There are very few college campuses where students can carry firearms, either due to state law or university policies. For some years certain firearms advocates have been trying to overturn such prohibitions with state laws that would allow the concealed carry of firearms on college and university campuses. Right now campus-carry bills are being considered in ten states: Florida, Indiana, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.
After years of trying to overturn prohibitions on concealed carry of firearms on college and university campuses, pro-gun advocates are now pointing to the alarming rate of sexual assault on college campuses as evidence of the need for the right to carry a gun on campus. According to the sponsor of one such bill, Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, “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.”
Such arguments beg the question: could arming students actually be an effective deterrent to sexual violence? In this post we will consider what we know about the circumstances of most campus sexual assaults, and whether or not that knowledge suggests that these crimes could have been prevented by the presence of a firearm.
Most Sexual Assault Victim/Survivors Know Their Assailant
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics December 2014 report on rape and sexual assault, approximately 80% of college women who suffer rape or sexual assault know their assailant. Any effort to deter sexual assault by arming students has to factor in that the vast majority of assault cases could only be prevented by a gun if the victim were willing to shoot or threaten to shoot a friend, acquaintance, or current or former intimate partner.
It’s easy to imagine how carrying a concealed gun could protect a woman who was accosted by a stranger when walking home from campus late at night. However, as suggested by the statistic cited above, the large majority of campus sexual assaults do not involve strangers jumping out of bushes and attacking women walking alone at night.
According to national president of anti-sexual violence group One in Four, John D. Foubert, “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.” The utility of campus-carry bills as sexual assault prevention measures should be evaluated in the context in which most sexual assaults actually occur.
Many Assaults Occur in Situations Which Involve Alcohol
According to the same BJS report cited above, 47% of college women who experienced rape reported that their assailant was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. A further 28% weren’t sure whether their assailant was intoxicated or not. Just 25% said that their assailant was sober. These statistics should hardly come as a surprise, given the well-documented connection between binge drinking and college campuses. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
- 40.1% of college students reported binge drinking in the past month
- 60.3% of college students reported drinking alcohol in the past month
- each year 97,000 students between ages 18 and 24 suffer alcohol-related sexual assault or rape
- each year 696,000 students between ages 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking
In addition, numerous studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between alcohol abuse and suicide and homicide attempts.
This data would seem to support the sentiments of a sophomore at Stetson University who said, “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.”
Campus-Carry Bills Would Arm Assailants as well as Victim/Survivors
It is important to consider that there is no way for a campus-carry bill to distinguish a potential sexual assault victim from a would-be perpetrator. Lawmakers who wish to protect potential victims of sexual assault must weigh the perceived benefit of arming potential victims against the harm of arming their would-be attackers.
In conclusion, before arming college students in an attempt to prevent campus sexual violence, we would do well to consider the reality of the circumstances of campus sexual assaults and do more research on what prevention strategies do and do not work.