No, Arming Women Is NOT A Good Way To Stop Campus Rape

Illustrated by Pete Karras.
And, now for your daily dose of infuriation: A Nevada politician is defending her recent statements in The New York Times that female students on college campuses should be armed with guns to help prevent themselves from being raped. Every female student, she said, should be able to "defend him or herself from sexual assault."

“If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them,” Assemblywoman Michele Fiore mused. “The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”

The likelihood of that being true seems slim to none, and the implication that the onus should be on women (or, uh, “young, hot little girls”) to prevent their own assaults is offensive on innumerable levels. But, Fiore keeps trying: She is sponsoring a Nevada bill that would, indeed, permit students to carry concealed firearms, and sadly, there are similar bills in other states, too.

But, most assaults don't look anything like Fiore might imagine. The scenario she pictures is out of a movie — an evil predator leaping from a van in a sneak attack — but that's not how the vast majority of assaults play out. According to RAINN, 73% of sexual assaults are committed by "non-strangers," and nearly two-thirds happen in the survivor's home or the home of a friend.  

John D. Fourbert of Oklahoma State University and the national president of One in Four, agrees, as he remarked to the Times, “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.”

Campus officials and students themselves oppose these laws. According to the Times, some surveys have estimated that "a vast majority of college presidents and faculty members oppose allowing firearms on campus." Although support for the bills was slightly higher among students, "67 percent of men and 86 percent of women still disliked the concept."

One reason? Drinking and guns don't mix — at least they shouldn’t — and drinking, of course, is an accepted pastime on campuses across the country. As Mariana Prado, a sophomore at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., told the Times, “I think it’s a terrible idea. From what I’ve seen, sexual assault is often linked to situations where people are drinking, so it’s not a good idea to have concealed weapons around that.”

Allowing guns on campus would likely increase college violence overall. School shootings have been sharply on the rise in recent years — sadly, there are too many to list. It follows that openly allowing students to carry guns at school would only make it more likely for them to shoot guns at school. Inviting firearms onto college campuses would make it dangerously simple for kids already struggling with mental illness to turn to violence instead of getting the help they need —help that could potentially prevent tragic mass shootings.

Ultimately, campus firearm bills are another excuse for gun-rights advocates to push their agenda. While many gun-rights proponents claim to be pushing so-called campus-carry laws in order to deter sexual assault, it seems clear they are taking advantage of media attention around the issue to advance more pro-gun laws. And, some of their attempts seem to be working: There are lawmakers in 10 states promoting bills that would allow firearms to be carried on campus.

These arguments perpetuate the myth that the primary victims of rape are — to quote Fiore — "hot, young girls" on college campuses. But, as Lisa Factora Borchers wrote for Refinery29 earlier this year, "Research and demographic studies have repeatedly confirmed that marginalized populations — communities with low socioeconomic mobility, scarce social services, and histories of racial oppression — stand a higher risk for sexual assault." Sexual assault on college campuses is definitely part of the problem, but it's certainly not the sole problem — rape affects all communities. 

Alternative, nonviolent solutions and calls-to-action are needed to deter and end the propagation of sexual assault. For starters, instead of arming college women, we could pivot our attention on assailants and the culture in which they come of age.

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