Voters skeptical of concealed gun law as protection for sex-assault victims

When Utah state Rep. Karianne Lisonbee drafted her bill to lower the age for obtaining a concealed-weapon permit from 21 to 18, she had one group in mind: college-age women.

"They want to be able to defend themselves from rape on college campuses," she explained during the legislative session.

Now the bill has been signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, but there's one hitch. A majority of Utah women don't actually support it.

While most registered voters in the state — 60 percent — opposed HB198, women disliked the measure by more than a two-to-one margin — 69 percent to 27 percent — according to a Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

Among men, the split was a much closer 52 percent opposed to 47 percent in favor.

The survey among 605 registered Utah voters was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates March 15-21. It has a margin of error of 3.98 percentage points.

Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, doesn't give too much weight to those numbers, noting that of "the women that I've heard from, the vast majority of them support the bill." Additionally, she introduced the legislation after the issue was brought to her attention by three young women who wanted to be able to better protect themselves.

She has since heard from "many, many more" that back the initiative.

"A gun is a great equalizer," Lisonbee said.

She suggests that were a woman in a situation where she may potentially be attacked, having a concealed weapon could improve the outcome of the situation.

"Studies have shown that the more forceful the resistance, the less likely the completion of a rape will be," Lisonbee added.

Although Utah law allows Utahns as young as 18 to purchase, possess and openly carry guns, the state has previously banned concealed carry by anyone under age 21. Lisonbee said that has prevented most young women from carrying guns as a protection against sexual violence.

The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault did not take a position on the measure this past session, but Executive Director Turner Bitton said he doesn't see it reducing the number of sexual assaults.

That argument "is presupposing that rapists target someone when they are at their best," Bitton said. "Anyone who works with victims knows that rapists are opportunistic."

Most rapes occur when a victim feels safe and secure, he added, and "that environment is not conducive to a riot shield and a shot gun." If a firearm provides a woman a sense of security, Bitton said he would never tell her not to carry it. But in the grand scheme of things, he said this will likely not prevent a significant number of assaults.

One of the respondents to the Tribune-Hinckley survey, Leslie Parkhurst, 58, of Fruit Heights, opposes expansion of the concealed-weapon permit. She denounced Lisonbee's reasoning, calling it "a very weak argument for having a gun."

Parkhurst fears that a would-be attacker could wrest a weapon from a woman during an assault and turn it against her. Instead, she proposes that college-age women carry pepper spray.

As a mother of five, Parkhurst said, she wouldn't have wanted any of her children, now grown, to have carried a gun at 18 years old.

"They're too young," she said. "That's beyond reasonable. It really makes me angry."

Heather Porter, 46, of West Jordan, also opposed the bill, saying "I really doubt that it's going to prevent any violence."

But Drew Ferwerda wishes he had a gun with him when he was nearly carjacked some 20 years ago. The 58-year-old from St. George had been in the vehicle with his two daughters when someone tried to break in. Luckily, he says, the family was able to drive away to shield themselves from the situation. He would've done things differently today, though.

Ferwerda doesn't always carry now, but sometimes takes a gun with him for protection — and thinks young women should, too.

"You're pretty much an adult at 18," he said.

Some survey respondents suggested that young individuals carrying a weapon on a college campus could prevent a mass shooting, while others indicated impulsiveness at that age could result in more deaths.

The bill takes effect May 9. Herbert did not issue a statement on signing the measure and was unavailable for comment Friday.

During the session, Lisonbee acknowledged the arguments against the bill, but ultimately pushed forward with it.

"It will not prevent every rape of a woman who is armed," she said at the time. "But it clearly results in a dramatic reduction of her risk and is therefore an option that all Utah women should have."

Reporter Alex Stuckey contributed to this report.

This piece originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Click here to read the original article.