Domestic violence is a difficult topic for multiple reasons. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend how abuse affects a person mentally, physically and emotionally if you’ve never been there. Of course, if you have been there, it can be deeply painful and embarrassing to discuss. Feeling shame when talking about the abuse you endured and how long you put up with an ever-increasing escalation of abusive behaviors and actions is normal but can be overwhelming. Learning to defend yourself is often a key part of healing. And that’s where firearms come in.

Domestic Violence By the Numbers

The statistics surrounding domestic violence are often viewed from only one angle. Nine times out of ten, women are seen as the abused. And while it’s true that women are abused with greater frequency, men are abused too. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 10 million people are affected by abuse on an annual basis. The gender-specific breakdown it’s been able to gather is that one in four women and one in nine men are victims of domestic violence. Those numbers count on abuse being reported though. The logical conclusion here is that more women are being abused than you think — and so are men. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the shame, embarrassment and denial that abuse is happening is greater in men, and men are therefore even less likely to report it than women are.

Statistics on women and gun ownership aren’t as comprehensive as I’d like to see. But there is some data out there. According to a Pew Research study from 2017, approximately 22 percent of women say they own a firearm, while 39 percent of men own a gun (that breaks down to roughly one in five women and three in five men owning guns). This does not take into account the many people who would likely refuse to answer the question or the fact that the study group may have been biased one way or another. After all, if a random person asked if I owned a gun, my response would not be to hand over a list of the firearms in my possession. Firearms-related studies can be hard to quantify.

If you take the stats surrounding domestic violence and compare them to the numbers for firearms ownership, you might conclude that women are not arming themselves at the same rate that they are being abused. And what about men? Many fall firmly into the “would never hit a woman” camp, even if the woman in question is physically battering them. They take it. Here’s the thing about those numbers though: Studies show women who own guns are significantly more likely to own them for self-defense than men, who often have guns for hunting or plinking. What does that tell you?

It’s a Cliché, But…

Some people think that a large number of the women who own guns do so because they have been threatened in some way. It might be an abusive romantic relationship, familial abuse, a stalker or something else entirely, but the threats and fear are real. This idea exists because it’s true.

An incredible number of women buy a gun to protect against a violent person in their lives. While it is good that these women are following Cooper’s first rule — get a gun — it’s terrible how many never take it beyond the purchase. You have only to stick your head in a women’s gun group on social media or listen to the idle chatter of women at certain women-only gun-related meetings at your local range to realize how few women actually train. The vast majority appear to buy a gun and either put it away and forget about it — stating it’s for home defense — or shove it into an unsafe “holster” marketed to women and never really think about it again. The gun becomes less “useful, lifesaving tool” and more “metal or plastic security blanket.”

Then there’s the mentality behind self-defense and guns.

You Are Worth Defending

If you are a person who has been abused, your self-worth is severely damaged. Odds are you don’t think you’re even worth defending, which is why so many abused women get guns not to protect themselves but rather to defend their children. The logic there is a failed one, because if you’re not prepared and properly trained, you won’t be able to defend your children. And if you plan to use yourself as a human shield, who do you think is going to save your children when you are broken and bleeding on the ground — or dead? Who will stand between your abuser and your children when the abuser takes you out of the fight as easily as swatting a fly?

It might take therapy (it will probably take therapy), but it also takes time and effort to change your mindset. Understanding that YOU are worth defending is a vital part of carrying a gun for self-defense. You must believe in your own value and invest the time and money necessary to become a competent shooter. It isn’t just about live fire either. Truly successful self-defense firearms ownership includes an understanding of the law.

Be Prepared

Another factor of the mindset of self-defense is understanding what it really means to use a gun to defend your life against a deadly threat. If you are not prepared to not only aim a gun but also fire it at someone trying to kill you, don’t carry. I cringe every time I hear or see a woman saying she’ll just get her gun out and that will scare off an attacker. It doesn’t work that way. Of course, I also cringe at the number of men who seem to be looking for or relishing the idea of a fight. Believe me when I say it is not something you want to experience. It is, however, something you need to mentally prepare yourself for well before the day comes.

Being prepared means not only having a gun but also knowing how to use it — and knowing what the laws are surrounding it. It takes time, money and energy. Those are precious commodities in the best of times but even harder to come by when your strength and resources are being drained while trying to fight the abuse or leave an abusive situation. If at all possible, find a support system. Support might be found in someone you already know, or you may discover it by reaching out to strangers. There are many of us in the firearms industry more than willing to give you a hand along the way. Doing this on your own is overwhelming and can be crippling. Remember, you’re not alone and you’re a stronger person than you realize. The first step is the hardest. The second and third aren’t much easier, but you can do it. Fight back. Defend yourself. You are worth it.