Ky Peterson demands we again ask: who is allowed to shoot back?

Ky Peterson has already spent three years in prison, only the start of his 20 year sentence. The young black trans man shot the person he says raped him, the assault just one of a series of violent attacks he experienced in Georgia. But a racist and transphobic police immediately saw Peterson as a violent assailant rather than a victim; one clinic counselor, as the Advocate recounts, told Peterson he “didn’t seem like a rape victim to me;” and a blundering public defender apparently entered the wrong plea.

Meanwhile, state legislators across the country are fighting to force universities to allow students to carry guns on campus. Their reason? Armed students will be able to protect themselves from sexual violence, or so says the gun lobby.

Of course, these legislators don’t mention people like Peterson or Marissa Alexander, who is still under house arrest for firing a single warning shot to fend off her abusive estranged husband. Campus carry advocates don’t mention that a victim who shoots in self-defense might be convicted while his or her abuser goes free. They fail to acknowledge that women of color who resist domestic abuse are often criminalized instead of their abusers, as writers like Victoria Law have documented.

But, if we’re honest, the kind of  campus victim that gun advocates imagine isn’t the kind who would be criminalized for fighting back. As many, many critics have pointed out before me, the gun lobby and courts have long made clear that when they think about self-defense, they don’t imagine black people, and certainly not trans black people, and absolutely not poor trans black people. In particular, the application of “stand your ground” laws has illuminated who lawmakers really want to arm for self-defense: white cis middle-class people. A number of writers, including Brittney Cooper, have pointed out the differential treatment of “stand your ground” claims by George Zimmerman, a white Latino man who killed a young black man, and Alexander, a black woman who hurt no one. That Zimmerman walked free and Alexander still wears a monitoring bracelet on her ankle speaks to whose bodies, exactly, the courts think are worthy of defense. So, too, does Peterson’s incarceration.

The recent push for guns on campus in the name of rape prevention, then, adds just another data point to the long story of the gun lobby’s fight to arm white people, and only white people, for self-defense. Of course, campus gender violence isn’t a problem for white women only: women of color are disproportionately vulnerable to sexual and intimate partner violence. But public debate about campus rape has focused, as critics like Wagatwe Wanjuki have written for years, on white girls — the kinds of people the gun lobby views as victims “worthy” of self-defense, like their own daughters (even if guns will ultimately only put students at more risk).

Peterson didn’t “seem like a rape victim” because of all the way he fails to conform to lawmakers’ and courts’ platonic ideal of the victim — which our vision of the white, middle-class, cis campus co-ed victim fits perfectly. Her body is worth protecting. And so she, and she alone, is allowed to shoot back.

Image via The Advocate.

Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at

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