Today, the New York Times spotlights a movement at the intersection of two immensely violent American misunderstandings: first, the idea that carrying guns makes your surroundings safer, and second, the idea that the onus is on rape victims—rather than their rapists—to prevent their rapes.
Writes Alan Schwarz:
As gun rights advocates push to legalize firearms on college campuses, an argument is taking shape: Arming female students will help reduce sexual assaults.
As of now, concealed carry on college campuses is banned in 41 states and open carry is "generally not permitted." This is great, and sensible. The reach of the gun lobby in the United States has not, up till this point, been able to penetrate the university the way it's been able to penetrate many other spaces; any push to allow guns on campus has thus far been stymied by the very low common denominator of critical thinking required to understand that college campuses are already unstable in a regulatory sense—and consequently, that the introduction of guns into an environment marked by drugs, drinking, and other forms of constant, experimental (if often mild) illegality would be a literal death sentence to many people involved.
This is not a hyperbolic statement. Gun use can obviously be responsible in the individual instance, but in the aggregate, it's not: as per a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, having firearms within reach makes men four times more likely to commit suicide than in situations when the guns are not accessible, and it makes women three times more likely to become homicide victims. Adds Andrew Anglemeyer, a UCSF data analysis expert and Army veteran: "Since empirical data suggest that most victims of homicide know their assailants, the higher risk for women strongly indicates domestic violence."
So: guns make domestic violence more deadly for women. Rape on college campuses (as well as in general) happens in situations that mirror very closely the dynamic of domestic violence—the introduction of coercion and sexual assault under the cover of relationships and interactions that seem outwardly acceptable. And yet the weird abstraction of rape, the displacement of it from within the community—the idea that sexual violence is committed by people jumping out of bushes, instead of three-quarters of it being committed by people the victims know—combines with an unholy ignorance of the actual practices surrounding gun use in America, and leads us here:
This year, lawmakers in 10 states who are pushing bills that would permit the carrying of firearms on campus are hoping that the national spotlight on sexual assault will help them win passage of their measures.
"If you've got a person that's raped because you wouldn't let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you're responsible," State Representative Dennis K. Baxley of Florida said during debate in a House subcommittee last month. The bill passed.
The political hijacking is phenomenally perverse; this rhetoric invokes the safety of potential rape victims as a reason to allow guns on campus, which is a situation—due to the power differential that underlies sexual assault—that would dramatically decrease whatever safety these potential rape victims have.
There's another campus carry bill up in Nevada, and the bill's sponsor sounds like a winner:
The sponsor... Michele Fiore, said in a telephone interview: "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."
As for how many of "these young, hot little girls" would agree, the answer is 14 percent. According to the Times, 86 percent of women and 67 percent of men are in opposition to gun carry on campus, as are a "vast majority" of college administrators and faculty.
Those in favor, I'll venture to say, are either getting paid or deluding themselves: longitudinal studies have shown that a 1 percent increase in gun ownership leads to "a 1.1 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate and a 0.7 percent increase in the total homicide rate." It's sickening to imagine what guns on campus would do in terms of rape.
Image via AP