In the last twenty-three years there have been numerous incidents of mass shootings on college and public school campuses, resulting in tragic loss of life, and calls to further restrict gun ownership, if not an outright ban of weapons. In contrast, gun rights proponents have suggest that students and faculty should be allowed to carry weapons on campus. This controversial proposal varies by locale and in proposed implementation, sometimes limited to those with concealed carry licenses, and in other cases limited to trained faculty. The prospect of armed students and faculty is alarming to many, and their various concerns including the possible effects on academic freedom, safety to students, and effectiveness of self-defense are worthy of discussion. Currently, most college campuses enforce a gun free zone, effectively removing the right of citizens to bear arms and defend themselves colleges. As a result, colleges have assumed the responsibility for protecting their students, a prospect that they are wholly unprepared for. While gun free zones are effective in controlled environments such as a courthouse, they are unenforceable in a college atmosphere. Additionally, these zones have a contrary effect of encouraging active shooter scenarios, such as the Virginia Tech massacre, since it prevents individuals from defending themselves against mass shooters, as well as more traditional crimes such as assault, rape or other violent crime. College students, staff and faculty who meet the stringent requirements necessary to obtain a concealed carry license should not be prevented from carrying their weapon, and exercising their Constitutional right to defend themselves, and others.
The establishment of gun free zones has not only failed to make colleges safer, but has actually created environments that are uniquely attractive targets for mass murderers. David B. Kopel, in the Connecticut Law Review, points out that prior to the 1990 Gun Free School Zone Act, there had only been seven school shootings in the prior 214 year history of the United States. As of his publication in 2009, there had been twenty-eight mass shootings since the establishment of Gun Free School Zones (Kopel 519). Just as the U.S. Congress established Gun Free School Zones, many states passed “Shall Issue” concealed carry laws, creating “objective standards for the issuance of permits to carry handguns for lawful protection” (Kopel 519). In the forty-eight states that issue these permits, there are limitations on its application, such as courthouses, K-12 schools, and colleges. The establishment of these Shall Issue laws indicates that legislators agree that “there is a category of adults who can be trusted to be responsible about carrying a concealed handgun for lawful protection in almost all public places” (Kopel 521). These two classes of laws establish a dichotomy in the treatment of citizen’s right to personal defense. Gun free zones actively discourage self-defense, forcing citizens to rely on the protection of a governmental agency that, in the case of most colleges, is simply unable to effectively enforce the ban against aggressors. In contrast, Shall Issue concealed carry laws encourage citizens to safely own firearms, and utilize them only in defense against clear and present danger to their selves or others.
Forty-nine states include provisions allowing licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons in public. However, there are limitations on this right, specifically in the case of government buildings, banks, schools, and any establishment that sells intoxicating beverages (Goral 42). These restrictions include college campuses in almost all cases, despite the significant difference between a college campus and these other locations. In the case of airports, courthouses, and banks the gun free zone is “enforced with secure parameters, armed guards, metal detectors, and so on,” according to David Burnett, spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry (Goral 43). The police presence and metal detectors at a courthouse ensures the safety of those within its perimeters. When a citizen enters a courthouse, that citizen relinquishes their right of self-defense to the government, who has assumed responsibility for them. College campuses cannot be as easily controlled. A campus is a rambling affair, with many points of egress and is a continual hub of activity. A Gun Free Zone for a college campus is enforced with signage at the entrance and on the doors. When a citizen is disarmed on a college campus no such protections exist, and law abiding citizens are placed at the mercy of criminals.
Removing the restrictions of a Gun Free Zone from college campuses allows students and faculty to exercise their Second Amendment rights; it does not establish an armed populace of students. Opponents of concealed carry, such as Jay Sanguinetti, co-president of Students Against Guns in Education, claims that his “argument has always been that college campuses have always been extremely safe” and continues to say “bringing guns on campus will do more harm than good…it will alter the environment in the classroom and campus police say it will make their jobs harder” (Wiseman). David Burnet notes that some opponents of this measure claim that this would “open the door to a ‘wild west’ scenario of gun toting students taking the law into their hands” (Goral 43). University of Oklahoma President David Boren believes that allowing weapons on campus “would endanger the safety of our students, faculty, and staff” (Associated Press). Boren claims that having armed civilians would add chaos to a crisis situation, and that police would be unable to sort dangerous gunmen from those armed in self-defense. Representative Ernest Wooton of Louisiana, who has proposed concealed carry legislation for college campuses, explains that he is “not trying to arm the campus. I want people who want their right to carry a weapon to be able to do it on campus and possibly to defend themselves” (Maloney). He is opposed by Sally Clausen, Louisiana’s state commissioner of higher education, who claims that there is no evidence that the “proliferation of firearms would actually make the college safer” (Maloney). Instead, she suggests that trust be placed solely in the college police, who have been trained for “such emotionally and highly charged situations” (Maloney). Wooton counters that his experience as a former sheriff “leads him to trust properly permitted concealed handgun holders no matter the situation,” in large part due to the difficulty in earning such a permit and the unwillingness to lose it due to lawlessness (Maloney).
Claussen’s trust in campus police, and by extension local law enforcement, is worthy of their dedication to such a difficult job; unfortunately, in the event of an active shooter on campus, it is unlikely that police will be able respond in sufficient time. An active shooter is one whose intention is quite simply mass murder; there are no demands, no hostages and no intention of mercy. Dick Fairburn, a police trainer writing for The Police Marksman, explains that “many of the active shooter incidents we examined were over in the three to four minutes, much quicker than four officers could be assembled as a rapid deployment team and hope to find and neutralize the shooter” (Kopel 541). He suggests that the only hope for stopping the shooter and saving lives in such a scenario is if there is someone at the scene when the shooting starts (Kopel 541). Ideally, this person on scene is the School Response Officer, but lacking such a resource the best hope to save lives is the intervention of a citizen. Mr. Kopel references as report by the Force Science Research Center of Minnesota State, which observes that these shooters choose unarmed, defenseless innocents because they are risk and pain averse. They are unlikely to be aggressive with police, and if pressed are more likely to commit suicide (Kopel 542). As a result the best tactic for a lone officer should be to “close in and finish the fight with aggression…The idea is to keep the adversary off-balance by always forcing him to react to your actions, rather than, after contact, reacting to him” (Kopel 542). Police cannot be everywhere, and even on a single campus the area that must be covered by an on-site officer is immense. If the police cannot engage an active shooter immediately, “lives will be saved if one or more victims start shooting back” (Kopel 543). Some opponents of armed citizens on campus will counter that the citizen may miss a shot, and likely will. Unfortunately, even with intensive training police accuracy in a firefight varies between eight and twenty percent, partially due to being trained to shoot from twenty to thirty feet away, while most defensive shots from a civilian are from less than seven feet away (Kopel 543). At this short range it is much easier to hit a target, but it is not necessary for the defender to necessarily shoot and kill the attacker. An attacker who is under fire loses the freedom to carefully aim his weapon and kill his intended victims, additionally, “active shooters tend to crumble at the first sign of active resistance” (Kopel 544).
Another point against the use of concealed carry in a college environment comes from academics concerned with “the effects of a concealed or open carry environment on teaching effectiveness, the comfort level of faculty and students, and the chilling effect on the ability of students and faculty to exchange ideas on controversial subjects and conflicts, such as grading disputes” (Wasserman 53). Allowing concealed carry does not establish an open carry environment, nor do most citizens own a pistol, and even fewer have will be compelled to apply for a concealed carry, or necessarily carry their weapon consistently. According to the New York Times, “in 2012, the share of American households with guns was 34 percent” (Tavernise and Gebeloff). The number of citizens with concealed carry licenses is significantly smaller. In most states, applicants for a concealed carry license must endure a training session, a personal history questionnaire, and criminal history checks through the National Crime Information Center and their state criminal database. These applicants are reviewed by law enforcement officers in the jurisdiction as well (Goral 43). In most states, applicants must be 21 years of age before eligible for a concealed carry. This means that on most college campuses, where the majority of students are between 18 and 22 years old, three-fourths of the population is ineligible for the license. Burnett notes that the number of students who would acquire a license and carry a firearm on a consistent basis is “on a national average about one student for every 100” (Goral 42). Such small numbers of students with concealed carry does not constitute a significant change in the atmosphere of a campus, and since laws prevent the brandishing or discharging a weapon except in defense of one’s self or another, it is unlikely faculty would ever know which students carried a weapon. Brandishing and discharging a weapon without cause would result in the loss of the permit and confiscation of the weapon, as well as any punishments the school would levy for commission of a crime on premises. Lewis M. Wasserman argues that “where campus rules permit concealed or other carrying, policies should be in place to ensure that students, faculty, or staff who have behaved irresponsibly with weapons, or otherwise pose a threat to the safety of others, such as those convicted of campus alcohol or drug offenses, or other persons, such as those who have criminal convictions or mental illness are prevented from gun possession” (Wasserman 42). Additionally, violations of campus gun regulations should have penalties such as suspension or expulsion for students, and termination for staff and faculty (Wasserman 42).
While the national debate over concealed carry on campus is relatively new, beginning after the Virginia Tech massacre, it is a long established fact in Utah. Since 1995, the faculty of Utah’s public universities may possess licensed firearms in their offices, automobiles and on their person. Additionally, students aged twenty-one or older, may do the same and may keep firearms in their dorm rooms. As of 2009, there had been no incidents of misuse of a firearm by a person with a legal permit, nor any instances of attempted mass murders in any school in Utah (Kopel 529). Including public schools, there have been no reports of any student, teacher or professor reporting that they were afraid to speak for harm, or fear of licensed gun permit holders. Since the passage of these laws, there has been no harm to academic freedom in the state of Utah (Kopel 530). Similarly, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, has established licensed carry for faculty, students and visitors, though weapons may not be stored in dorm rooms. Likewise, Virginia’s Blue Ridge Community College has established similar regulations. Neither institute has reported instances of gun misuse (Kopel 531).
Another argument against allowing students and faculty to carry firearms is the claim that such measures are ineffective deterrents to criminal acts. The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement officers “has concluded, among other things, that there is no credible statistical evidence to suggest that allowing campus carry of concealed weapons reduced crime (Wasserman 56). In direct contradiction to this statement, John Lott and David Mustard of The University of Chicago performed a study of the effects of right-to-carry concealed handguns on crime, and found that the National Crime Victimization Survey showed “80,000 to 82,000 defensive uses of guns during assaults, robberies, and household burglaries” (Lott and Mustard 2). However, they add that other surveys indicate that private firearms may be used in self-defense as many as 2.5 million times, and that “400,000 of these defenders believing that using the gun ‘almost certainly’ saved a life” (Lott and Mustard 2). The benefits of concealed carry are not merely anecdotal, however. Their findings showed that when concealed handguns laws went into effect, murders fell by 8.5%, rapes fell by 5%, and aggravated assaults fell by 7% (Lott and Mustard 16). Of particular note is the effect of concealed carry on rape, despite the relatively small number of women with concealed carry licenses, “the concealed handgun coefficient for explaining rapes is consistently comparable in size to the effect that this variable has on other violent crime rates” (Lott and Mustard 20). In 2007, Amanda Carpenter was raped on the campus of the University of Nevada by an armed man, “Had I been carting that night, I know I would have been able to stop my rape,” she says, unfortunately state law prevents her from carrying a gun on campus (Wiseman). Guns are an equalizing force, no matter the size of the attacker a gun makes individuals equal in terms of force. According to the National Institute of Justice in 2011 there were 414,562 firearm incidents, a firearm crime accounting for 8% of all violent incidents in the United States (National Institute of Justice). While crime rates have significantly lowered over the past two decades, violent crime is still a real threat, and in many cases had the victim been armed the crime might have been prevented.
The prevention of traditional crime is not the only concern for the armed citizen, but also defense against a targeted attack against the school populace, such as the active shooters discussed previously. A majority of the school shootings since 1990 have not been random acts of violence, but carefully planned and executed assaults. In the wake of the attack at Columbine High School in 1999, the Secret Service and the Department of Education initiated a study of the planning and behaviors of the attackers, this study was titled the Safe School Initiative (Secret Service 3). One of the key factors in understanding the school shooting phenomena is to recognize that it is “targeted violence,” and is defined by the Secret Service as “any incident of violence where a known or knowable attacker selects a particular target prior to their violent attack” (Secret Service 4). These attempts at mass murder are committed by individuals or groups who recognize the target presented by a gun free zone that disarms citizens in an easily accessible environment. The Secret Service identified numerous characteristics common to these mass shootings. These incidents were rarely sudden, impulsive acts. Prior to the attack, others became aware of the plan to commit the attack. Most attackers did not threaten their intended target directly. There is no useful profile for active shooters. Most attackers committed some act that caused concern. Most attackers were suffering through significant loss, and many had committed suicide. Most felt bullied or persecuted. They had access to weapons prior to the attack, and involved other students in some capacity. Most importantly, despite prompt responses most shooting incidents are resolved before the police could intervene (Secret Service 12). The Secret Service report explains that most school-based attacks “were stopped through the intervention of school administrators, educators, and students or by the attacker stopping on his own” (Secret Service 27). One-third of these incidents ended with the attacker being apprehended by school staff. In one-fifth of the incidents the attacker simply stopped or left the school, but in just over a tenth of the time the attacker committed suicide (Secret Service 28). Law enforcement intervention ended the attack in just over one-quarter of incidents, largely due to the brief amount of time such incidents take (Secret Service 28).
It has been claimed that armed citizens do not serve as a deterrent to mass killers, yet in the case of the Columbine murderers they began their attack while the “school resource officer was off-campus having lunch – an indication that they preferred not to confront armed resistance (Kopel 539). Regardless of their mental state, the killers at both Columbine High School and Virginia Tech planned their attacks for a year, and several months respectively. In the case of Virginia Tech, the killer utilized a heavy chain to slow police response. The Columbine shooters “successfully executed a plan to use explosives and fire alarms create confusion among the victims” (Kopel 539). In 1997, in Pearl Mississippi a sixteen year old killer began his day by slitting his mother’s throat, then killed his ex-girlfriend and wounded seven other students, and was stopped not by police, but by Assistant Principal Joel Myrick. When Myrick first heard shots he rushed to his truck to retrieve the rifle and ammunition he kept for such circumstances, meanwhile the killer using a deer rifle loaded and fired repeatedly, until he heard sirens, at which point he ran to his car. His plan was to drive to the nearby Pearl Junior High School and shoot more kids until the police could show up. Instead, Myrick positioned himself to fire at the windshield, causing the killer to lose control and crash the vehicle (Kopel 544). The killer believed he could operate with impunity, and understood that as the police responded to the high school he would be able to continue his murders at another location. The existence of gun free zones directly created an environment where such psychotic actions are possible.
Gun Free Zones on college campuses only serve to create the illusion of safety. The arguments against allowing law abiding citizens who are legally able to acquire a concealed carry permit from carrying their weapon on campus are based on creating an artificial difference between the college environment and the rest of the world. If a citizen is legally able to defend himself in a grocery store parking lot, then he is legally able to defend himself in a college commons. If a citizen with a concealed carry permit may debate politics in a public park without intimidating others with his weapon, then that citizen may debate grades with a professor without using his weapon to intimidate. The argument for allowing concealed carry permits to operate on college campuses are based on applying the same standards of legal behavior on college campuses as all other public spaces that concealed carry has already been implemented. One fear of concealed weapons is that it will chill academic discourse, yet the security measures necessary to establish a true, enforced gun free zone on a college campus would establish a police state far more damaging to academic freedom than allowing responsible citizens to exercise their Constitutionally protected right of self-defense.
Kopel, David B. ""Gun-Free" School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction." Connecticut Law Review 42.2 (2009): 515-84. Print.
Goral, Tim. "Guns-on-campus Bill Draws Ire of Oklahoma College Presidents." Community College Week 7 Apr. 2008: 17-18. EbscoHost:Connection. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
Wiseman, Rachel. “Campaign for Right to Carry Concealed Guns on Campuses Gains Traction.” Education Digest 77.7 (2012): 53-56. Academic Search Complete. Web/ 3 May 2013
AP. "Guns-on-Campus Bill Draws Ire of Oklahoma College Presidents." Community College Week 7 Apr. 2008: 17-18. Ebscohost.com. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
Maloney, Stephen. “La. State Lawmaker Undaunted in Effort to Allow College Students to Bring Concealed Guns on Campus.” New Orleans City Business (LA): Legal Collection. Web. 5 May 5, 2013
Wasserman, Lewis M. “Gun Control on College and University Campuses in the Wake of District Columbia V. Heller and McDonald V. City of Chicago.” Virginia Journal of Social Policy & The Law 19.1 (2011): 1-57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Apr. 2013
Tavernise, Sabrina, and Robert Gebelhoff. "Share of Homes with Guns Shows 4-Decade Decline." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 9 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
National Institute of Justice. "Gun Violence." National Institute of Justice. National Institute of Justice, 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 01 May 2013.
Lott, Jr., John R., and David B. Mustard. "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns." The Journal of Legal Studies 26.1 (1997): 1. Print.
United States. Secret Service. National Violence Prevention and Study Center. The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: The Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. By Bryan Vossekuil. Washington D.C.: Secret Service and the Department of Education, 2002. Print.