Guns Are Not the Great Equalizer Between the Sexes

In Tallahassee, the debate over guns on campus is heating up again, with more committees passing the bill through this week.

Tallahassee-based State Representative Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda has taken a lot of pressure from the FSU community to listen to their concerns, yet instead she signed on to co-sponsor the bill.  While she is term-limited out of office in 2016, there are rumors of her considering a run at Senator Montford’s Senate seat when he is term-limited out.  With all the talk of candidate recruitment, let’s hope they find some better candidates who are more able to respond to their constituents.

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However, the debate over guns on campus will do doubt be one of the main contention points over the upcoming session. Combined with Representative Matt Gaetz’s open carry legislation, there is no doubt that the gun debate will be one of the focal points.

Of course, the argument for guns on campus is full of logical fallacies that representatives like Rehwinkle-Vasilinda continue to ignore.  Over the summer, an editorial ran around the state with the headline “Do you support campus carry or do you support rape?”

Miami Herald posted the article. 

Gainesville Sun posted the article. 

Palm Beach Post posed the article.

(Along with many other prominent newspapers around the state).  While only a few used her attention-grabbing headline, Rebekah Hargrove put forth a common National Rifle Association (NRA) talking point that women need a gun to be safe.

She directly states: “The issue comes down to whether you support the right to carry on campus or whether you support rapists having free access to unarmed victims. It’s that simple.”

She is wrong both in her logic and her assertions. First, guns do not bring equality between the sexes. Rape and sexual violence are about power and control. If any individual is afraid to the extent that they feel unsafe without carrying around a loaded weapon, then they have already been victimized. No one deserves to live with that amount of fear. Individuals do not get raped because they do not carry a gun; they get raped become an individual decides to rape them and none of that blame should be placed on the victim because of something they did or did not do.

All individuals have the right to go to school without fear of sexual violence or harassment, outlined in Title IX. In 2011, the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education issued a landmark statement about safety on campus:”The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.” Everyone has the right to feel safe going to class and it is the legal responsibility of the institution to provide that protection. While many students have been demanding more from their administrations, the right to safety is undisputed.

Secondly, this bill does nothing actually equalize the student population. Hargrove neglects to point out that the legislation is only directed at students over the age of 21. This creates an unequal power dynamic where some students are armed and some are not, and fails to provide a more equal environment. According to the National Institute of Justice, the majority of campus rapes happen within the first six months of college, so this legislation does nothing to help the most vulnerable. Furthermore, two-thirds of college rapes happen off campus, so this bill does nothing to address those victims either.

Overall, Hargrove grossly misrepresents the realities of rape. Hargrove states that “If gun-free zones and whistles worked, why are so many women still being raped?” While we have been taught to fear strangers in the dark, masked men climbing in the window and sketchy individuals who offer to a ride home, the reality is that rape is usually committed by someone already close to the victim who is already trusted.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 9 in 10 victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender among college women. These are not strangers to battle in a dark alley, but people who we know, who we invite inside, who we drink with, and who we invite over. Rape is an intimate crime and happens when defenses are already down, so the likelihood that victims will have a gun ready is an irresponsible portrayal of the dynamics of the large majority of rape crimes.

The perfect rejection of this argument is the high rates of violence against women in the military, where guns are prevalent and yet each year thousands of men and women experience sexual violence. This shows that guns do nothing to change the power dynamic  and rape is still very much present. In order for change to happen, the underlying causes of rape culture and violence against women must be addressed openly. This bill does nothing to address those real issues.

Third, this is a bad public policy solution. Every single academic study shows that in the presence of more guns, women are more likely to end up homicide victims. Considering the racial problems that have plagued our news feeds, the 21-year age restriction, and the existence of other viable policy solutions, this is an irresponsible piece of legislation. It is not good public policy to choose the option that makes the problem worse, costs more taxpayer money and ignores real solutions, but unfortunately our Florida Legislature is known for making bad decisions.

On a local level, there is definitely more to do: FSU recently hired a position to directly deal with Title IX compliance; California has adopted a “Yes means yes” measure, which mandated consent across the board; and other schools are increasing their outreach to transgendered students, who face violence at higher rates than any other demographic.  The University of Florida has opened the first Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic, giving real solutions and resources to families as well as victims.  There are proven successful ways to decrease sexual violence and those are being ignored by our legislature and NRA activists like Hargrove.

This campus carry measure merely gives political points in an election year. This is a distraction with no real solutions.

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