In a move that would be ironic if it weren’t so sadly predictable, the gun lobby is attempting to co-opt the anti-sexual violence movement for its own violent ends.
Lawmakers in 10 states including Florida, Nevada, and Texas are pushing legislation that claims to reduce sexual violence — by arming students with guns. The legislation seeks to overturn bans on carrying guns on college campuses. As Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore said, “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.”
But easily accessible weapons on campus won’t reduce violence. Instead, they’ll put even more students in danger.
The lawmakers’ efforts have built legislation on a classic rape myth: that the greatest threat to a woman is a stranger lurking in the bushes on her late-night run. Actually, women (and people of other genders) are most in danger while with someone they know and trust. Studies demonstrate that the vast majority of campus victims were raped by a partner, friend, or close acquaintance.
The gun lobby elides the fact that the high-profile stories to which it implicitly appeals – the stories of young women like Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia and Angie Epifano at Amherst – are stories of violence at the hands of trusted friends. These close classmates are precisely the people around which victims will never think to carry a gun – let alone use one.
Not only will guns fail to reduce sexual violence, they will increase it. Guns are the most common weapon used in the murders of intimate partners. Time and again, research has shown that having guns in the home exacerbates domestic violence: The Department of Justice found that in the U.S. between 2000 and 2012 7,454 women were shot to death by intimate partners. Of intimate partner murders around that period, nearly half — 48% — involved a gun. For victims in abusive dating relationships, guns can be a death sentence: The mere presence of a gun increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
The widespread use of alcohol and other drugs on college campuses only intensifies the danger to victims and unwitting bystanders.
At the end of the day, using a gun in self-defense often leads to terrible repercussions for the victims who try to protect themselves. One need only look to Marissa Alexander, a survivor of domestic violence who was imprisoned for three years, and is now confined to house arrest, for merely firing a warning shot into the air when her abuser threatened her. Alexander is from Florida, one of the states considering permitting guns on campus under the guise of stopping rape.
Conservative co-optation of feminist anti-violence work is nothing new. Racists used sensationalized tales of sexual violence to feed into hatred and attacks on black men; “tough on crime” bills in the name of victim’s rights led to draconian role-backs in defendant’s due process in the later 20th century. And we’ve seen this particular line – that guns stop rape – from the gun lobby before.
But survivors are not window dressing for disingenuous politicians to disguise their violent platforms as sensitive plans for justice and safety. If these bills proceed in state legislatures, proponents should be ready for vocal opposition from the very constituents they claim to support.