Action Project

Campus carry detrimental to sexual assault prevention, experts and UW leaders say

Some UW community members are concerned that potential legislation, which would allow permit holders to carry firearms all over campus grounds, would increase violent crime levels.

Image By: Alicia Shoberg

While UW System firearm restrictions may find themselves on the legislative chopping block this year, students and activists have raised concerns about the potential impact of such reform on sexual assault on campus.

Among the bills that state Republicans hope to pass this year is campus carry legislation, which seeks to undo campus buildings’ status as gun-free zones and allow permit-holders to carry firearms anywhere on UW grounds. Its supporters argue that campus crime, including sexual assault, will decrease if more people are armed, but opponents say otherwise.

Advocates of campus carry note that by allowing firearms in campus buildings, students and teachers would be able to ensure their own safety and that of others, reducing the rate of violent crimes at universities. However, student groups at UW-Madison and activist groups around the country have voiced their concerns about the legislation for a variety of reasons, including its potential to actually increase levels of sexual assault on campus.

The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, an organization that works against the proliferation of firearms at universities, released a report on the subject comparing the rates of several violent crimes on campuses with and without campus carry.

The study, carried out by researchers at the organization, found an increase in crime rates at the universities with campus carry, even while the student population was in decline, and notably high rates of forcible rape compared to schools without such legislation in effect.

“While the results certainly do not prove that campus carry causes more crime; it undoubtedly disproves the claim that the possible presence of individuals carrying concealed weapons equals less crime,” the study reads.

The study examined campuses in Utah and Colorado, states with campus carry laws in effect, and determined that rape “remains a problem on college campuses,” one that “concealed handguns cannot fix.”

“The goals of our state legislators should not be arming more individuals, but educating students at a younger age about the dangers of drugs and alcohol related to sexual assault and the need to teach individuals to respect each other,” the report concludes.

Students at UW-Madison have organized against the passage of the legislation, including circulating petitions, engaging passersby in discussion and taking part in the Cocks Not Glocks campaign, a viral protest method that originated at the University of Texas at Austin, in which students publicly carry sex toys to protest campus carry efforts.

“I think campus carry would have a really, really, really bad effect on the already very bleak numbers we see on sexual assault on campus,” said Kat Kerwin, head of the Cocks Not Glocks campaign at UW-Madison.

A late 2015 survey found that almost one in four female undergraduates at UW-Madison had been sexually assaulted while attending college.

“It would just allow violent people a very easy and very legal way to have a weapon and defense if they are going to sexually assault others,” Kerwin said.

Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, originally introduced the legislation in 2015, but the Assembly did not vote on the bill before the end of the session.

UW System leaders and police have also come out against campus carry legislation.

Police chiefs representing every UW campus signed a letter to Kremer in 2015, urging him to reconsider the legislation.

“Guns do not belong in our classrooms, student centers, laboratories, workout facilities, locker rooms, offices, residence halls or athletic venues,” the letter reads.

Kremer has voiced continued support for the legislation and encouraged others to advocate for the cause as well, stating in a press conference, “We need people who are passionate about these issues who think they are a real problem to come out and support these [solutions]. That’s a problem we had last session.”

Last November, state Republicans won 11 new Assembly seats, granting them a 64-35 majority, their largest in decades, and leaving little institutional opposition to the party’s legislative agenda. However, some Republican leaders have acknowledged skepticism about the effectiveness of campus carry, and have deemed it necessary to build support and structure their legislative priorities before voting on the issue.

"We actually need to work harder on some of these controversial topics to build public support to make sure, if we are doing it, we’re reflecting what Wisconsinites actually want,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a January press conference.

Kremer has said he will likely reintroduce his bill during this year’s session.

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