Photo of a 2011 protest against a campus carry law in Virginia. Photo by Michael Tefft (Creative Commons).
When I first moved to Florida from the United Kingdom, for college, the concept of knowing someone who had been raped was foreign to me. My naiveté disappeared overnight. Upon arrival at Florida State University, I was introduced to campaigns such as “It’s On Us” and my school's own initiative, “kNOw MORE,” both of which focus on ending sexual assault. I was astounded to learn how rampant sexual assault is on college campuses in the US and how some university administrators were often not taking rape cases seriously. Now in my senior year at school, a devastating number of my friends, that I’ve met at university, have been raped or sexually assaulted, both on and off campus.
And now, the National Rifle Association has seized on the epidemic of sexual assault as a way to build support for a dangerous idea: forcing colleges to allow guns on campus. The gun-rights group has been backing “campus carry” bills around the country. Right now in Florida, there are two bills on the table: House Bill 4001 (already passed the Florida House) and Senate Bill 68. If Senate Bill 68 passes, concealed carry permit holders would be allowed to bring their firearm onto campus grounds without limitations. You’d be able to take it to class, to your dorm, the library and even counseling sessions. Nowhere would be off-limits.
This isn’t the first time polices like this have been introduced. Thanks to a corporate-funded bill mill known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), 31 states in the US have campus limited carry laws, with nine having minimal restrictions. Many people were shocked to learn that colleges in Oregon couldn’t keep concealed weapons off college campuses, even after a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College last year. Students in Texas have pledged to protest their state’s newly enacted campus carry law by carrying dildos on campus—as guns are allowed, and sex toys banned on school grounds. Florida legislators are ignoring a recent poll conducted by the University of South Florida that reports 73 percent of Floridians don’t want guns on campus, including students, staff, and faculty.
Students for Concealed Carry, Florida Carry, and the NRA argue that being able to carry a gun, at all times, is a self-defense issue and is crucial for protecting women from rape. How can we leave women defenseless sitting ducks?! According to the NRA, guns are the only answer. “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,” Florida State Representative Dennis K. Baxley told the state legislature in a debate over a campus carry law last year. In an interview with the New York Times, the sponsor of a Nevada campus carry bill said, “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them.”
Map by ArmedCampuses.org
The Florida Coalition To Keep Guns Off Campus, a state affiliate of the nationwide Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, is pushing back against this misleading narrative. Backers of the bills are deliberately ignoring the facts: 77 percent of current concealed carry permit holders in Florida are men. We wouldn’t be arming potential victims; we’d be arming potential perpetrators. The availability of guns is a huge contributor to domestic violence in the United States, where five women are killed by guns every day. Not only that, but an in-depth study by the Center for American Progress showed that women owning guns for self-protection has not been shown to limit fatalities, and in fact, it may increase their chances of being murdered.
A number of organizations dedicated to confronting rape culture and helping survivors have spoken out against campus carry bills. The president of anti-campus rape nonprofit One in Four, John Foubert, told the New York Times that these advocates’ campus carry argument “reflects a deep misunderstanding of sexual assaults in general.” He’s right, rape itself is a violent act, but most rapes on college campuses aren’t committed by a stranger attacking someone on the street. Often, they occur in situations where victims wouldn’t be able to use a weapon to defend themselves because they’re intoxicated, drugged, or coerced into date rape. You want to add guns to that already toxic mix?
Photo by Paul Sableman (Creative Commons)
Gun rights advocates are clearly hijacking the very serious issue of ending rape to push a political agenda. And it’s an agenda that could actually make campuses less safe. In 2013, after Colorado forced its public colleges to allow campus carry, reports of rape increased 36 percent. In Utah, incident rates in the past four years have increased anywhere from 6.6 percent to 14 percent. This is happening even as the national average is slowly decreasing.
In fact, according to academic research, students who carried guns while at college were more likely to report “being victims and perpetrators of physical and sexual violence at college” compared to students who did not carry guns. A 2002 study in the Journal of American College Health suggested that students who kept firearms on campus did not help make the school grounds safer, and found that they were more likely to engage in risky or illegal behaviors.
To make matters worse, Florida is a “Stand Your Ground” state. This law is statistically proven to most affect minorities. If campus carry passes, Stand Your Ground would expand to college campuses. If the NRA cares about women, I want to ask, do they know how this would affect minority women? The case of Marissa Alexander comes to mind. A Black Florida woman who fired a warning shot at the ceiling to dissuade her abusive husband from attacking her. She was facing 60 years in prison, but was released in January after pleading guilty to assault. This is a law that protects white men, but not Black Americans and certainly not Black women. Our campuses are hugely diverse—do we want to risk it?
Right now, the voices of university staff, faculty, students, and sexual assault survivors who oppose these bills are being ignored, while proponents are continuously validated. It’s infuriating that rape is being used as a political football to advance an agenda that is not in women’s best interests, while legitimate campaigns to combat rape culture on campus struggle for funding and are often sidelined by the media and politicians. The NRA is pitting women against women, creating an arena where women are publicly challenged to validate their experiences. This is part of a worrying trend, where instead of discussing why sexual assault is so prevalent and what society can do to combat it, concealed carry advocates are telling opponents that they are essentially at fault if a woman gets raped on campus, and inadvertently telling women that they are at fault for being raped on campus if they are not armed.
Campus carry is not a silver bullet that will prevent or stop sexual assaults and its supporters are ignoring dangerous variables and avoiding real solutions. If passed, it would create another layer of victim blaming. It would again, be placing the burden on women to protect themselves, instead of putting the responsibility on potential rapists. We already protect ourselves. We’re taught not to walk home alone at night, to carry pepper spray, and to go to self-defense classes. We’re told to not dress a certain way, to always be aware of our surroundings, and to keep an eye on our drinks. The NRA thinks we should also be told to carry a gun.
Putting a stop to campus carry is part of the solution to ending violent misogyny. No rape, no guns, and no using women’s bodies to sell legislation that supports violence.