Two weeks ago, this column was about guns. Writing about guns tends to trigger a fusillade of responses, including, without fail, a bunch of really nasty and unprintable ones.

One of the frequent retorts thrown at me when I’ve talked about maybe making it even slightly more difficult to access firearms is: “What about women living alone?”

In case you’re new here, let me confirm: I am a woman living alone. And I’ve thought about what I would do in the event that a rapist-murderer breaks into my house in the middle of the night. What woman hasn’t? I sleep with a metal pipe in my bedside table and a dog between my legs (which is probably contributing to my back problems, but it’s Janey’s favorite spot).

The idea that your average American needs a gun for personal protection is not backed up by crime rates and statistics, and certainly not here in Maine, which is consistently a pretty safe place to live. The majority of violent crime happens between a victim and a perpetrator who know each other.

For example, among homicides reported to the FBI between 1993 and 2008, between 73% and 79% of offenders knew their victims. That means between 21% and 27% of homicides were committed by strangers. That rate is even higher for the crime of rape, where 80% of victims know the offender (rape is one of the most underreported crimes, meaning the statistic could be even more skewed). I am far more likely to be sexually assaulted by a man I’ve willingly gone on a date with than by a stranger breaking in. As for the crime of theft, most home burglaries happen when nobody is home because, amazingly, it’s easier to steal stuff if nobody is there.

When I bought my home insurance policy, I had to do an inventory of my personal possessions in order to get the right amount of coverage in case of fire or theft. I can confidently say that there is nothing easily snatched that’s worth a lot of money in my house, and I don’t own any possession worth killing someone over. Objects are replaceable. Humans are not.


Americans tend to wildly overestimate the likelihood that they will be the victim of a crime. This is largely because of the media – in particular, television media, which needs to generate round-the-clock news content.

There’s an old saying in the journalism business: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Violent crime attracts attention, eyeballs, readers and clicks. Crime is more exciting to read about than a recap of the local sanitation board meeting, even though that’s much more likely to impact your personal life than a convenience store two towns over getting held up for drug money. (My mom writes murder mysteries for a living, so I get it.) But if you’re constantly seeing crime stories, you’re more likely to think it will happen to you. You might think you need a gun, for “personal protection.” The gun lobby fans these flames because it’s profitable for them, as well as for the media.

I understand fear quite intimately. I have an anxiety disorder which, when you strip away all the fun medical jargon, means that I feel fear all the time, in situations when the average person wouldn’t, shouldn’t, or doesn’t. If my anxiety disorder was a gastrointestinal problem, it would be as if you were kind of nauseous all the time, punctuated by the occasional bout of projectile vomiting (in this metaphor, those are the panic attacks).

My brain does not correctly process threat perception. For example, if I eat a vegetable that tastes slightly different than the other vegetables on the plate, my brain immediately releases a flood of adrenaline and other fight-or-flight hormones into my body and I immediately start thinking I’m going to get a horrible case of food poisoning and die. This sounds very silly to write out and admit, but it’s how my neurochemistry works, and the reason I’m explaining it is because I want you to understand that I am very, very familiar with the feeling of fear. But because I am so accustomed to feeling afraid, I know how to function with it. I have a lot of practice. Can you imagine adding a gun into the mix?

I think America has given itself an anxiety disorder. The difference between me and society as a whole is that usually I can tell when my fears are statistically unlikely and unfounded. I can’t usually talk myself out of feeling fear altogether, but I can usually stop myself from doing anything incredibly stupid in response to that fear. We’ve seen the consequences recently of what happens if that fear of “What if I am living alone and need to protect myself?” gets blown out of proportion and guns are in the mix.

Take the case of Ralph Yarl in Kansas City, Missouri. Ralph is a Black 16-year-old who knocked on the wrong door to pick up his younger siblings and was immediately shot in the head by the homeowner. According to his family, he then went and knocked on three other doors in the neighborhood, bleeding from a head wound, and nobody helped him – presumably, because he was a young Black man covered in blood and the citizens of that neighborhood were afraid they were somehow going to be the victim of a crime.

Or take the case of Kaylin Gillis in Hebron, New York. She and some friends pulled into the wrong driveway. I literally did that exact same thing yesterday, for neither the first nor the last time – I’ve never been good at directions and sometimes you have to get really close to a building to read its number. And that homeowner shot her and killed her.

My mom grew up two towns over, in Argyle. It’s small. It’s rural. There’s very little crime and what crime there is tends to be domestic violence. I’ve seen news articles about this murder that summed up the incident as “Kaylin Gillis is dead because she took a wrong turn.” No, Kaylin Gillis is dead because an irresponsible person had an unrestricted right to own a gun and saw an opportunity to use it. You know who else completely freaks out when a car enters the driveway or a person knocks at my door? Janey, my anxious, overprotective dog.

These paranoid guys who shoot first and engage critical thinking later are operating on the same level of cognition as my dog.

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