Would Guns on Arizona Campuses Prevent Sexual Assault and Acts of Violence?

A national debate about whether more guns on college campuses would help or hinder safety has become a hot topic in Arizona politics with state Representative Sonny Borrelli's bill to allow concealed firearms on college campuses.

House Bill 2072 states that “a person who possesses a certificate of firearms proficiency” and who is “authorized to carry a concealed firearm” by the Department of Public Safety is allowed to do so on the campus or property of any public university, college, or community college.

Borrelli and other supporters of the bill argue that the provision not only would increase security on campuses by preventing the sorts of mass shootings that have rocked the country in recent years, but also would help potential targets of sexual assault and violence from becoming victims.

Critics, meanwhile, argue that the bill has more to do with a desire to appease guns-rights organizations, like the National Rifle Association, than safety. And worse, they argue, if it passes, college campuses actually could become more dangerous places to be. 

The Arizona Board of Regents currently prohibits guns or other weapons on college campuses unless an individual has special permission or the firearm is locked in a vehicle. The board has not weighed in on HB 2072.

“This law doesn’t make anyone safe. It just makes the NRA feel better,” state Senator Steve Farley tells New Times.

“A college campus is supposed to be a safe space for people to exchange views — sometime very opposite views — [without] fearing intimidation and violent retribution . . . and there is nothing that will make a college safer about carrying guns,” he adds.

“Talk to any university police officer. They do not want to have a so-called ‘hero’ coming out with a gun and taking charge [because] they’re not properly trained. And it makes it harder for the police to tell who the good guy is."

Also, he says, "Neurobiologists have shown that the decision-making part of the brain is not fully developed until age 25. Throw widespread carrying of guns into the mix, [and] I think you’re creating a bigger problem, not solving one.”

Recall the October shooting incident at Northern Arizona University that left one student dead and three others wounded after freshman Steven Jones retrieved his gun from his vehicle and fired it at a group of fraternity brothers he supposedly was fighting with, Farley says.

“Imagine if all of those kids in the frat that night were armed and took out their guns and started shooting. Do you think the number of injured would have gone down?”
But local gun-rights advocate Alan Korwin calls Farley’s argument an example of the “BITS myth.”

BITS, or “blood in the streets,” he writes to New Times in an e-mail, is the belief that if everyone has a concealed weapon, “everyone will kill everyone.” Even though the theory has been “proven false in all 50 states, he says,” it’s still used regularly.

And then there’s the Second Amendment: “Why do your rights evaporate when you walk across an invisible magic line at the edge of a school? Professors are competent and learned but can't handle a firearm? We trust them with our children, but they can't be trusted with a gun or their constitutional rights? Arguments against [concealed carry] are irrational, discriminatory, a denial of civil rights, [and] border on paranoia.”

As similar bills about concealed weapons on college campuses increasingly have been debated in state legislatures across the country — a handful of states allow them — gun advocates have taken to homing in on one particularly controversial aspect of the safety issue: the role of guns in preventing sexual assault and violence against women.

In a widely read op-ed for MSNBC, rape survivor Amanda Collins argued in favor of campus carry, writing that had she been carrying her gun on campus the night she was raped a few years ago, “[she] would have been able to stop the attack.”

“Laws that prohibit campus carry turn women like me into victims by stripping away our Second Amendment rights,” she writes. “The choice to participate in one’s own defense should be left to the individual . . .  not be mandated by government.”

But Jasmine Lester, leader of the Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault organization at ASU, strongly disagrees:

“Students carrying guns will only make campus more dangerous for women,” she writes to New Times. “College-aged women face the highest rates of dating violence of any other group, and the majority of sexual violence on campus occurs in casual or steady dating relationships, [which is why] allowing guns on campus severely increases the potential for college dating violence to turn deadly."

Lester points out a statistic from an article published in the American Journal of Public Health and writes"Guns increase the risk of homicide by 500 percent for women in domestic violence situations, and female partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined."

She, like others across the country, declare that “the prevention of sexual violence on campus does not depend on potential victims’ abilities to defend themselves but on the college administration’s punishment and intolerance of sexually predatory behavior.”
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser