April 18, 2011

ANTI-GUNS-ON-CAMPUS BLOWBACK: You know, I raised this issue with a Faculty Senate colleague and was dismissed, but here it is: “Gun owners should remember this vote when UT comes whining back to legislature to beg, cajole and whine for more money.” I think too many faculty have their backs up over budget issues — and the legislature going Republican — and have chosen this as an issue to push back with. If gun owners care, that will be a big mistake. if they don’t care, well. . . that’s a bad sign in a different way.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, the bill’s favored almost 2-1 in this online poll from the News-Sentinel.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here’s the news story that the poll accompanies.

MORE: Here’s a letter that was circulated to the faculty today.

Open Letter to UTK Faculty, Staff and Students,

The Tennessee state legislature is considering legislation that would
decriminalize the carrying of concealed weapons on state university campuses
by individuals who have Handgun Carry Permits. The UTK faculty senate,
administration, campus police, and student government association have gone
on record as opposing this legislative change.

Since emotional arguments may have more weight for opponents of permitting
responsible adults to legally carry weapons on college campuses, let me
relate that I was on the faculty at Virginia Tech for 25 years and I still
have many friends and colleagues there. However, one less colleague is alive
today because a deranged student shot him and 32 others dead. I don’t know
how many of these people might be alive today if just one of the several
hundred people locked in Norris Hall had a weapon, but I do know that all of
these people had a right to life and a right to defend it. This right,
however, was usurped by laws designed to disarm law abiding students and
faculty. The proposed legislation would formally reinstate that inalienable
right of self defense to imagined ivory towers of Tennessee higher education.

The deranged student at Virginia Tech brought weapons onto campus with the
express intent to commit murder. Having made this decision, I am sure he was
not overly concerned about breaking the law by illegally carrying weapons on
campus. For the record, the student did not hold a handgun carry permit.
It seems to me that a great many involved in higher education, who
notionally profess to hold reason and scientific method as high ideals,
abandon logic and reason in favor of emotion when the subject of guns arises.

For those who claim to have an open mind, I ask that you consider the
following:

Only Licensed, Legally-Armed Citizens Would Carry

Current Tennessee law requires a minimum age of 21, a comprehensive FBI
criminal background check, fingerprints, classroom instruction and live-fire
certification to receive a Handgun Carry Permit. Consequently, legally-armed
citizens already have training and experience with firearms, and have
demonstrated responsibility. Holders of concealed carry permits in the U.S.
are arrested for violent crimes at a rate five times lower than non-license
holders (even lower than police officers in many states).

Whether or not you support concealed carry, it’s already an existing right
in Tennessee and most other states. Under current law, armed citizens can
carry a concealed weapon into literally thousands of places throughout their
state, including movie theaters, restaurants, banks, shopping malls,
churches and grocery stores, and have done so responsibly for years. In view
of this, prohibiting these same responsible individuals from carrying a
concealed weapon on a college campus doesn’t make sense.

“Gun-Free Zones” Don’t Work

History is clear. Stickers on campus doors saying “no guns allowed” don’t
stop criminal offenders. In fact, no law will ever affect criminal behavior
because criminals, by their very nature, do not follow the law. What these
signs actually do is create (and advertise!) a defense-free zone, removing
legal guns and forcibly disarming victims. This is exactly what makes
colleges most attractive to killers who seek easy targets.

Killers don’t take time to register their firearms or obtain permits for
their murder weapons. Virginia Tech and a host of other college shootings
demonstrate that. Responsible individuals carrying legal weapons on campus
are the very ones that could make a difference in a hostile situation.

The Net Effect is Positive

Many students state they would not feel safe if concealed carry were
allowed. However, concealed carry at Virginia Tech was blocked with the
specific goal of “feeling safe.” On April 16, 2007, it became clear that
feeling safe isn’t the same as being safe.

In reality, more than 70 college campuses currently allow concealed carry on
campus, including all public universities in Utah and multiple college
campuses in Colorado. According to crime statistics and inquiries to campus
officials, there hasn’t been a single reported instance of shootouts,
accidents or heated confrontations resulting from concealed carry on campus.
In fact, Colorado State University’s crime rate has declined steadily since
allowing concealed carry. While no one can irrefutably claim this is due to
concealed carry, we can at least state with certainty that allowing
concealed carry does not increase risks to a campus population and may even
help.

Everyone deserves protection

Opponents of concealed carry on campuses frequently point out that colleges
are safer than cities and urban environments. However, crime rates on
college campuses have risen in recent years, and statistics show that,
nationwide, there are nine sexual assaults reported on college campuses each
day. Furthermore, the low probability of becoming a victim doesn’t help the
47 victims at Virginia Tech, or the 27 victims at Northern Illinois
University, or any of the other countless victims of crimes on campuses.
Current policies give such victims the option of playing dead or huddling
under desks.

Colleges can’t protect students

Campus officials have introduced multiple responses to the problem of campus
crime — all of which are reactionary. Campus police, text message alerts and
cameras are all good ideas that demonstrate an awareness of the problem. But
awareness is not the same as readiness; text messages are ineffective,
police are often thinly-spread across vast campus grounds and cameras will
do nothing more than capture footage for the nightly news. The fact remains
that colleges are open environments with invisible boundaries and little to
no secure prevention measures. They cannot guarantee protection to students
or prevention of armed assaults. In all honesty, it’s not fair to expect
them to. It’s completely impractical to expect colleges to provide
airport-grade security with a secure perimeter, metal detectors, armed
guards, bag inspections and pat-downs. Even if they could, few people want
the nature of a college campus changed so radically.

Therefore, any institution that cannot provide for protection for its
visitors must not deprive those visitors of the ability to protect themselves.

Common Arguments Made by Opponents of Concealed Carry on Campuses

Argument: Guns on campus would lead to an escalation in violent crime.

Since the fall semester of 2006, state law has allowed licensed individuals
to carry concealed handguns on the campuses of the nine degree-offering
public colleges (20 campuses) and one public technical college (10 campuses)
in Utah. Concealed carry has been allowed at Colorado State University (Fort
Collins, CO) since 2003 and at Blue Ridge Community College (Weyers Cave,
VA) since 1995. After allowing concealed carry on campus for a combined
total of one hundred semesters, none of these twelve schools has seen a
single resulting incident of gun violence (including threats and suicides),
a single gun accident, or a single gun theft. Likewise, none of the forty
‘right-to-carry’ states has seen a resulting increase in gun violence since
legalizing concealed carry, despite the fact that licensed citizens in those
states regularly carry concealed handguns in places like office buildings,
movie theaters, grocery stores, shopping malls, restaurants, churches,
banks, etc. Numerous studies1,2,3, including studies by University of
Maryland senior research scientist John Lott, University of Georgia
professor David Mustard, engineering statistician William Sturdevant, and
various state agencies, show that concealed handgun license holders are five
times less likely than non-license holders to commit violent crimes.

Argument: Guns on campus would distract from the learning environment.

Ask anyone in a ‘right to carry’ state when he or she last noticed another
person carrying a concealed handgun. The word ‘concealed’ is there for a
reason. Concealed handguns would no more distract college students from
learning than they currently distract moviegoers from enjoying movies or
office workers from doing their jobs.

In most states with “shall issue” concealed carry laws, the rate of
concealed carry is about 1%. That means that one person out of 100 is
licensed to carry a concealed handgun. Therefore, statistically speaking, a
packed 300-seat movie theater contains three individuals legally carrying
concealed handguns, and a shopping mall crowded with 1,000 shoppers contains
ten individuals legally carrying concealed handguns. Students who aren’t
too afraid to attend movies or go shopping and who aren’t distracted from
learning by the knowledge that a classmate might be illegally carrying a
firearm shouldn’t be distracted from learning by the knowledge that a
classmate might be legally carrying a firearm.

Argument: Colleges are emotionally volatile environments. Allowing guns on
campus will turn classroom debates into crime scenes.

Before shall-issue concealed carry laws were passed throughout the United
States, opponents claimed that such laws would turn disputes over parking
spaces and traffic accidents into shootouts. This did not prove to be the
case. The same responsible adults—age twenty-one and above—now asking to be
allowed to carry their concealed handguns on college campuses are already
allowed to do so virtually everywhere else. They clearly do not let their
emotions get the better of them in other environments; therefore, no less
should be expected of them on college campuses.

Argument: In an active shooter scenario like the one that occurred at
Virginia Tech, a student or faculty member with a gun would only make things
worse.

What is worse than allowing an execution-style massacre to continue
uncontested? How could any action with the potential to stop or slow a
deranged killer intent on slaughtering victim after victim be considered
‘worse’ than allowing that killer to continue undeterred? Contrary to what
the movies might have us believe, most real-world shootouts last less than
ten seconds4. Even the real Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a shootout
involving nine armed participants and a number of bystanders, lasted only
about thirty seconds and resulted in only three fatalities. It is unlikely
that an exchange of gunfire between an armed assailant and an armed citizen
would last more than a couple of seconds before one or both parties were
disabled. How could a couple of seconds of exchanged gunfire possibly be
worse than a ten-minute, execution-style massacre?

Argument: The job of defending campuses against violent attacks should be
left to the professionals.

Nobody is suggesting that concealed handgun license holders be charged with
the duty of protecting campuses. What is being suggested is that adults
with concealed handgun licenses be allowed to protect themselves on college
campuses, the same way they’re currently allowed to protect themselves in
most other unsecured locations. According to a U.S. Secret Service study5
into thirty-seven school shootings, ‘Over half of the attacks were
resolved/ended before law enforcement responded to the scene. In these
cases the attacker was stopped by faculty or fellow students, decided to
stop shooting on his own, or killed himself.’ The study found that only
three of the thirty-seven school shootings researched involved shots being
fired by law enforcement officers.

Argument: How are first responders supposed to tell the difference between
armed civilians and armed assailants?

This hasn’t been an issue with concealed handgun license holders in other
walks of life for several reasons. First and foremost, real-world shootouts
are typically localized and over very quickly. It’s not realistic to expect
police to encounter an ongoing shootout between assailants and armed
civilians. Second, police are trained to expect both armed bad guys AND
armed good guys—from off-duty/undercover police officers to armed
civilians—in tactical scenarios. Third, concealed handgun license holders
are trained to use their firearms for self-defense. They are not trained to
run through buildings looking for bad guys. Therefore, the biggest
distinction between the armed assailants and the armed civilians is that the
armed civilians would be hiding with the crowd, and the armed assailants
would be shooting at the crowd.

References

1″Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns,” John Lott and
David Mustard, Journal of Legal Studies (v.26, no.1, pages 1-68, January 1997);

2“An Analysis of the Arrest Rate of Texas Concealed Handgun License Holders
as Compared to the Arrest Rate of the Entire Texas Population,” William E.
Sturdevant, September 1, 2000; Florida Department of Justice statistics,
1998; Florida Department of State,
3“Concealed Weapons/Firearms License Statistical Report,” 1998; Texas
Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Census Bureau, reported in San
Antonio Express-News, September 2000; Texas Department of Corrections data,
1996-2000, compiled by the Texas State Rifle Association
4In “The Line of Fire: Violence Against Law Enforcement”, U.S. Department of
Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Institute of Justice, 1997
5“Safe School Initiative: An Interim Report on the Prevention of Targeted
Violence in Schools,” U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center
in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education with support from the
National Institute of Justice, Co-Directors Bryan Vossekuil, Marissa Reddy
PhD, Robert Fein PhD, October 2000

The foregoing issues and arguments were extracted with minor editing from
www.concealedcampus.org where additional relevant information and references
to research studies may be found.
Sincerely,

Jack C. Parker
Research Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Tennessee

I’m inclined to agree.