A PICTURE on the front of The Boston Globe's metro section last week showed a group of women waiting to apply for firearm identification cards at the District 14 police station in Brighton. They were in a line, the accompanying story noted, that stretched the length of two corridors. By the time a reporter arrived to interview the applicants, some of them had been standing in that line for more than two hours.
"Rising fear, triggered by a string of sexual assaults in Boston, has prompted women citywide to take greater safety precautions," read the caption next to the photo. The assaults have been concentrated in two neighborhoods: Brighton, where an armed predator has attacked at least 11 women since last fall, and the North End, where seven women have reported being raped or sexually assaulted since May. When the police stations in those areas extended the hours to apply for gun permits, they were mobbed.
In the neighboring town of Brookline, where another sexual assailant has been on the loose, women are likewise applying for firearm IDs in record numbers.
"We usually only get one or two requests a month," Police Captain Peter Scott told the Brookline Tab. "But ... from July 15 to Aug. 12, we've had 18."
So far, no one has been killed in the Brighton, North End, and Brookline assaults, but women elsewhere in Greater Boston haven't been so fortunate. Alexandra Zapp was murdered at a rest stop along Route 24 in Bridgewater when she stopped at 4 a.m. to use the bathroom. In Chelsea last month, 18-year-old Monica Mejia was gang-raped by two men who then bludgeoned her to death with a rock and set her body on fire. It isn't hard to understand why so many women are lining up for permission to carry guns.
Except that they aren't.
The hundreds of women applying for firearm ID cards aren't planning on getting guns. They merely want to arm themselves with mace or pepper spray, and under Massachusetts law even that requires a gun permit. (Which, Chapter 140 of the state's general laws stresses, "shall clearly state that [it] is valid for such limited purpose only.") The headline on the Globe story made the point explicitly: "Female mace applicants pack precinct after latest assault."
But what if some of those women did want to protect themselves with guns? If they walked into a police station and applied for a license to carry a firearm for their personal protection, would they get one?
"They would not," says Mariellen Burns, the Boston police spokeswoman.
What if they lived in the North End and two of their friends had been raped and they were terrified that they might be next?
Tough luck, says Burns. "Living in a high crime area is just not enough of a reason to get an unrestricted license to carry."
Now, it is not news that Boston and Brookline -- and Massachusetts generally -- are frequently out of step with most of America. But it ought to be news when public officials increase the risk to life and limb of the people they are sworn to serve. And make no mistake: Those who prevent law-abiding women from arming themselves with guns make it easier for rapists and other predators to attack them with impunity.
Under Massachusetts law, ordinary citizens have no guaranteed right to carry a firearm for self-protection. It is left to the discretion of local chiefs of police to grant or deny applications for gun permits, and in places like Boston and Brookline, that discretion is driven by the liberal phobia about guns in private hands.
Phobias are by definition irrational, and it is decidedly not rational to keep guns out of women's hands -- not when reams of evidence confirm that violent crime falls as private gun ownership climbs.
"The US Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey has shown for decades that resistance with a gun is by far the safest course of action when one is confronted by a criminal," writes John Lott Jr., a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and author of More Guns, Less Crime, a pathbreaking study of the relationship between gun control and violent crime. It is especially so for women. "The probability of serious injury from a criminal confrontation is 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than resisting with a gun."
Lott analyzed 18 years of crime data from every US county. With each additional person carrying a handgun, he found, murder rates decline. But when that additional person is female, the drop in murder rates is 3 to 4 times greater than when it is a man.
Time and again, states adopting concealed-carry laws have experienced lower rates of murder, rape, and assault. Criminals are less likely to attack a victim who may be armed; those who do attack are more likely to be scared off if their intended victim pulls a gun. In much of America, this is increasingly understood as straightforward common sense -- so much so that a few weeks ago, the governor of Louisiana calmly urged women worried about a serial killer in Baton Rouge to get a firearm.
"I also want to remind people you have the right to get a gun permit," Governor Mike Foster said during a radio broadcast. "Most people don't ever want to use a gun to protect themselves ... but if you know how and you have a situation with some fruitcake running around, like they've got right now, it sure can save you a lot of grief."
But that attitude is alien to "progressive" venues like Boston, where rapists roam the streets and the women are unarmed. When you come to think about it, what's so progressive about that?
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe. His website is www.JeffJacoby.com).
-- ## --
Follow Jeff Jacoby on Twitter.