Last week, the student organization UNM Young Americans for Freedom, decided that it was time for the University of New Mexico to begin the debate about gun rights on campus. They used a recent sexual assault case on on campus, by Zimmerman library, to exemplify the necessity for self-defense. I thought their concern was misguided and exploitative, but it turns out they are far from alone.
On the cover of the New York Times last week, there was also a story about how gun rights advocates are using the focus of campus sexual assault to further their own advocacy. It’s frustrating to see that this perspective manages to surface on the front page of a newspaper with the largest circulation in the U.S., and that it is surfacing on campuses across the country, including my own.
Whenever a woman steps onto a college campus it seems like there’s this incessant voice that both victimizes her and also demands that she protect herself. It seems like pro-gun advocates are leeching onto that emotion, trying to persuade young people, and spin it in their own favor. This is not the voice we were looking for in this debate about campus sexual assault. Their concern does not seem genuine, or even legitimate, especially with politicians such as Nevada’s Michele Fiore who seriously said “if these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them.”
Reading articles like this, and seeing their supporters on our campus is so bizarre. Do they really expect us to carry a gun with us to the library, or to class? When will women’s voices finally occupy the spaces surrounding this debate – and insist that their safety is not placed in an object, but in society?
Guns are intended for one purpose, and one purpose only: to kill. A woman should not be pressured to pull the trigger at any moment, just for attending a university, or anywhere else. Allowing guns on campus would allow the assaulters to assault – while armed. An education should not be a life-or-death situation.
We need to stop pretending that safety is a personal decision. We are never going to solve this problem if we cannot even see what the problem is. Especially on campus, where the DOJ has to investigate sexual harassment and sexual assault policies, and when UNM is currently being sued by a woman whose sexual assault case involves 3 UNM football players. The lawsuit says that the “Athletic Department interfered with the police investigation” and UNM administrators “demonstrated deliberate indifference.” There is a bigger issue here than our abilities, as women, to prevent violence against us.
Although I doubt that universities will even give this decision much thought – it’s dangerous that our society allows these voices to reverberate, while ignoring the voices of so many women that are blatantly trying to shift the blame away from themselves, and onto the attackers.