The Gender Divide on Gun Control

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The majority of women favor tougher laws, while 50 percent of men oppose them.

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Craig Ruttle/AP Images

Children are hope, wonder, and joy. Every child born holds out the prospect of starting over, of unlimited potential, of a better future. In the darkest days of the year, many cultures turn to a festival of light. In Christianity that celebration focuses on the birth of a child: the innocent and unsullied promise of a new age.

The first graders of Sandy Hook were mowed down as a group, but their funeral services bring them to life for us as individual children: little boys and girls who loved sports, cars, and animals; who dreamed of being artists, doctors, firemen. With each service the pain is renewed; the effort to imagine the unimaginable for the parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, cousins and friends. How can we sing "Joy to the World" this Christmas?

Yet the human spirit, always turning toward hope, seeks some way to give meaning and purpose even to the unthinkable and inexplicable. Twitter has #26acts, a movement to encourage people to commit themselves to 26 acts of kindness in memory of each child and teacher killed at Sandy Hook. On email, several friends have forwarded links to petitions for gun control with the argument that if this most horrific of school shootings can finally be the catalyst for real change, then we can rescue something good from pure evil.

Yet here again, the sexes diverge. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll released on December 17th, 59 percent of women but only 47 percent of men support more gun control. Thus when we read that 54 percent of all Americans support greater gun control, that majority is actually a significant majority of 59 percent American women who support it overriding the 50 percent of American men who oppose it.

Let us remember a new massacre of innocents. Let us use it as the touchstone of a new national conversation, one in which women make their voices heard and refuse to be silenced until we have at the very least banned assault weapons and closed the gun-show loophole. But let us not make this a divisive conversation. Let us instead remember that while the need to reproduce (or perhaps I should say the desire of our genes to replicate) is the source of biological and physiological differences between the sexes, the conceiving and bearing of children unites us more fundamentally than anything else can. Let us come together, led by our President and a group of newly courageous Senators and members of Congress, to protect our kids. If we can do that, we can recover a measure of hope, not just for our children, but for ourselves.

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Anne-Marie Slaughter is the president of the New America Foundation and the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was previously the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department and the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. More

From 2009-2011, Slaughter served as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, the first woman to hold that position. After leaving the State Department, she received the Secretary's Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor conferred by the State Department, for her work leading the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. She also received a Meritorious Honor Award from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). 

Prior to her government service, Slaughter was the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs from 2002-2009. She has written or edited six books, including A New World Order (2004) and The Idea That Is America: Keeping Faith with Our Values in a Dangerous World (2007). From 1994-2002, Slaughter was the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law and director of the International Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School. She received a B.A. from Princeton, an M.Phil and D.Phil in international relations from Oxford, where she was a Daniel M. Sachs Scholar, and a J.D. from Harvard.
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