Civil Liberties

Liberals Right That Guns Won't Stop Campus Rape, Wrong About Much Else

Liberals say guns won't mitigate college rape, and they're right. But affirmative consent won't help, either.


Gun girl
Girl with gun

Liberals have proposed several methods for reducing sexual assault on campus that just won't work. Now, evidently, the conservatives are taking their turn.

The New York Times (of all places) recently considered seriously—and with surprising sympathy—the argument that increasing students' access to guns would deter rapists from carrying out their crimes:

Support for so-called campus carry laws had been hard to muster despite efforts by proponents to argue that armed students and faculty members could prevent mass shootings like the one at Virginia Tech in 2007. The carrying of concealed firearms on college campuses is banned in 41 states by law or by university policy. Carrying guns openly is generally not permitted.

But 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.

To be clear, I fully support concealed carry on campus. There are plenty of good reasons why students might wish to bring guns on campus; many who walk to class have to pass through crime-ridden areas of town and would feel safer if armed. For others who are legally entitled to carry virtually anywhere but a college campus, the rule against bringing their guns with them when they set foot on college grounds is inconvenient and unnecessary.

But I'm not remotely persuaded that more guns would mean less rape, for the simple reason that the kinds of rape most prevalent at colleges are unlikely to be prevented by guns. Sexual assault occurs at parties, under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Students often aren't aware they are being raped until the next morning—or long after the incident has passed. Campus rapists don't generally ambush victims in the park, or break into their homes. Instead, they incapacitate their victims and rely on hazy memories to acquit them. That's part of the reason that Jackie's story was so unbelievable—it was a straightforwardly violent attack on a fully-aware victim. A gun might have helped Jackie, but in the vast majority of actual sexual assaults on campus, I just don't see it.

And so, on this one point, I agree with The Huffington Post's Tyler Kingkade, The New Republic's Jamil Smith, Jezebel's Jia Tolentino, and Vox's Libby Nelson.

But isn't it kind of interesting how quick these left-leaning writers are to condemn a proposed solution to the campus rape crisis when that solution is 'more guns'? And here I was thinking that campus sexual assault had reached epidemic levels—1 in 5! 1 in 5!—such that we needed to do anything and everything to stop it, regardless of how ill-considered the solutions might be. Why, wasn't it Vox Emperor Ezra Klein himself who famously declared that California's affirmative consent 'Yes Means Yes' bill was "a terrible law, and I completely support it," for the sole reason that it purported to address the issue? In defense of a law he recognized didn't make any sense, Klein wrote:

Every discussion of the Yes Means Yes law needs to begin with a simple number: A 2007 study by the Department of Justice found that one in five women is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault while in college.

One. In. Five.

Nelson, who works for Klein, explained in her takedown of the gun solution that the 1-in-5 statistic was "probably inaccurate." And Klein knows this—or should know this—because he even tweeted her article. Why is it okay to defend affirmative consent by chanting "1-in-5!" over and over again, and then kick that statistic to the curb when the subject of guns comes up? I'm tempted to think that some people want young women scared enough to submit to the new regiment of Neo-Victorian sexual and social restrictions, but not so scared that they actually demand the tools to defend themselves.

TNR's take is moronic enough that it deserves special scrutiny. After correctly dismissing guns as a valid solution to the campus rape problem, Smith took the opportunity to chastise former TNR editor Judith Shulevitz for supporting basic due process rights. He ended his piece with an unearned, garbled criticism of Shulevitz:

Shulevitz's solution is a terrible one that threatens to further muddle the collegiate adjudication process for sexual assault that needs to get less complicated. Adding more guns and an inappropriate legal standard to the debate doesn't help.

(For those who don't know, Shulevitz—a brilliant and fair-minded writer—left TNR during its recent mass exodus; Smith appears to have joined the staff after that. Perhaps he's taking her on to prove he deserves his post; regardless, ill-informed and poorly-constructed attacks like this are emblematic of TNR's sudden descent into Salon-quality madness. Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig provides more examples on a near-daily basis.)

Smith was most concerned with Shulevitz's suggestion that a "reasonable-person test" be applied in campus rape cases. Smith responded:

Given the fact that this country is still fighting to grasp the seriousness (or in some cases, the very definitions) of rape and sexual assault, who or what is "reasonable"? How do we know why Harvard Law professors object to this? (Shulevitz doesn't quote any of them and it isn't in their October 2014 statement bemoaning the lack of due process for the accused.) And what, exactly, is the "reasonable-person" test?

As Shulevitz quoted no experts on those subjects, I asked one to put the test into context.

Smith actually asked two "experts"; the second was Jessica Valenti:

"We're not very reasonable when it comes to rape," she told me. "As a society, we don't have a reasonable understanding of what rape is, we don't have reasonable responses—we're still a culture that overwhelmingly victim-blames. When Steubenville happened, the kid who walked in on the assault said he didn't know that was rape. Teenagers have gotten the message that you shouldn't drive drunk, but not that penetrating an unconscious girl is rape."

When Valenti is your token reasonable person, God help you.

For a libertarian solution to the campus rape crisis, read this.