Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Hot Little Girls with Guns

By Taylor KeatingPublished March 14, 2015

Gun rights advocates and lawmakers seek to end sexual assault by permitting firearms to be carried on college campuses. Are armed civilians the best way to protect rape victims?

In September of 2014, President Obama launched the "It's On Us" campaign to address the alarming number of sexual assaults on college campuses. The initiative aims to combat sexual assault through increased awareness, encouraging Americans to step up in social situations and prevent potential assaults. The campaign is admirable, and greatly needed, but some gun rights advocates and lawmakers feel that a different course of action is needed. They claim that campus carry laws, which would allow college students to carry concealed weapons on campus, would help end sexual assaults on college campuses. Putting aside the fact that there is evidence against this "armed civilian" theory, this argument indicates a lack of understanding of both victims and perpetrators of sexual assault.

Lawmakers in 13 states, including Nevada, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming, are promoting these campus carry laws. Florida's campus carry bill, SB 176, was recently approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and will be presented to another committee later this month. Amanda Collins, a rape victim from the University of Nevada, Reno, has been invited by sponsors of the Florida bill to testify in front of the committee. Collins, who was raped in 2007 on her college campus, maintains that her attack would not have occurred were she allowed to carry her firearm on campus. This type of student advocacy is mirrored by Students for Concealed Carry, a student group that lobbies for "legal concealed carry on college campuses in the United States as a means of self-defense."

Pro-campus carry lobbyists and lawmakers are either unaware of or ignoring the facts and statistics surrounding sexual assaults. Two-thirds of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. While no one would argue against a victim's right to self-defense, that person would forever live with the knowledge that they killed someone they knew. The shooting itself may have irreversible mental damage, potentially resulting in PTSD or other illnesses. Additionally, this argument is made under the assumption that the victim successfully shoots their attacker. John Foubert, president of the One in Four organization that works to prevent rape, points out that rape usually "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." Furthermore, drugs and alcohol play a large role in many sexual assaults on college campuses.  A firearm is the last thing that one would want to put in the hands of an intoxicated individual, even one with sufficient gun training and expertise. Even John Thrasher, gun rights advocate, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, and president of Florida State University, opposes the campus carry laws. One of his family friends, a sophomore at FSU, was fatally shot when a rifle was discharged in a fraternity house.  

In connection with evidence against arming civilians, lawmakers' disillusion with the realities of sexual assault indicate that campus carry legislation may just be another attempt by gun rights advocates to weaken gun regulations. Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, sponsor of AB148 in Nevada
, remarked, "If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them." Fiore's statement plays off of the traditional victim/assailant roles in rape cases, which is neither helpful in understanding sexual assault nor accurate in many rape situations. In order for lawmakers to work towards an end to sexual assault, it must take priority within legislation. The NRA and victims of sexual assault have little in common; therefore their interests should be addressed separately.