Campuses Just Say 'No' to Guns

In the upside-down world of gun politics, momentum to allow civilian gun carrying on college campuses has accelerated in recent months. Only Utah has allowed the practice so far, but the effort is now proceeding in a dozen states, led by Texas and, ironically, Arizona. So let's recap why campus gun carrying is a fatally defective notion that's disconnected from reality.

The nation has been justly horrified at mass shootings in recent years on campuses including Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, but campuses are nevertheless among the safest places in the country. While gun rights advocates argue that gun-free zones are "shooting galleries" and "magnets for killers," the facts demonstrate the opposite. Campus crime rates, including violent crime, are remarkably low, and declining. In fact, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent campus crime dropped 9 percent from 1994-2004. In the last six years, campuses have averaged one homicide for every million students. By far the most frequent campus crime is alcohol and drug use, not interpersonal violence.

Second, campuses have been anything but passive in their efforts to improve safety. Universities nationwide have beefed up security measures, including added personnel, improved lighting and patrolling practices, installation of notification systems and cameras, and implementation of campus lock-down plans. Notably, campus police officials (including the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators) and administrators have uniformly opposed civilian gun carrying, partly because they understand the hazard of well-intentioned, armed amateurs who might too easily misjudge a potentially confrontational situation. Even though campus police are well trained in rapid campus response, seconds count, gun carry advocates say, if a violent crime is occurring. Sure, but trading seconds for safety is a poor bargain that underscores the decisive importance of professional training and judgment. A study of line-of-duty firearms discharges by New York City police over eleven years found that officers hit their targets about a third of the time. How could armed civilian faculty and students expect to even approach that statistic in a real-life violent incident?

Third, most students are young adults subject to periods of intense stress and impulsive behavior in an environment of dense living arrangements where alcohol and other drugs are often available. In this environment, the mere presence of guns escalates risks of gun suicides, thefts, and accidents. Guns are the easiest and most reliable suicide method, a fact underscored by the dismaying reality that gun suicides annually outpace gun homicides. According to the National College Health Assessment, 9 to 11 percent of college students contemplated suicide during the previous year. And for anyone who's ever lived or worked on a campus, it's no secret that personal property easily gets legs.

Fourth, repeated claims by groups like Students for Concealed Carry on Campus that they have a constitutional right to carry guns should impel them to take remedial classes in constitutional law. The Supreme Court's Second Amendment rulings in 2008 and 2010 expressly recognized the legality of existing laws restricting gun carrying at educational institutions, among other places.

Finally, college campuses are places of learning, not the Hobbesian world suggested by gun carry advocates. No good argument can be made that gun-carrying civilians would improve either the campus environment or objective safety. As is all too typical for the gun debate, gun enthusiasts focus only on guns, to the exclusion of the totality of factors that make for safer campuses. Either way, they've got it wrong.