Seventeen years ago, I was raped.
I had a gun in my purse.

I guess it seems fitting that I write this on March 6th, the 17th anniversary of “the trauma.” I should preface this by telling you that I grew up in a very ‘pro-gun’ home, raised by a full time police officer (my dad) and a reserve officer (my mom). At the age of seven, tucked in between gymnastics, ballet, and karate, I shot my first handgun. My dad called me a natural. On special occasions throughout my life, Daddy would take me to the police training center so I could get “real world” training. I consider the hours spent in this environment, along with the hours at the firing range, to have given me an edge compared to most women.

At 18, I moved to Nashville, determined to be the next Shania Twain or Martina McBride. Legalities aside, my dad sent his eldest little girl off with a small, purse-sized .38 and a can of police-issued mace. I enrolled at Nashville State Community College and held down odd waitressing jobs. I dated a few guys, and ended up marrying a soldier.

On March 6, 1998, my best friend Michella came to visit for her 21st birthday weekend. I stopped for gas about twenty minutes before I was to meet up with her and some friends. I had a hippie bag slung over my shoulder with my gun inside. I noticed an old friend, Mason, who was also a soldier, by the side of the Marathon station so I stopped to catch up with him before pumping my gas. Because my husband and I had been fighting, throwing around the “divorce” word, I unloaded on Mason, telling him everything. He appeared sympathetic, hugging me, rubbing my shoulders, letting me cry on his shoulder. He comforted me. He started to rub my back again, when I noticed it was time for me to leave. I tried to pull away but within a split second I was face down on the bench seat of his truck with a knife to my throat held by his right hand and his gun pressed against my left shoulder, aimed at my head. I had no time to reach for my own gun that was literally inches from my hand. Time slowed, I disassociated from my own body and could see the whole incident as it happened. Somehow, in spite of all my training, I knew I couldn’t take his life. I knew the trauma caused by taking his life would be impossible to overcome. I knew, with his military training, I’d be killed. The entire incident lasted less than three minutes. He threatened my life, and the lives of my family and husband. As I got out of the car, I could have shot him, easily. But I was still in shock. I somehow made it to my car and left.

Guns escalate situations. That was one of the first things I was taught by my law enforcement parents. Even were I successful in shooting him, it likely would have been as effective as spraying water on a beehive. I somehow had the wherewithal to realize that his gun and training vs. my gun and training would end up with me in the body bag. Maybe he would have perished as well but weighing the risks in such an intense situation showed me that there’d be no winner. Mason knew I had a gun. He was doubly prepared should I have pulled it from my purse. But I didn’t have time to pull it, remove the safety, aim, and fire. After speaking from an advocacy point of view, speaking to other survivors, and law enforcement I know that most women wouldn’t be able to get far enough ahead of their attackers to get prepared to defend themselves with a firearm. The bottom line: Having my gun did not make me safer.

Giving college kids access to guns to curb the college rape epidemic is not the solution. Not everyone is equipped to handle the responsibility that comes with owning a gun. They lack training, and many aren’t able to think clearly through the rush of fear and adrenaline. Who wants to be responsible for having blood on their hands when one student kills another, whether that student is being threatened or actually assaulted? There are other ways to protect ourselves from sexual assault; education, harsher consequences for offenders, and teaching college kids to stay in groups, especially after dark, are a start.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I can only speak from my experience, and hope it opens up further conversation. Let’s table the gun discussion and find other viable solutions that don’t put women at greater risk for being murdered with a gun.

About the Author

ErikaGun violence prevention activist who shares her story in the hopes of helping others