As gun rights advocates push to legalize firearms on college campuses, an argument is taking shape: Arming female students will help reduce sexual assaults.
Support for so-called campus carry laws had been hard to muster despite efforts by proponents to argue that armed students and faculty members could prevent mass shootings like the one at Virginia Tech in 2007. The carrying of concealed firearms on college campuses is banned in 41 states by law or by university policy. Carrying guns openly is generally not permitted.
But this year, lawmakers in 10 states who are pushing bills that would permit the carrying of firearms on campus are hoping that the national spotlight on sexual assault will help them win passage of their measures.
“If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible,” State Representative Dennis K. Baxley of Florida said during debate in a House subcommittee last month. The bill passed.
The sponsor of a bill in Nevada, Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, said in a telephone interview: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”
Opponents contend that university campuses should remain havens from the gun-related risks that exist elsewhere, and that college students, with high rates of binge drinking and other recklessness, would be particularly prone to gun accidents.
Some experts in sexual assault said that college women were typically assaulted by someone they knew, sometimes a friend, so even if they had access to their gun, they would rarely be tempted to use it.
“It reflects a misunderstanding of sexual assaults in general,” said John D. Foubert, an Oklahoma State University professor and national president of One in Four, which provides educational programs on sexual assault to college campuses. “If you have a rape situation, usually it starts with some sort of consensual behavior, and by the time it switches to nonconsensual, it would be nearly impossible to run for a gun. Maybe if it’s someone who raped you before and is coming back, it theoretically could help them feel more secure.”