Although proponents of allowing concealed weapons on college campuses cite rape concerns as a rationale, the data show the opposite: Campuses are safer than the cities that surround them.
Florida college students are twice as likely to be a victim of rape off-campus as they are on-campus, a WUFT News analysis of three years of crime data from the state’s larger campuses reveals.
In only one instance is the surrounding city safer than the campus. The University of Miami has a higher three-year reported rape rate than does Coral Gables. The university contends that this is because Coral Gables is an affluent community with a low rape rate.
Everywhere else, the campus is safer. A University of Florida student is three times safer on campus than in Gainesville. The same is true in Tallahassee, where a Florida State University student is also three times as likely to be raped off campus than on.
The safety of campuses is at the core of the debate over proposals in the Florida Legislature to allow concealed weapons on campuses.
For the past two years, legislators have introduced measures that would allow students, staff and faculty to carry concealed weapons on campus. State law currently prohibits concealed weapons at universities.
In 2015, the proposal passed a House committee but did not get a vote from the full chamber. In 2016, the bill passed the full House, but was not considered in the Senate.
Sponsors say they will try again in 2017 to pass the bill out of both the House and the Senate and send to the governor for approval.
Lawmakers have cited rape in particular as a justification for allowing students to carry concealed weapons. Advocates have said female students are at risk for rape on campus if they are not allowed to carry hidden weapons to defend themselves.
The data show otherwise. The WUFT analysis shows women are less likely to be sexually assaulted or raped on campus than off, despite the prohibition on concealed weapons.
That finding was not persuasive to the House bill sponsor, Rep. Greg Steube, a Republican from Sarasota.
“What does that show, what does that mean? It means absolutely nothing,” Steube said.
A co-sponsor from Ocala, Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, said in response to WUFT’s analysis that his primary concern is Second Amendment rights. He said the current law takes rights away from students and faculty.
Shayna Lopez-Rivas, 21, supports the viewpoint of legislators like Steube and Baxley. She was raped on the FSU campus in November 2014. She testified before legislative committees in support of a concealed carry law on campus.
“I think that my gun is my best tool for defense, but it’s not necessarily the only thing I have for defense,” she said.
She believes every woman should choose how to protect herself — and concealed carry on campus should be one of those options, she said.
“They should make that choice on their own,” she said. “I would never ever ever push somebody to have a gun.”
Jade Reindl, 20, a student at FSU, takes the opposite approach.
She was sexually assaulted in January 2014 and disagrees with the notion that having a gun would have prevented her assault. She also contests the logic that victims should be held responsible for preventing their assaults.
“I don’t think it should be another thing to put on victims,” she said.
Reindl had been scheduled to appear before legislators but cancelled at the last minute because of a panic attack. She said she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of her assault.
“There’s a lot of things that you deal with after that,” she said. “It’s a very personal issue.”
But, she said, carrying a concealed weapon isn’t going to solve the problem of campus rape.