Women need to defend themselves, especially single women or those with husbands overseas. And the media has a responsibility to discuss honestly the issue of gun ownership. The John Walsh Show (search) on NBC may have dealt a blow (4/29) to both goals by "ambushing" three women who agreed to discuss their gun ownership and advocacy on air.
Their story is a fascinating glimpse into the sensationalizing bias that surrounds the gun issue.
Maria Heil (search) of Second Amendment Sisters, Tiffany Hyatt Theroit (search) of Armed Females of America and Lisa Marquez (search) had reason to trust John Walsh. The show's Web site describes him as "a tireless advocate for victims' rights and missing children." Moreover, Walsh claims to support the Second Amendment.
Why, then, is Maria's commentary about the show entitled "Liar, Liar"? Why does Tiffany accuse the show's staff of "invading our lives and using the fact that Lisa and I were victims to set us up." Why has Lisa released a public statement to explain she was "lied to" and declare that she, her friends and her family are "very disappointed" in Walsh?
Lisa had feared the show would be confrontational, making it too painful to discuss the domestic violence that prompted her to buy a gun. She tried to withdraw a few days prior to taping. But, as she explained, a staff member called "and promised this was a show about empowering women and not a debate." Tiffany had a similar experience and said, "we were told it would not be a debate, just about our own individual stories."
Lisa finally agreed to appear for the same reason as Tiffany, who had armed herself after being raped by an off-duty police officer. They wanted other women to know their options in self-protection.
Instead, the show turned into a humiliating circus, which seemed staged to discredit the pro-gun guests.
Maria explained what happened: "We were seated in order of our segments — Tiffany, Lisa, myself, and then Sylvia." Sylvia, whom the show described as "a former female gang member who says that she is now opposed to people owning guns for personal defense," was a surprise to the women.
(Strangely, the May issue of Marie Claire Magazine features an article on women and guns in which the same Sylvia is quoted, "When I go back to Compton, Calif., I stay strapped [armed with a concealed gun] 24/7." She also stated, "I spent three years in prison for attempted murder ..." There is a photo of Sylvia holding a gun, which is illegal for anyone with her criminal background to possess. As Maria observed, "I wonder how John Walsh, of America's Most Wanted fame, feels about showcasing a possible felon.")
Maria continued, "When Tiffany was telling her story, Sylvia started to say something a couple of times, but stopped herself ... Now it was Lisa's turn. Lisa never got to tell her story because Sylvia constantly interrupted."
During a commercial break, Tiffany complained to a producer about Sylvia's hostile interruptions. He reportedly told her to get "more aggressive," perhaps hoping for a "Jerry Springer" type brawl to erupt.
While Maria's segment was being taped, "they introduced a woman from the so-called 'Million' Mom March ... During my answers to the MMM'r, Sylvia felt compelled to interrupt me over and over. She even said that I was a criminal because I owned a gun!"
In a CNSNews article, Alexandra Jewett, executive producer of The John Walsh Show, denied that the pro-gun women had been set up. At first, she claimed that the MMM audience member just happened to be present and happened to belong to the anti-gun organization. However, as CNSNews reported, "two minutes into the broadcast," the woman had been "featured on camera, with her name and the caption 'Works with teens to educate them about gun violence.'" Jewett acknowledged that the MMM'r had been "placed in the audience by the show's staff."
The John Walsh Show should realize that women who pick up guns and learn how to defend themselves are not easily victimized. Maria, Tiffany and Lisa are using the abusive incident to educate people about media bias regarding gun ownership.
Meanwhile, Maria is busy correcting statements Walsh made on the show. For example, he claimed "nine kids a day die in gun accidents in the home." Maria observes that, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, the 9-a-day number includes "children" as old as 24 and more than 50 percent of those young adults commit suicide. When you additionally factor out "children" who are killed outside the home while involved in crime, the death rate falls to the lowest in recorded history. In Maria's opinion, Walsh deliberately overstated the number for sensationalism.
This is the state of the gun debate in North America. Maria's two daughters — aged 10 and 12 — had to hear their mother called a criminal for legally owning a gun by a woman who boasts of illegally owning one. A battered woman and a rape victim were incessantly harangued while Walsh's staff reportedly did nothing but suggest an escalation of the conflict.
Tiffany commented, "Whether women carry a firearm is their choice, but there is nothing wrong with having ... an informed decision." The media should facilitate this information flow, not halt it.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.