Here’s Why Gun Licenses Aren’t the Sexual Assault Solution We Need

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Gun rights legislation is cropping up at the state level once again, with legislation coming, going, and stubbornly sticking is state legislatures in South Carolina, Georgia, Nebraska, and Vermont on everything from military spouse carry licenses, to felon firearm-purchase rules, to public education on gun use in schools. However, 10 other states are making efforts on a very specific area of gun law that has become highly publicized with events like those on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, along with reports of sexual assault in colleges across the U.S..

Specifically the issue of guns on campus has come up, with proponents in states including Wyoming, Nevada, Montana, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, and South Carolina, looking to change their laws to make it legal to carry a firearm on all campuses within that state. The New York Times has a breakdown of state law shown below, as it stands today.

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The general idea that sparked the gun carry movement is understandable at its most basic level. People worry about their children going off to college, as do young adults themselves. It’s a unique time in the lives of many young people. They’re leaving home, often too far for parents to help, often for the first time, and gaining new independence and responsibilities. The departure is recent enough that most parents are still thinking and worrying about their safety. They’re old enough to be responsible for their own precautions and well-being, but young enough to be targets — and still make mistakes. This is a generalization of course, and in some cases completely unfair. Some teens have dealt with more in the way of safety and assault concerns, and personal responsibility, by the time they’re 13 than a wealthy and sheltered 21-year-old will ever face up and into college. However, the fact remains: parents worry, students worry. This is a generally fair statement to make about students going away to school.

Some parents worry that inexperience or lack of care could make their children more likely to be hurt as well, thus bringing on questions of blame, especially in sexual assault cases, like “What were you wearing?” or telling loved ones to be careful, when sometimes being careful isn’t an effective protection against attack. A firearm may seem like a decent solution to this problem. Empower students to protect themselves against sexual assault, against gunmen, against attackers of whatever sort they might face. But there are some major misunderstandings about college campuses and how sexual assault works.

Sexual assault and women are particularly focused on when it comes to the open carry debate. “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,” said Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Nev.), as reported by the New York Times. There are a few problems with that statement, but without belaboring some of the gender assumptions and the wholly unnecessarily comment on the attractiveness of the female victim, let’s take a look at the concept. Will having a firearm help prevent sexual assault?

First of all, here’s another question: Will it increase accidental gun injury and death? Will it make the campus security more difficult to control and enforce? Could it lead to use of firearms in less appropriate circumstances? Sexual assault and rape are often linked with alcohol and drug use on campuses — though not always. But having a firearm in a house where a college party was taking place could be a dangerous combination, especially as a gun can be taken an used by other students, lost, stolen, and so on.

Media often makes it appear that they are headed for one of the most dangerous areas they could go to. Sexual assault is a major concern. Shootings like that seen in Isla Vista, Calif., make the news and spark enormous fears in parents and students alike. There’s an inability to control, a helplessness, a precognitive knee jerk concern that their children or friends on campus will fail to find safety in campus as well. However, are campuses really more dangerous than any areas?

When it comes to rape, statistics would say no. A study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that between 1995 and 2013, women of average college-age were more likely by 1.2 times to be sexually assaulted or raped when they were not in college. In part this is because those in college are likely to be of a higher socioeconomic group, and that in itself is correlated with a lower likelihood of sexual violence. However, it does suggest that perceiving campus as a hotbed of sexual crime is hardly fair when compared to the rest of the United States.

There are also some very basic facts about how most sexual assaults and rapes occur. “It reflects a misunderstanding of sexual assaults in general,” said John D. Foubert, head of One in Four, an organization that teachers about sexual assault on campus. “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,” said Foubert, according to the NYT. “Maybe if it’s someone who raped you before and is coming back, it theoretically could help them feel more secure.”

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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