Pro-gun state lawmakers are seeing the opportunity in high profile campus sexual assault cases to push for more lenient campus carry laws.
But student advocates say these proposals do nothing to stop sexual assault and are actually a cynical attempt to capitalize on difficult and often tragic events.
“Lawmakers’ efforts [to promote campus carry policies] are really co-opting a really powerful survivor and student-led movement,” said Dana Bolger, 23, co-founder and co-director of Know Your IX, a student organization that aids campus rape victims, and a college rape survivor.
John Foubert, president of One in Four, a national nonprofit aimed at preventing rape, was more pointed.
The prospect of guns on campus “is a colossally stupid idea,” he said. “Every bit of research I’ve read suggests it will do absolutely nothing to help prevent campus rape and it will likely do more harm than good.”
Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, a Columbia University senior who co-founded student activist group No Red Tape after she was raped during her freshman year, called the idea “idiotic.”
“The idea that just having a gun would somehow resolve the situation really ignores the way these assaults are typically playing out, as well as the complexities of navigating that experience of giving and getting consent,” she said.
Forty one states currently ban concealed carry on campus and few permit open carry, policies that have riled the pro-gun rights National Rifle Association (NRA) for years. But NRA-backed lawmakers have begun to push campus carry laws with the idea that lowering restrictions surrounding guns on campus would allow victims of sexual assault to defend themselves.
Florida Representative Dennis Baxley and Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, both Republicans, have backed legislation allowing students to carry guns. And lawmakers in at least eight other states, including Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas, have backed similar proposals, according to the New York Times.
“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,” Fiore told the Times.
While there’s been a renewed push at the state level for campus carry permits, the idea so far hasn’t gained real traction at the national level.
According to Lisa Maatz, top policy adviser for the American Association of Women, that’s because advocacy groups, whatever their agenda, see more opportunities for real impact at the state and local levels.
“Any kind of gun expansion or gun control legislation is just not something that Capitol Hill is taking on right now,” Maatz said.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a Michael Bloomberg-backed gun control group, published an open letter in conjunction with Know Your IX accusing Fiore and Baxley of “exploiting campus sexual assault to push the gun lobby’s agenda.”
“Forcing guns on college campuses would arm assailants and give them yet another tool of violence against their victims,” reads the letter. “We call on you to apologize for these cynical statements and to stop exploiting the issue of sexual assault for your own extremist gun agenda.”
Victims’ advocates say the idea of arming women to stop rape places the burden on the victim and not on the perpetrator of the crime. And they point out that most rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, meaning the victim may not feel compelled to carry even if it is legal.
But such laws aren’t universally opposed by students.The group Students for Concealed Carry has endorsed campus carry legislation.
“We’re not trying to say that campus carry is the solution for sexual assault. That’s simply not true,” Zachary Zalneraitis, a spokesman for the organization and recent graduate of the University of Florida who now works as a civil engineer, told Fusion. “But what we are saying is that there are some instances of sex assault where a stranger comes up and violently attacks a victim and currently the option to defend themselves [with a gun] is being excluded.”
“Having a person choose to defend themselves doesn’t put the burden on them to prevent it,” Zalneraitis said of the idea that the onus is placed on victims to stop rape. “We would love for all crime to be preventable just by telling people not to commit crimes. But in reality, crime still happens and if somebody wishes to carry a firearm to defend themselves, that should be their choice.”
But Bolger, the Know Your IX co-founder, points to studies that show guns don’t reduce sexual violence and even increase the likelihood of fatal domestic violence.
“Research has shown time and again that having guns around makes victims less safe, particularly on college campuses,” Bolger said. “These efforts, while perhaps well-intentioned, are not going to be very helpful for survivors or potential survivors.”