I never thought about firearms before I moved to Oakland in October 1974. Growing up in New York City, I never saw a pistol except on the hip of a cop, or a rifle except in the hands of an agent provocateur who tried to entrap me. For all my revolutionary talk, I had never handled a gun.
Shortly after settling in California, though, I became involved with the Inez Garcia defense. For those who don’t remember, Garcia was a farm worker who, in March 1974, shot and killed one of the men who raped her. At around that same time, various radical groups were distributing posters of Third World women fighting for freedom in their countries. Those women supposedly carried rifles or even AK-47s, had bandoliers stuffed with cartridges slung over their shoulders, and carried babies on their backs.
Now it seems absurd to believe that a nursing mother would haul her infant into battle, or would even pick up a gun unless enemies were about to invade her home. But in 1975 I began to feel like a hypocrite. I decided to learn to shoot.
After some research and experimentation, I acquired a .38 special, a 9 mm semiautomatic, and a 30-30 deer hunting rifle—though I had no intention of hurting anything with fur or feathers. Various friends offered instruction, including Carol from A Woman’s Place Bookstore, who showed me how to use the rifle, and John from Wu Tao Kuan martial arts school, who praised my marksmanship. By that time I had moved out of the collective house where I was living and rented my own apartment near Lake Merritt.
My first opportunity to use a gun arose when Pamela, who had worked me at WBAI-FM, flew out to visit. After a short stay in the Lake Merritt apartment, she started an affair with Suzanne, another woman in the feminist community, and moved in with her. One night, when they had gone camping together near Santa Rosa, two men raped them at gunpoint. Suzanne just wanted to forget the whole thing, dismissing it as just another incident of bad sex with a man. Pamela came to me, distraught. She had been forced to suck one guy off and couldn’t stop vomiting.
I was enraged. Pamela and I devised a plan. During the rape, to protect herself she had pretended to enjoy the experience and want more, so she had gotten his name and address. We decided to kidnap him at gunpoint, tie him naked to a tree, and paint his dick blue. We would tack a sheet of paper to the tree describing his crimes. We packed our weapons and drove to the address Pamela had—but when we arrived there was no sign of him, and a neighbor said he had left the area.
The second opportunity came when a woman who wanted to join our community picked up her toddler, left her husband, and found a place to stay. As I recollect, she was from a Mormon family and had decided to come out as a lesbian. She was afraid her husband might come after her, so I went over there that evening, pistol in hand, thinking to provide protection. The gun scared her so much that she went back into the closet.
Not long afterward, Carol became involved with a woman named Diane. She helped Diane secure the apartment adjacent to mine, and Diane agreed to feed my cat when I went away for few days. I returned to find all my weaponry gone. As I was surveying the damage, my phone rang. When I picked up, a man’s voice said, “Hey Diane! Got anything more for me?” It turned out that Diane was a heroin addict. Carol had known that, but thought that love and trust would cure her. I was really pissed, to say the least.
My third opportunity occurred after I’d acquired another 9 mm. There were stories in the news about a man stalking women in Oakland and raping them at knife point. We were urged to stay at home until he’d been caught. I’m not going to be kept prisoner, I thought. If he has a knife, I have a gun. I put the gun in a holster designed to look like a fanny pack and went hiking in one of the regional parks.
It was no fun. Instead of being able to enjoy a peaceful hike, I felt like a soldier in enemy territory, expecting an attacker behind every tree. And, I realized, then what? If I wanted to get the drop on the rapist, I’d have to be walking around with the gun in my hand. I couldn’t ask him to wait while I unsnapped the pack, drew, and aimed.
Many years later I still had that 9mm when I moved in with a woman who had a troubled teenage boy. She was afraid that no matter how well I hid the gun, he’d find it and someone would get killed, so I got rid of it. (She was prescient, because when he started using drugs he attacked her, and I had to fight him off. It wasn’t too hard—he believed that I was a terrific martial artist, and was afraid that I would hurt him.)
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The men who raped Inez Garcia called her home afterward and threatened to do kill her if she didn’t leave town. Instead, she took her son’s .22 rifle and went after them, killing one.
She was charged with murder. Her attorney, famed radical Charles Garry, tried to get her acquitted on diminished capacity—in other words, she was cognitively impaired and didn’t know what she was doing. Garcia was having none of it. She shouted at the judge, “I killed the son of a bitch because I was raped! And I’d kill him again!”
The judge instructed the jury that whether she was raped was irrelevant. Garcia was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to five years. Afterward, a male juror commented, “A rapist is just trying to give her a good time.”
The women’s movement was outraged. We thought Charles Garry’s “diminished capacity” strategy came out of his own patriarchal, patronizing attitudes. We demonstrated, raised funds, and hired Susan Jordan, a feminist attorney who eventually obtained a new trial, claiming self-defense. Garcia was acquitted and released in 1977.
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With rare exceptions, perhaps including the Garcia case, guns do not make women safer. On average, fifty-seven American women are murdered every month by an intimate partner. “The gun control advocacy group Everytown estimates that in 57% of the mass shootings that occurred between January 2009 and June 2014, the perpetrator killed an intimate partner or family member… A woman in an abusive relationship is five times more likely to be killed by her partner if there is a gun in the house. It doesn’t matter if the gun belongs to her or to him: the presence of any weapon in a home afflicted with domestic violence means that the abuser is more likely to use it to kill her.” Not included in the statistics are the multitudes who survive gunshot wounds with lasting damage, both physical and psychological.
I don’t have an answer to male violence, which has gone on for millennia. Still, I am sure that the casualty level would be drastically reduced if men—and women—weren’t allowed to own guns. Yes, I’m talking about confiscation. Of course men will scream about their Second Amendment rights, but what they’re really talking about, and what none of the discussions in the media will come near, is castration. I think about Marine recruits parading with their rifles and chanting “This is my rifle, this is my gun, this is for fighting, this is for fun.” They seize their crotches at “gun” and “fun.”