Lawmakers in several states are currently pushing for legislation to slacken laws forbidding students from possessing firearms on college campuses, according to a recent New York Times article. Many of these legislators claim arming students will be helpful in reducing the incidence of sexual assault.
At the College of William and Mary, possession of weapons on campus is forbidden, and it is likely to remain that way. Students wishing to carry a gun must apply through the Dean of Students Office, but Associate Dean of Students Dave Gilbert said he would never grant permission to anyone hoping to have a gun for personal purposes or for self-defense.
“The only time I have permitted a firearm was when it is used in official ceremonies such as rifle corps or, in one case, a school play,” Gilbert said in an email. “When approved, there are strict conditions about storage, transport, and how the item may be used (for example, the weapon must be unloaded and may not be stored on campus). I would not approve a student to have a firearm for protection purposes, and I have not approved one for that purpose in my nearly ten years at the College.”
Chief Compliance Officer Kiersten Boyce said she believes arming potential sexual assault victims would be ineffective in most cases, and the legislators in favor of doing so were acting based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sexual assault on college campuses.
“It seems what they have in mind is a stranger-rape situation,” Boyce said. “And those do occur; it’s just that’s not what we’re usually dealing with here.”
Given that most cases of sexual assault take place between individuals who know each other, and that many cases involve consensual sexual activity which becomes nonconsensual, Boyce said it was unlikely that a victim would be willing to use a gun on an attacker.
“In the cases that I’ve worked with, the young women — because it has been women that have been involved — I’m confident in saying they would not have used a gun if it had been held in their hand at that moment,” Boyce said.
Radha Yerramilli ’16, HOPE Vice President of Healthy Relationships/Sexual Aggression, added that these legislators may not be considering the role drugs and alcohol play on campuses, or the potential effects of adding weapons into an already unstable mix.
“Most college sexual assault happens under the use of alcohol, drugs, or coercive methods, and having a gun by that point won’t do you any good,” she said. “Having a gun only [puts] you [in] more danger for hurting yourself.”
Yerramilli said within the community of sexual assault prevention, there is no discussion of using weapons to reduce sexual assault. She said the legislators’ ignorance regarding the reality of sexual assault on campuses suggests their allegiance lies not with survivors and potential victims of sexual violence, but rather with the gun lobby.
“I think it is a very cleverly disguised veil for gun lobbying,” she said. “It more shows the lack of education and understanding of the people who are asking for it of college sexual assault, rather than preventative methods that haven’t been thought of before.”