This op-ed was co-written by Taylor Woolrich, a junior at Dartmouth College this fall. She is speaking at the Student’s for Concealed Carry National Conference in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, August 5th.
Stalking victims often despair because they can’t control their own lives. They are forced to move, stay indoors, keep drapes closed, avoid posting on social media sites, and even change their cars. It’s almost like being held hostage.
Shall we tell women that they just have to put up with this? The answer is “no.” Women must be able to defend themselves. The most effective way of doing this is by using a gun. By the time the police arrive to enforce a restraining order, it is often too late.
One of us, Taylor Woolrich, has been living such a nightmare for over four years. It started when she was 16. Taylor was working at a café in San Diego when a 67-year-old man, Richard Bennett, came into the store for coffee. He kept coming back, staring at her for long periods of time and trying to flirt. He then would sit outside the store for the entire day.
It soon got much worse. He followed her around outside of work, demanding to talk and saying that he was “trying to protect [her].”
Right now, Richard Bennett is in jail a third time for violating his restraining order and will soon go to trial again. In June of this year, Taylor was shocked to discover how closely she was still being followed. It was late at night when she returned home to California from Dartmouth College on the East Coast. Early the very next morning, Bennett was at her door, wanting to talk.
Bennett was arrested and police searched his car. They discovered a “rape kit” including rope tied as slip noose, a knife, gloves, and other items. When police got a warrant, they found Taylor’s pictures all over Bennett’s house. They also found illegally obtained guns.
Restraining orders only go so far when the stalker has six inches and 70 pounds on the victim. Nor did California’s universal background check law stop him from illegally obtaining guns. The proposed federal law on expanded background checks that President Obama continually pushes is similar to California’s and would not have stopped Bennett either.
Bennett’s bond originally required him to put up $10,000 for a bondsman. This was later raised to $30,000. So far, Bennett hasn’t posted bond and is still in jail. However, he has hired one of the top defense attorneys in the area.
Taylor has been attending Dartmouth College for the last two years. Over the last fourteen months, Bennett sent Taylor multiple messages in which he promised to come all the way to Dartmouth. Taylor finally contacted Dartmouth College’s Department of Safety and Security in June and asked if she could keep a permitted handgun on campus. But no luck. The advice was that she call campus security and arrange for an escort if she ever felt unsafe after dark. Taylor was told that there was no way to appeal this decision.
But the escorts proved impractical and humiliating. Campus security would say, “you can’t keep calling us all the time.” When requesting transportation, Taylor would be grilled over whether she had a justifiable reason. Once campus security were dispatched, it would take anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes for them to arrive.
Taylor did not even feel safe in her own dorm. While an ID card is necessary for opening dormitory doors, it is always possible to wait for someone with an ID to come along. In addition, there are no security cameras in the dorms.
What are women in these circumstances supposed to do? Keep themselves locked in their dorm rooms, as Taylor has done?
Dartmouth thinks that banning weapons will keep students safe, but a gun ban isn’t going to stop the Bennetts of this world from attacking. A restraining order didn’t stop him from approaching Taylor countless times in the three years since it was issued. Neither will ID cards or a gun ban.
Having a gun is by far the most effective way for victims to stop crimes. The annual National Crime Victimization Survey has shown this for over 30 years running. In addition, because of the large strength differential between male criminals and female victims, women benefit much more than men do from having a gun or carrying a permitted, concealed handgun.
The concern that permit holders represent a danger to others is misplaced. Take Florida with 1.29 million permit holders – more than any other state. From October 1, 1987 to May 31, 2014 (almost three decades), Florida has issued permits to more than 2.64 million people. These permits have been revoked for firearms-related violations at an annual rate of only 0.0003 percent. This is less than half the rate of firearm violations by police.
Nine states ensure that permit holders can carry concealed handguns on public university campuses. There has not been a single reported problem with a permit holder.
Unfortunately, so much of the discussion this week in Washington has focused solely on the difficult task of preventing stalkers from getting guns. What we really need to start talking about is what women can do to protect themselves.
A new ad by Michael Bloomberg shows a woman being attacked by her ex-husband with a gun. But its easy to imagine he could have done great harm to her even without a gun. As you watch the ad, you truly wish the woman had a gun to defend herself against the thug.
Unfortunately, Taylor’s story isn’t unique. If schools and society can’t guarantee these women’s safety, it’s time that these victims stop living in fear and have a chance to defend themselves.