen who has decided to pack a gun?

But controlling access to guns is more than a law-enforcement issue. It is a public-safety issue and it is a health issue. The costs for trauma care resulting from street violence are astronomical. The psychic costs of living in a community of fear are immeasurable. More far-reaching are the costs to the individuals involved. We may be aware of the costs to the person who is shot (although television and films have minimized even that), but the emotional and physical wear on the person who has fired the weapon cannot be disregarded. Ask any police officer.

As a woman who believes that gun control is a critical health and safety issue, I find myself increasingly convinced that it must also be a women's issue. The gun manufacturers know that all too well. Currently, there are advertising campaigns targeting women in which guns come in shades of blue and lavender, in which pistols appear amid pearls and fur coats in fashion magazines.

But guns are not a fashion accessory. Women can--and must--take positive action, as was demonstrated so forcefully at a recent symposium on the control of guns and violence as a women's issue. The five basic principles formulated by that symposium constitute the philosophic foundation for future action:

* Freedom from fear is a basic human right. Woman, children and our families have the right to be free from firearm violence in our homes, streets, schools and workplaces.

* Guns are killing us, not protecting us.

* Gun violence is a health, safety and economic issue costing thousands of lives and billions of dollars every year.

* Women of all races and classes suffer from the epidemic of gun violence and must mobilize to stop it.

* The means is control of handguns and assault weapons; the end is a safe future for our families.

The way to achieve a safer and more nurturing community environment is not more guns, even in the hands of dedicated, if misguided, citizens, but the control and monitoring of those weapons already on the street and those that will be there tomorrow. If there is even to be a tomorrow, we must act to end the domestic arms race today. Our "call to arms" must be an "end to arms." Here, at this juncture of women's rights and human rights, is the hope for our future.

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