Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reasons to prohibit concealed weapons on college campuses

college guns campus carry

In response to the article Activists and Politicians Discuss the Right to Carry Concealed Weapons on College Campuses posted on The Chronicle, I thought I would summarize the top reasons for prohibiting concealed campus carry.

First, it is important to dispel some of the straw-man arguments that typically get shot down by the pro-carry side (pun intended?). The straw-man arguments are flimsy, easily-rebutted arguments that are brought up for the purpose of being defeated during one-sided debates.

Typical straw-man rebuttals include "Not all students who carry guns are killers" and "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." These might be great points, but nobody was arguing that all students who carry guns are killers, and nobody was trying to convince you that guns alone kill people. So let's focus on the arguments the anti-carry side ARE making...

1.) Concealed weapons would detract from a healthy learning environment. Some students and faculty are likely to feel less safe on a campus with concealed weapons. Surely, many students already feel unsafe on college campuses, especially members of minority groups - so when the uneasiness of being a minority is compounded by the fact that anybody could be carrying a concealed handgun, the anxiety would increase. Students experiencing anxiety on a daily basis would suffer academically. This is a fact that is often overlooked by majority students who do not understand what it feels like to experience a small but constant social pressure.

2.) Concealed weapons would introduce more weapons to a college campus. In the rare event that students have a physical altercation, their options are typically limited to fights with whatever items they have on them - including books, backpacks, fists, shoes, etc. Introducing guns to the equation means that there are more (serious) options. Even if the owner of the gun does not intend to use it, the gun could be stolen, taken, dropped, or simply used to threaten. A counter argument to this is that students who are planning on getting into serious fights might already be carrying concealed weapons illegally.

3.) One of the most important anti-carry arguments comes from law enforcement, and states that having multiple gun carriers on campus might create situations with multiple shooters. In a hypothetical situation with a campus shooter, if other students drew their concealed weapons, it would make it extremely difficult for responding officers to know who poses a serious threat. This would increase the difficulty and response time for the officers to do their jobs.

Finally, I'll end with a counter argument to the pro-carry sentiment that carrying a concealed weapon somehow protects the carrier. In the event of a shooter, the pro-carry side envisions a student with a concealed weapon protecting him or herself with return fire. There are two major implications here: (1) If students are seeking to return fire, they're not doing the most important thing, which is getting the heck out of there! (2) It is impossible to anticipate the emotional state you will be in. From the article in The Chronicle, Colin Goddard said that "when the gunman burst into his classroom, shock prevented him from seeing the situation clearly." Shock could also prevent someone with a concealed weapon from responding appropriately.

The idea that a person with a concealed weapon is protecting themselves by returning fire is crazy to me! How could firing even more bullets on a college campus be doing any good? Guns don't kill people, but bullets flying through campus from an undefined number of reactive, untrained shooters might.

If you want even more reasons, check out Why Our Campuses are Safer Without Concealed Handguns.

In the end, it's difficult to say what the best policy is in terms of concealed carry. There are so few campuses that allow concealed carry, and dramatic shooter events are (fortunately) very rare, that we just don't have the data to back up many of the implications. We should be able to discuss the topic rationally, without resorting to ad hominem attacks on students who wish to carry concealed weapons, and without invoking easily defeated straw-man arguments.

What I learned: Pro-carry legislators have an uphill battle, but "the way things have always been" arguments don't hold up to scrutiny.