College anti-rape advocates have joined a pro-gun control group to oppose National Rifle Association-backed lawmakers who say allowing students to carry firearms on college campuses will deter sexual assaults.
Know Your IX, founded by student sexual assault survivors, is working with the gun control advocacy organization Everytown For Gun Safety to demand that pro-gun lawmakers stop "exploiting" the issue of campus rape to loosen gun laws.
Pro-gun rhetoric, the groups say, hijacks the work students have done in recent years to address sexual violence.
"It's proof there's a fundamental misunderstanding in campus sexual assault," said Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, the group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "The gun lobby is hijacking something that is already in the news for its own purpose to sell fear and sell more guns and allow more guns everywhere."
In Florida, for example, state legislation is moving forward to allow guns on campus despite opposition from students, university police and former GOP lawmakers-turned college presidents. State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R) -- a sponsor of the bill who admits a close relationship with an NRA lobbyist -- has cited campus rape as reason for allowing firearms at colleges.
Pro-gun groups, including Students for Concealed Carry, founded after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, have long insisted students would be safer if more carried guns. That argument won over legislators in seven states that have laws allowing guns on campus. But now, gun advocates backed by the NRA are adding sexual assault as fresh reason for students to be armed in dorm rooms and classrooms.
"Honestly, it's an opportunity for us to reach audiences we would not normally be able to reach," said Michael Newbern, a spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry. "We've been saying this for a long time -- this is not new to us. We're happy that people are now paying attention to us, paying attention on a larger scale to what we've been saying for years."
The NRA is backing lawmakers in more than a dozen states who this year are proposing to erase restrictions against guns on college campuses.
The NRA declined to comment. However, NRA radio host Cam Edwards said recently during his show that opponents of campus carry laws "are OK with real sexual assaults happening."
"Frankly, they're wrong," said Dana Bolger, a sexual assault survivor and co-founder of Know Your IX. "Lawmakers are basing their legislation on rape mythology -- that the greatest threat to a potential victim is a stranger."
There may be some individual survivors "who say they wish they'd had a gun," Bolger conceded. But she said she'd rather see "solutions that work for all survivors -- including campus dating violence survivors -- not those that help a few while putting thousands more at risk."
When Colorado Democrats tried to pass legislation to reinstate a campus firearms ban in 2013, Students for Concealed Carry circulated a photo of a teary-eyed woman with the statement, "How does removing my right to defend myself from a rapist make you any safer?"
But as the issue of campus rape has gained attention, proponents of guns on campus increasingly use the sexual assault issue to support their arguments. Meanwhile, advocates against sexual violence have united to push back, saying arming potential victims isn't realistic in the vast majority of assaults against students.
"The idea that defensive gun use is likely to be an effective method for deterring or dealing with sexual assault seems to overlook what we know about the large majority of sexual assaults experienced by college students," said Chris Krebs, senior research social scientist at RTI International.
Nine in 10 sexual assaults of collegiate women are committed by someone known to the victim, and 89 percent involve the use of alcohol, according to Justice Department-funded research. A weapon is present in 2.4 percent of assaults on collegiate victims. The advocates said they also worry about students having greater access to firearms while they may be intoxicated.
Mary Koss, a University of Arizona professor and longtime sexual violence researcher, called the gun advocates' approaches "cynical."
"We also know that the level of resistance by the victim tends to be pegged on the level of aggressiveness they face from the perpetrator," Koss said. "If people think it through, you don't normally have someone step on your foot and in response stab them, but this is what this law would suggest is going to work in campus rape situations."
Newbern, a military veteran and recent Ohio State University graduate, said laws forbidding campus guns give offenders the upper hand by removing the possibility that victims could be armed.
"My question is, who are you to limit someone's ability based on what you think they are and are not capable of doing?" Newbern said.
Know Your IX issued an open letter, distributed last week by Everytown for Gun Safety, demanding apologies from Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R) and Baxley of Florida for comments the activists say blame rape victims for not having guns. Neither Fiore nor Baxley, both recipients of NRA endorsements and donations, responded to multiple requests for comment.
"We're able to step back and see this is just the next way the gun lobby is injecting fear into Americans to make them think we need to have guns everywhere used by everyone," Soto Lamb said.
NRA-Backed Lawmakers Pushing For Guns On Campus This Year: