Guns & campus rape

The issue of allowing concealed-carry firearms on public and private college campuses has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, with gun-rights advocates lobbying fiercely for the right in states across the country.

Bringing the issue into local focus, a letter to the editor that ran in last Thursday's issue of The Athens NEWS suggested that the key to eliminating sexual assault on Ohio University's campus is allowing concealed carry of firearms.

Most OU female students interviewed by The Athens NEWS earlier this week, however, oppose the idea that allowing women to carry concealed firearms will make them safer or address the problem of campus sexual assaults in general.

The letter in question, submitted by Abe Alassaf of Athens (a former candidate for Athens City Council) argued, "Articles about sexual assaults on campus in the OU Post this past week provoked me to offer a pragmatic solution to sexual assault on campus, and as most feminist (sic) have dubbed it, the 'Rape Culture.' My pragmatic solution is quite simple, logical, effective, and unfortunately illegal on all but a handful of campuses across the U.S."

The letter added that rather than campus groups battling sexual assault by holding another rally, protest, speaker or "extremely ineffective and in my opinion stupid 'Vagina Monologue,'" the Ohio Legislature should both allow for women to be "properly (trained) in firearms training" and permit concealed carry on college campuses.

This would, Alassaf claimed, make "would-be predators" reconsider, knowing their potential victims could have a weapon.

A follow-up submission to "The Athens Voice," which ran Monday, praised the letter, saying, "I am sure there will be much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands among the patchouli-smelling liberals over this proven method of crime control, but their ludicrous answer to violent crime ('gun free' zones) is really cutting crime where fully implemented (most big cities run by Democrats have been effectively 'gun free' zones for decades), isn't it? Eh? How's that working out for ya?"

Several times in the past year or two, concealed-carry on campus laws have been introduced at the state level in Ohio, though none has become law.

LET'S CHECK the statistics.

According to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center: one in four college women will be raped during her academic career; victims are four times more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger; and one in 12 male college students admit to committing an act that fits the definition of rape, but almost none of those students think of themselves as rapists.

Statistics are limited when it comes to male victims, but the crisis center reports that 3 percent of college-aged men say they are survivors of sexual assault.

A paper published in 2012 by the National Bureau of Economic Research stated that studies conducted from 1979 to 2010 showed a statistically significant rise in aggravated assaults when right-to-carry (RTC) laws were enacted. In addition, "the most plausible state models conducted over the entire 1979-2010 period provide evidence that RTC laws increase rape and robbery."

Conversely, a Washington Timesreport from August 2014 stated that research found the granting of concealed carry permits in Illinois last year resulted in Chicago's lowest murder rate in 56 years. Robbery was down 20 percent and vehicle theft was down 26 percent.

The article did not comment on the effect that citizens carrying guns had on sexual assault rates.

But the U.S. Department of Defense's 2012 annual report on sexual assault in the military did address that issue, albeit indirectly. The department estimated that in 2012, 26,000 active duty members experienced "unwanted sexual contact" - an increase of 34.72 percent from 2010's estimate of 19,300 active service members.

These estimates were calculated using collected statistics that state, per year, 6.8 percent of active-duty women and 1.8 percent of active-duty men will experience sexual assault.

Active military service members are trained to handle guns. These estimates reinforce the idea that people who are highly trained weapons carriers and are in an environment where guns are prevalent still experience a high rate of sexual assault.

OU student Madison Koenig, women's affairs commissioner on Student Senate, said the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to legalizing campus concealed carry is that giving weapon access to people who want to protect themselves from victimization allows perpetrators the same access.

The American Journal of Public Health published an article in 2009 concluding that "gun possession by urban adults was associated with a significantly increased risk of being shot in an assault. On average, guns did not seem to protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault."

Koenig added, "We need to think more about solutions of de-escalation rather than introducing a potential for even more violence into dangerous situations."

Ali Vasilatos, a chemical engineering major at OU, pointed out that it's not just women who are sexually assaulted on campuses. Men are victims as well. Vasilatos argued that solely training women to handle firearms is ignoring a significant portion of people who need protecting.

Journalism major Emily Ginty, a Student Senate vice-presidential candidate on the Phoenix ticket, concurred, saying Ohio can't feasibly mandate a gender-specific concealed carry law.

"It's a big red flag," she said. "I understand why (the author of the letter) would want to deter rapists, but I don't think people having guns is a positive solution."

Michelle Srisupan, a mechanical engineering major, said students are currently permitted to have pepper spray, but that weapon hasn't served as a deterrent, and has its own issues that reflect back on guns.

"If the attacker grabs your arms and you can't reach for your pepper spray," she said, "then is it any different than how you can't reach for your gun?"

Having the presence of mind to reach for a gun is also an issue. Women's, gender and sexuality studies major Bobby Walker noted the fact that 85-90 percent of reported sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, a National Institute of Justice statistic.

"Concealed carry only treats women's safety when they're in public spaces," she said. "It does not help when she's in her room with her boyfriend and is raped by her boyfriend."

Strategic communications major Andrea Beard also expressed concern about people who end up in situations with their significant other or a friend. "You're not likely to shoot someone you know," she said.

Walker added that even a legally possessed concealed carry weapon is a risk in itself for people who are not white, citing Marissa Alexander's self-defense case.

Alexander, a black woman from Florida, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after she reportedly fired a warning shot to prevent her husband from killing her.

"A white person walks around with a gun, that's them upholding their rights," Walker said. "A black person who walks around with a gun is obviously a criminal," she added sarcastically

Koenig, though interviewed separately from Walker, brought up the same point, saying women of color are already not comfortable going to the police for help because they don't think the police will advocate for them.

"They're smart enough to know how they'll be treated if they carry weapons on their bodies," she said.

Walker maintained that suggesting conceal carry as a solution to sexual assault helps propagate the idea that rape is something that only happens in alleyways in the middle of the night.

"It seems like capitalizing off women's fear of being raped," she said. "It's treating rape as just attacks that happen out in the open."

Zoe Zeszut, a geological sciences/digital media double-major, said she thinks permitting weapons on campus would make people eager to use a weapon.

Vasilatos said legalizing concealed carry on campus could cause anxiety for those who are concerned about being victimized by carriers. She recalled "Fugitive Fest" (a moniker hatched out of a fit of dark humor) from two years ago, when an armed man wanted for mugging was seen heading toward campus. Classes were cancelled for the day.

"Yeah," she said. "Guns are not something that go over very well here."

She raised concerns that legalizing conceal carry on campus could contribute to more people asking why women didn't take preventative measures to keep themselves from being raped, as opposed to addressing the real problem: rapists.

"They would say if you're not carrying a gun, then you're obviously not caring enough to protect yourself," she said. "Which is obviously not the case at all."

Koenig said presenting concealed carry as a cure-all for sexual assault puts yet more pressure on women to go "way above and beyond" to protect themselves from violence, and doesn't put enough pressure on rapists to not rape people.

As her final point, Bobby Walker condemned the prevalence of normalizing rape. She said one of the most important issues in this discussion is remembering that giving people conceal carry rights does nothing to confront systemic problems. Instead, it contributes to a culture that makes it seem logical and almost noble for women to need to take drastic precautionary measures to stay safe - then punishes them with a crown of irresponsibility when they're raped.

"It's a gross thing to commend," she said. "And you can print that."

PROPONENTS, HOWEVER, SAY allowing concealed carry on campus makes all the sense in the world.

In an article in the University of Cincinnati's student-run newspaper, The News Record, from a year ago, Ohio Rep. John Becker, R-Clermont, argued in support of three different bills he has sponsored allowing campus concealed-carry.

"These [current] laws restrict the good guys," he told the newspaper. "I'm trying to put the good guys on equal footing with the bad guys so nobody has to be a victim or at least you'll have the opportunity to shoot back. It's about leveling the playing field."

In the article, the freshman representative (considered among the most conservative in an already highly conservative Legislature) said the issue involves guaranteeing the constitutional right to protect oneself.

"The idea of a lot of these gun bills, including [HB 403], is to chip away at those restrictions and restore gun rights in the name of safety," Becker said in the article.

The national group, Students for Concealed Carry, has a chapter in Ohio, and sub-chapters on nine Ohio campuses, though the national group's website doesn't say OU is among them. OU does have a Second Amendment Club, however, which advocates for various gun-rights issues.

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