Texas recently passed some of the most conservative, pro-gun legislation in the country, which drastically liberalizes open carry laws on college campuses. With the aid of lobbyists and lawmakers backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the legislation is now moving forward in more than fourteen other states as well.
Student policymakers are a vital intellectual constituency, and it is imperative to include them in discussions and decisions regarding student life. The Texas open carry law virtually eliminates any semblance of student control over this issue and their campus environment. Although changes may be made on a campus-by-campus basis, the law expressly states that schools “may not establish provisions that generally prohibit or have [that] effect [on] license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus of the institution.” This is a limitation only on Texas’s public colleges and universities, meaning students who can afford a private school can also afford personal safety and political choice. Those who enroll in public universities have those rights stripped from them from the start.
The absence of student input and the overwhelming presence of huge financing and pressure from the pro-gun lobby in the state’s original policy proposal is evident. These lobbying firms’ analyses include studies from pro-gun advocacy groups and anti-rape groups, yet students are left out completely.
I come from Virginia, a state with extremely loose open carry laws, and am therefore unfazed by a passing rifle or a handgun in the belt loop of my taxi driver. But as a student, I view my public college campus as a kind of sanctuary from the innate danger and threat that comes with a firearm in the street. New open carry laws on college campuses intended to decrease overall crime or “prevent sexual assault” simply increase the probability of deadly accidents with little hope of decreasing the likelihood of these heinous crimes. There is no evidence from city campuses in states with open carry laws that students are safer from sexual violence as a result of pro-gun legislation.
Constituents and legislators must ask themselves: is this truly responsible legislation? Studies have shown that upwards of 89 percent of sexual assaults occur under the influence of alcohol, and many others involve sedation drugs. Adding guns to an environment of drunkenness, recreational drug use, and violent assault is likely to have deadly consequences.
The Texas law and other bombastic proposals from groups like the NRA are taking advantage of sexual assault survivors and their traumatic stories and experiences. The NRA continues to engage in victim-blaming and guilt instead of responsible advocacy and after-care for survivors of these crimes. This kind of reckless lawmaking only leads to more long-term problems that necessitate further action in the future.
The idea that students need concealed weapons to prevent sexual assault on college campuses is a reminder that right-wing legislators are more concerned about financing their next campaign than creating meaningful and imperative policy for their collegiate constituents. Urging states to adopt these senseless open-carry laws connotes sexual assault as a natural occurrence in a woman’s college career—one that she must simply learn to fend off with a firearm. These pundits and politicians should spend more of their time producing progressive policy concerning the education, prevention, or after-care of students who will most likely encounter sexual assault in college, especially given that one in five collegiate women already have.
I have seen firsthand the ineffectiveness of my university’s efforts to educate and engage students and faculty on sexual assault as well as the failure of student health services in providing after-care to survivors. Inviting weapons onto campus shifts blame to survivors of sexual assault, perpetuating the idea that they are at fault for failing to protect themselves. The propensity for emotional damage to young college minds is astounding.
It is imperative to call for increased education instead of increased armament on campus. It has been proven time and time again that the right preventative measures achieve the desired result more effectively than defensive measures alone. The cycle of violence among students will never stop unless we truly change the policies surrounding our collegiate lives. In order to do that we must be part of the policymaking process.
Emma Copeland is a student at George Mason University, a 10 Ideas author, and a member of the Campus Network’s Braintrust.