To Carry or Not to Carry

By Laura Spadantua

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.


Evidence of Effects of CCW on Crime

The article declares that there is precious little evidence on whether and how carry impacts crime. On the contrary, there are some very interesting studies, most notably that of John Lott, formerly of University of Chicago, who wrote "More Guns, Less Crime."

The title speaks for itself, but of particular note was Lott's evaluation of the impact of carry on crazed shooters. Funny, just like other kinds of criminal, they tend to prefer "disarmed victim zones" over places where there is any real prospect of meeting up with an armed defender. Soft target, hard target; bad guys of almost all stripes tend to avoid the hard target in favor of the soft one. If it weren't so obvious, it'd be uncanny how the bad guys consistently pick soft targets.

In the theoretical, pscyhology tells us that punishment as a deterrent works best if it's: 1. likely; 2. immediate; and 3. severe. This is, effectively, what's known as a hard target.

Kleck studied and demonstrated what had previously been unknown: how often self-defense occurs. Given the numbers he came up with after carefully vetting claims to a very conservative (overly cautious) standard, it averages out to about every 13 seconds that use of a gun in defense of life or property occurs in the U.S., not counting professional defenders (i.e., no police, no military). In reality, it should probably be every 8 seconds or so, based on the numbers he said were probably actually on target.

Certainly, more comprehensive research can and should be done. The charged topic, coupled with strong ideological biases among researchers and funders, however, has produced a great deal of bad science, so one must be careful about the quality of any study (or expert), looking rather deep into methodology and what conclusions can actually be drawn. This applies to any institution you can name.

Margolis asserted that letting the intended victims be armed is like throwing gas on a fire. I don't see that. Among CCW holders, what I see is a group of people, pacifist to a fault (no one wants to deal with the aftermath of having to shoot someone), steely in their determination not to ever have an accident, often very well trained (despite insinuations to the contrary in the article), aware of their responsibiltiy with that firearm, only willing to do what must be done.

Last point: Any police or security officer that doesn't approach every situation with awareness that it could become deadly is not thinking clearly, is a hazard to himself. Every CCW holder is aware that he could be mistaken for a bad guy. Training, practice and just good sense will tend to balance these situations to keep the innocent from being shot, as we saw with the Giffords shooting: the defender--a CCW holder--assessed a very complex situation and made the right shoot/don't shoot decision.  Yes, accidents will undoubtedly happen. But the deterrent value of CCW holders more than compensates in lives saved.



Limiting myself to one point:
"Another concern expressed by opponents of guns on campus is the limited and potentially varied training required for a concealed carry permit in various states. Paul Timm, PSP, president of RETA Security Inc., recommends that sworn police be the only individuals on campus with guns for this reason."
1. Almost all standard law enforcement training is irrelevant to concealed carry. Licensees don't need to know how to operate police radios, batons, handcuffs, ticket writers, and all the other gear a modern officer uses. They have no need of training on how to assess people who have been drinking to determine if they need detaining. Pulling over drivers and ticketing them for infractions is not in the CHL job description.
2. A main purpose of colleges and universities is research. It would be interesting to compare concealed handgun licensees and campus security officers regarding how much firearm experience they have and, given non-traditional students and faculty, which group is older and more mature.
3. You have identified a population that you believe doesn't know enough about something. Another main purpose of a college or university is to teach people to do stuff. How is this not an opportunity?


Concealed carry on campus

In reference to the August 2011 cover story relating to concealed carry on campus.  I was actually surprised the story was as balanced as it was and presented both sides of the debate.  My surprise is more based on the cover of the magazine showing a student with a handgun shoved into the front of his waistband and his shirt pulled up revealing the weapon.  I'm not sure what the editors intended when they selected this cover.  Were they trying to protray a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) holder?  If so they are sadly misinformed.  CHL holders are trained that their handgun must remain concealed at all times and will go to great lengths in their selection of holsters and clothing to effectively conceal their weapon.  In fact failure to conceal the weapon is a Class A Misdemeanor in Texas.  I think it is more likely the editor is saying students who might legally carry guns are irresponsible and not concered with causing alarm or maybe trying to protray a certain macho attitude.  It's too bad the editors didn't research the subject a little more closely or pay more attention to the image the magazine cover is protraying.   

Mark S. Bennett, CPP, CSC

Cover art

The editors were aware that the student wasn't concealing the weapon. That was an artistic choice. For the purposes of the cover, we wanted the weapon to be visible. We tried to make the student look like any average student, not like a trouble-maker or an irresponsible person.
Sherry Harowitz

Cover art

So what was the point in portaying a student with a visible weapon?  What message were you trying to send?  I don't think you understand the first thing about concealed carry.  Anyone intentionally carrying a weapon in plain sight, legally or not,  would have to be reckless or totally stupid.  Are you saying this description fits the average student?  I'm sorry you believe that covers like this make a statement about "average" students or anyone who would carry a weapon.  Shame on you!

Mark S. Bennett, CPP, CSC

Concern about Restricting Rights

There are a number of points that I think should be made on this subject.

* Concealed carry on campus is not focused on students, since most students cannot qualify for a license.  It's more about allowing Staff, Faculty, and visitors to protect themselves.

* Suggesting that it's better for people not to be armed is saying that it's better for people to die instead of protecting themselves.

* Since campuses are open environments there is nothing to stop any criminal from carrying on to most campuses.  It's a perfect opportunity for a criminal who knows that nobody on the campus grounds is allowed to be armed.

* Stating that campus police need to be careful about who's carrying a gun is implying that they don't need to worry about that today.  There are people permitted to carry on campus, and being careful to determine friend or foe is important whether the law is passed or not.

* When you look at the shootings at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and Luby's Cafeteria, you see that in each of those cases people died because law-abiding people were not allowed to be armed.  Establishing schools as a gun-free zone gets people killed.

* When you look at the shooting at Pearl High School you see that an Assistant Principal saved lives because he left the school and retrieved his gun, then returning to stop the shooter.

* Campus carry will save lives.  It doesn't allow anyone unlicensed to have a gun.  It does allow licensed, law abiding citizens to keep their inalienable human right to self defense.

 -Vik Solem


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