In the latest push for legalizing firearms on campus — something we have previously argued against — lawmakers in at least 10 states are arguing allowing students to carry firearms will protect them against the dangers of sexual assault. This is a veiled attempt at pushing a pro-gun agenda, and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding about sexual assault at colleges on the part of these representatives.
Perhaps the most obvious flaw in the gun lobby’s argument is that allowing campus carry would not exclusively put guns in the hands of potential victims — it would also allow assaulters to legally carry guns on campus. Potential rapists would now have a new tool in their arsenal with which to attack.
But aside from this obvious lapse in logic, the idea that guns would affect rates of sexual assault demonstrates how little legislators understand the fundamentals of sexual assault on campus. College women, according to The New York Times, are typically assaulted by someone they know, making them likely reluctant to use a gun against their attackers. There is also the question of whether individuals will even have access to guns in an instance of assault — would a typical student realistically carry his or her gun to a party?
Even if the answer to that question is yes, this presents its own set of problems. With binge drinking at parties, the chance of gun accidents would be high. John Thrasher, president of Florida State University, is a vocal gun rights supporter who opposes guns on campuses. This is due to the death of a student in 2011 who was shot and killed when another student, showing his friends his rifle, shot the student when he didn’t realize his weapon was loaded. Add alcohol and the general recklessness of a college environment, and the potential for more stories in a similar vein is high.
One rape survivor, Amanda Collins, has stood on the pro-gun side of this debate, claiming that her 2007 rape at the University of Nevada — in which a stranger pinned her down and pressed his own gun to her head — could have been avoided had she been carrying her licensed gun. Survivors should always have a significant presence in debates surrounding sexual assault, and the value of their perspective cannot be overstated. Collins’ own story is haunting, and her points are persuasive. But Collins’ personal example is not representative of the majority of campus sexual assaults, which tend to happen between individuals who know each other and not in unfamiliar settings. Moreover, there is truly no way to know if having a gun in those circumstances would prevent these violent acts from happening — no matter how good a shot someone is.
It appears lawmakers are taking advantage of the widespread attention the very serious issue of sexual assault is receiving in order to further their own agenda. This is not befitting of the elected positions they hold. Campus sexual assault is a national problem that requires serious analysis in order to achieve real solutions for the men and women affected by it. It is obvious lawmakers have particular constituents in mind when they push these bills — but not the ones they claim to have in mind.