Evidence, Not Emotion, Should Guide the Campus Concealed Carry Debate

In 2015, Time magazine reported that there had been 23 shootings on college and university campuses that year, including an attack at a community college in Oregon that claimed 10 lives.

Prompted by such headlines, lawmakers have started taking a closer look at policies regulating weapons on campus. But states’ reactions have varied according to local attitudes towards guns and lawmakers’ party affiliations. And it’s unclear whether laws regulating firearms on campus will have any real effect on campus crime.

In some states, shooting incidents or fear of shooting incidents have caused lawmakers to seek to expand existing gun regulations. In 2013, for example, five states introduced legislation to prohibit concealed carry weapons on campus. (None of the bills passed.)

In the same year—moving in the opposite direction—19 states introduced legislation to allow concealed carry on public college campuses. Two of the bills passed. In 2014, legislators in another 14 states introduced similar legislation. (No bills passed.) In 2015, Texas became the eighth state to allow concealed carry weapons on college campuses. And this year, North Carolina’s legislature has introduced a bill to allow for the same on public university and community college campuses.

Opponents of concealed carry on campus claim that it will lead to an escalation of violent crime and suicides by students. They also fear that guns on campus will detract from the learning environment and possibly stifle campus discussion and unpopular ideas. Others point out that legal gun owners on campus will be difficult to distinguish from active shooters, and that campus defense should be left to the police.

They also credit existing “gun-free” policies for making colleges and universities relatively safe. From 2012 through 2014, for example, just 24 cases of murder or non-negligent manslaughter occurred on public university campuses nationwide.

Time’s 2015 list of campus shootings provides further evidence of the safety of college campuses. The list is provided by Everytown for Gun Safety, which has tracked all school shootings since 2012. The group defines a school shooting as any incident in which a firearm is discharged inside a school building or on campus grounds and not in self-defense. The 23 shootings on the list resulted in only 21 deaths and 23 injuries—across all public and private colleges and universities in the country. The list even includes one incident in which a man “accidentally shot himself.”

Proponents of concealed carry concede that college campuses are safe places. But they believe that some gun owners likely carry on campus despite laws prohibiting the practice (suggesting that concealed weapons may be having a positive effect). They also point out that concealed handgun license holders are five times less likely than non-license holders to commit violent crimes. Moreover, the eleven U.S. colleges and universities that currently allow concealed carry on campus have not seen any resulting incidents of gun violence, gun accidents, or gun thefts.

In Colorado, for example, concealed carry has been legal since 2012 when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the University of Colorado’s longstanding policy banning guns from campus violated the state’s concealed carry law. In the three years following that decision for which data are available (2012-2014), there were no murders on public university campuses in the state.

As mentioned above, North Carolina is taking steps toward relaxing its campus gun policies. In 2013, the state legislature passed a bill allowing a person with a valid concealed carry handgun permit to possess a handgun on educational property, provided that the weapon is in a locked container attached to a vehicle, such as a glovebox.

Chiefs of police at all 17 UNC system schools opposed the provision, saying they feared car break-ins and increased gun violence on campus.

Student Government Associations at 11 of the 17 schools opposed the law as well. In a proclamation signed by student body presidents, students predicted that “more guns on campus would create an additional risk for students.” So far, however, there has been no reported increase in incidents of violence on UNC campuses.

Nevertheless, the latest bill, which would allow concealed carry across all public campuses, not just within vehicles, is likely to receive strong pushback from some campus leaders and student communities.

Recent research by the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, established in 2008 and joined by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, was intended to debunk the claims of concealed carry proponents that guns on campus could deter crime.

The author concludes: “[While] the results certainly do not prove that campus carry causes more crime, [they] undoubtedly disprove the claim that the possible presence of individuals carrying concealed weapons equals less crime.”

However, the report shows—like other evidence—that there is no relationship between campus carry laws and rates of violent crime on campus.

Without evidence that campus gun laws have any effect on the crime rate, lawmakers should defer to the Second Amendment. Students’ and faculty members’ rights to gun ownership should not be abridged by arbitrary and baseless campus regulations.

  • don yelton

    When did academia ever listen to facts. Global warming changed to climate change. We are a democracy.

    • thinkingprof2

      The term “global warming” was changed to “climate change” because people who are not educated in the facts believe that a cold winter proves that global warming in not happening. In fact, climate change encompasses a number of effects by which the earth’s atmosphere is warming overall; the seas are rising, though at different rates in different areas, and sea life is being adversely impacted. Weather conditions, such as local temperatures, are becoming more variable; and warming as a general trend and storminess are increasing (more tornadoes in more places and more forceful; stronger, though not necessarily more numerous, hurricanes; heavy rains and flooding alternating with drought, etc.). These are facts regardless of the cause and the emotions associated with them. But the idea that human activities contribute to the problem–and the possibility that human activities could be changed to slow the problem–is what seems to cause emotional reactions. Those emotions generally result in denying reality and blaming scientists (who generally studied science at universities) for the information. The problem isn’t the facts; the problem is that some people don’t like the facts and become angry at the idea that we might have to consider making some changes. The emotions of anger, fear, and dislike will not change the facts. And arguments with poor or skewed applications of facts don’t help clarify any issue. Universities (academia) are places where people learn to identify facts and how they are used as well as how emotions play a role in decisions. We teach facts and how to research facts. What students do with that education is up to them. The proof? Most legislators have been to college and that’s no guarantee of their positions or their allegiances to facts. And “democracy” doesn’t mean that all opinions are equal. Some are just wrong. What makes us a democracy is that people can make decisions and vote based on their beliefs no matter how inaccurate and dangerous. Education–and facts–should make our decisions better; unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If you haven’t been to college, you should try it. If you have been, then you are evidence that academia’s reliance on facts doesn’t guarantee people will accept them.

      • Don Yelton

        we are a democracy was a joke because we are a democratic REPUBLIC thinkingprof2

        also the global warming theory is based upon flawed modeling and I have several sources that mention multiple theories about what has contributed to global warming. If the first and second law of thermodynamics are really laws we should know that we are gradually going to warm up. speeding to entropy. Yield from gasohol is a negative energy balance. Ha Ha. Also Jamestown is now been found out in the James river. Waters are rising due to sediment filling up the bottom of the ocean, impervious surfaces increasing. Come on think as a scientist not a dumb down professor.

        • don yelton

          Where do you teach thinkingprof2

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    Concealed carry only legalizes the ritual prohibitions on the display of guns, right?
    “[F]or a robber, displaying the gun is the crucial ritual act; it is this above all else that gives robbers their emotional energy.” Collins 2008:184.

    Possession imbues confidence, increases emotional energy, etc., all having to do with personal emotions and the dynamics of situational dominance. Faculty will tell you this: knowing that students may be carrying guns dampens their effectiveness as teachers. “Evidence” does not capture this social dynamic, unfortunately.

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    Also, for Florida, where limited campus carry **was** affirmed by First District, DCA.
    133 So.3d 966 (2013) FLORIDA CARRY, INC., and Alexandria Lainez, Appellants,
    v. UNIVERSITY OF NORTH FLORIDA, John Delaney, Appellees. No. 1D12-2174.
    District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District. December 10, 2013.

  • Whatrdafax

    Good article. Would be interesting to track the number of rapes and violent crimes on campus with notation on whether or not the victim was armed, and whether or not the perpetrator was armed.
    I taught a night class at an urban university. One night, just 15 minutes before walking to my car, a mugger punched out a 20 year old male student and demanded money or risk more beating. According to police account, this occurred on a well lit corner less than 100ft from where I parked. A female friend, whose mother was a police officer told me about a night at the same university where she got off an elevator and saw someone breaking into her car. She was relieved to see a man by the elevator and told him what was going on. He drew a knife and mugged her. These are two incidents, same university, not shooting related -but concealed carry could have made a difference -if those two victims were legally carrying guns and therefore had CCW training.

    • I don’t know if the data are good enough to do such a study–but I agree that it would be worth knowing.