Whenever there is a shooting on a campus—especially a mass shooting as occurred at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in 2007—there are suggestions that if only students or faculty had been armed, they could have defended themselves and others by shooting the shooter. That view has led to a call for the right to bear arms on campus. Others see the mixture of concealed carry of firearms and campus life as a recipe for disaster.
The issue has gained a lot of traction. While Utah is the only state to have passed a law requiring public campuses to permit concealed carry, at least 15 states have introduced similar legislation in their current session, according to Brenda Bautsch of the National Conference on State Legislatures. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer recently vetoed a similar law.
The details of the legislation vary from state to state. Some states allow the schools to develop their own policies regarding whether concealed carry is acceptable on campus. It appears that most of the campuses that do allow concealed carry limit it to individuals over 21; the age restriction comports with laws that restrict concealed carry to those 21 or older in those states.
Gary Margolis, managing partner at school security consulting company Margolis, Healy & Associates, is working with several schools in states where gun laws are currently under consideration. He says that none of the schools are in favor of allowing guns on campus, but they are starting to consider how they would develop policies if the laws pass. “There’re a lot of questions that would need to get answered if in fact a state made a law that you could carry on a university campus,” he says.
Guns off Campus
Most of the sources interviewed for this article expressed concern that the presence of guns on campus will make the campus less safe. Even if students don’t turn the guns on each other, they may turn them on themselves, they say. One study, Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, found that 24 percent of college students consider suicide, according to Inside Higher Ed. There is also research that indicates that suicide attempts are more likely to be successful when a gun is available in the home.
Another recent study titled Rate, Relative Risk, and Method of Suicide by Students at 4-year Colleges and Universities in the United States 2004-2005 through 2008-2009 found that the suicide rates of students on college campuses were actually lower than that of a national sample, which the study attributed to the rarity of firearms on campus, though that type of correlation may be difficult to substantiate.