Graeme MontgomeryJenny Deam, SELF magazine
Buffy Martin Tarbox is a hip, smart public relations professional in San Francisco. She volunteers for the local AIDS Foundation, and on weekends she scoots around the Bay Area in her baby-blue VW bug helping rescue wounded wildlife.
She is also armed.
Tarbox says her Smith & Wesson handgun is just like any other modern accessory in her life, along with her designer heels and handbag. "My personal satisfaction is that I can take care of myself," she says. "I don't need to rely on a man to protect me."
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But is Tarbox, or any woman, truly safer with a gun? Pro-gun forces want us to think so: They have aggressively promoted the idea that guns level the playing field against a stronger foe. Manufacturers have made weapons lighter and barrels shorter so they're easier for smaller hands to shoot--or to tuck into a purse or stylish holster. Sellers have customized handguns and rifles with pastel colors and glittery accents.
Doctors, however, insist guns are life-threatening, not life-protecting. Last year, an analysis of decades of studies published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine reiterated the message: Having a gun generally makes women and their families less safe. Living in a home with a gun doubles your risk both of being murdered and of committing suicide. Living in one of the states with the highest rates of household gun ownership makes you and your kids seven times more likely to die in a gun accident.
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Gun violence is one of the biggest health risks that young women and their families face today, says David Hemenway, Ph.D., director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of the 2011 research analysis. "This is not a constitutional issue. This is not about politics. The danger that guns pose to women is a public health issue," he says. "
Despite warnings from health experts, lawmakers across the country are loosening restrictions on guns. This year alone, 16 states considered bills to allow carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, versus only three states that sought to ban the practice.
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Gun-control advocates argue for laws, like one in California, that require child-safety locks to be sold with every handgun. But NRA spokeswoman Stephanie Samford says parenting decisions shouldn't be legislated. "Trigger locks can give gun owners a false sense of security," she says, adding that the number of accidental shootings has been dropping in recent years.
"There is no question that you can find anecdotes where a gun in the home was beneficial," Hemenway says. "But the evidence shows that, overall, a gun in the home increases the risk for injury. For most people, you can have a gun and nothing bad will happen. All public health is trying to do is help reduce the risk."
That risk is real. Whether or not you buy a gun depends on how willing you are to live with it.
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