It is often very hard for women who have been victims of sexual type crimes to publicly discuss what has happened to them. Last week in Washington, five women came forward to discuss how gun free zones at colleges have prevented them from defending themselves. From rape and sexual assault, to stalkers, to one woman whose stalker killed her husband, to death threats,these women bravely came forward and talked of the traumas -- all but one telling their story publicly for the first time.
One woman's story made national headlines. Taylor Woolrich, a junior at Dartmouth College, has been stalked for four years. Her stalker, Richard Bennett, is now in jail for the third time because he has broken restraining orders.
She has detailed how the stalking has forced her family to move, caused her to be a prisoner in her dorm room, avoid social media sites, and caused numerous other problems.
Taylor's stalker was already on a "no gun list." He was a convicted felon (because he had been stalking Taylor) and it is now illegal for him to own a gun. Yet, background checks didn't stop him from illegally acquiring guns after his second stint in prison.
But as happens so often when crime victims speak out, others second guess their behavior. Unfortunately, last Thursday, Geraldo Rivera did just that on Fox News. Let's look at a few of his statements:
- Geraldo said that the threat against Taylor doesn't justify her getting a gun for protection: "...he is unable to make his bail, so he is in custody, and he is facing an almost certain four year sentence upon conviction."
- Geraldo seems to have confused the fact that her stalker has not yet posted bail with his inability to do so. Her stalker has hired one of the very best defense lawyers in San Diego county, and apparently, has been able to post a large retainer of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
His bail is currently set at $300,000, which means that all he has to do is put up $30,000. It appears pretty clear that he has the resources to do that.
Not wanting to depend on the court system to quickly inform her if the stalker posts bail, Taylor calls up every day to make sure that he is still in jail.
There is no way that the stalker is going to spend four years in prison. Indeed, the prosecutor has told Taylor that because of prison overcrowding in California and the possibility that his sentence could be reduced due to good behavior, the stalker won't be spending more than eight months in jail. The two months he has already been in jail will count towards that total. That means that he will likely be released in the middle of the upcoming school year.
- Geraldo said, "I don't think that a student arming herself is going to be that much of a deterrent. The security of people in Dartmouth or any other university or college is really in the hands of professionals. That is why they have regulations against [concealed carry]."
But experts don't agree with him. Policeone.com, by far the largest organization of police officers in the country with about 450,000 members and over half the active officers in the country, surveyed its members in March 2013 and found 80 percent believed that a legally-armed citizen at mass shootings such as Newtown and Aurora would likely have reduced the number of casualties. Even more, 91 percent, supported allowing citizens who can legally own a gun being able to carry it concealed with no further restrictions.
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics' annual National Crime Victimization Survey has shown for over 30 years that having a gun is by far the most effective way for victims to stop crimes. And women, who are often physically much weaker than their attackers, benefit much more than men do from having a gun or carrying a permitted, concealed handgun.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that left wing universities would put politics ahead of policies that make sense.
- Geraldo said, "College students, as you know, so emotional [and] so much goes on [at college]. . . . They don't want to have students packing on campus."
It is understandable for Geraldo (and others) to worry about the risks of students having guns, but a look at the following data might change his mind.
There are nine states (and some debate about Georgia) where public universities are mandated to let permit holders have guns on school property and 21 other states where it is up to the schools to decide, but there has not been one single example of a problem that has occurred with a permit holder's gun. Additional data for two states, Michigan and Texas, shows that college age students who get permitted concealed handguns are quite careful with their weapons.
- Geraldo's possible solution to Taylor's stalker problem? "What I would like to see is legislation that prevents stalkers like this man from getting guns . . . they should all be put on a no gun list."
That's an idea. But, in fact, Taylor's stalker was already on a "no gun list." He was a convicted felon (because he had been stalking Taylor) and it is now illegal for him to own a gun.Yet, background checks didn't stop him from illegally acquiring guns after his second stint in prison.
Even more importantly, when the stalker showed up at Taylor's house in June with what police describe as his "rape kit," he didn't need his guns with him.
This man is much taller and stronger than Taylor. Despite his age, he apparently works out with weights regularly and is in very good shape.
Taylor has legitimate concerns for her safety even if her stalker doesn't have a gun.
- Finally, Geraldo asserted that if Taylor were serious about packing heat, all she had to do was move off of campus. "She can live off campus -- New Hampshire is a pretty liberal state when it comes to gun rights... But just don't bring the gun on campus."
But here's the problem with that idea, if you completely ban guns on campus, you also ban Taylor from having a gun for protection when she travels to and from the Dartmouth campus.
Undoubtably Geraldo means well but commentators need to be careful about what they say because real lives are affected.
It is difficult for women like Taylor to come forward and tell their story. That's why it's important for Americans to understand the difficulties she is facing when it comes to her safety.
Let's remember that everyone – especially those being threatened – should have the ability to protect themselves.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.