Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women is a former prosecutor and rightwing culture warrior who notably believes that women who are armed with guns are less likely to be raped. Surely this will all end well.
While the nomination of Shannon Lee Goessling was announced in June and a hearing date has not yet been set, anti-violence organizations are mobilizing to play defense. Part of that has included publicizing her record on violence against women and related issues that would come under her purview in the office. Goessling does not have a long career working on issues of violence against women; even as the White House highlights Goessling’s time as the “head [of] the Crimes Against Women and Children Unit in Georgia’s largest county,” her own LinkedIn profile states that she was only in that position for nine months.
In an amicus brief she authored while the chief legal counsel for the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation, Goessling argued that the “right to use a handgun or firearm for self-defense is especially important to women, the elderly and the physically disabled.” Why? “Because their physical characteristics make them the most vulnerable to attack,” she wrote.
The solution then, logically, is to arm ourselves with guns, which she wrote are “the most effective self-defense tools for women.” In her brief, Goessling cited a researcher who wrote, “Women who are confronted with a sexual assault are significantly less likely to experience a completed rape if they resist with a weapon.”
This is, of course, the odd and wildly flawed argument that the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun advocates have been pushing for years—gun ownership as an act of feminist resistance, despite the fact that studies have shown that the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations makes it five times more likely for a woman to be killed. “This is what real empowerment looks like,” the NRA’s Dana Loesch said in 2016 in an ad targeted to women.
Susan Sorenson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies guns and violence, pointed out the flaws in Goessling’s argument in an interview with HuffPost. “Some might find it to be an appealing idea, but we don’t have any research that supports it,” Sorenson said of the idea that arming women can prevent violence. “What we do know is that women who purchase a handgun are more likely, in the days, weeks, months and years afterwards, to be the victim of homicide and suicide.” (Goessling’s argument also doesn’t appear to take into account the fact that most rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.)
Goessling, unsurprisingly, is also racist and homophobic. In 2007, she defended the owner of a popular cheesesteak shop in Philadelphia who had displayed a sign in his shop that read, “This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING PLEASE ‘SPEAK ENGLISH.’” As the chief legal counsel and later the executive director of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, Goessling argued against the legalization of gay marriage, sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Air Act, argued for the end of the use of race as a factor in college admissions, and sued the state of Alabama for offering driver’s license exams in languages other than English, with the group’s press release stating that “public safety is at stake.”
All of which makes women’s rights advocates understandably worried. As Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said in a statement: “Goessling’s severely flawed perspective essentially makes victims responsible for stopping their own sexual or physical assaults and threatens to hurt even more women, not protect them.”