Locked, Loaded, and Learning
Every year college students go through the process of back-to-school shopping. From cheap pens and pencils to pricier expenditures like laptops, students are expected to be prepared for their first day of classes. But for some states, being prepared includes being armed. In recent years, there has been an increase in support of allowing students to have conceal carry on college campuses. As of 2017, ten states allow for students and staff to carry concealed firearms on campuses, a practice known as campus carry (Gius 1). While college campuses are generally safe environments, when compared to national crime statistics, many gun right’s advocates argue that campus carry would be a good deterrent for campus crime such as school shootings. However, since guns are such a heavy responsibility, they should not be forced onto anyone who doesn’t want to carry or isn’t prepared to deal with the consequences if they do.
Gun control is already a controversial topic so the concept of arming college students is a very heated debate. Advocates on both sides argue that introducing firearms into colleges filled with young and impulsive students will result in more firearm related deaths and injuries. However, a study conducted by Mark Gius and his team of researchers found that while campus carry laws had no effect on deterring crime on campus, they didn’t increase crime rates either (Gius 4). Several other studies have also found similar results that there is no significant correlation between campus carry and university crime statistics. Thus, campus carry might not be as influential or dangerous as policy makers might think.
While studies haven’t shown an increase in firearm related injuries on campuses that allow concealed carry, the perception of danger alone is enough to have serious repercussions for students. One argument against campus carry iswhether the presence of firearms would trump the first amendment’s right to free speech. Proponents of gun control argue that guns would create a potentially hostile environment for educators and students. The research clearly shows that most students are not comfortable with guns in schools, which could stifle their ability to freely express their opinions on controversial topics. Professors too would be discouraged from correcting their students in fear of armed retaliation (Lewis 2127). Since the point of college is to freely exchange ideas, allowing the presence of firearms would severely stifle university goals.
Since campus carry policies have a large impact on college students, researchers have conducted several studies to investigate student’s perceptions on campus carry policies as well as the influence of certain demographic information on student’s choices. A study done by researchers Schildkraut, Carr, and Terranova found that most students did not support having concealed carry on their campus (94% disproved) however males, Republicans, and those who already owned guns were more prone to expressing favorable attitudes towards campus carry policies. Other factors such as prior victimization and minority status were much more likely to express displeasure with campus carry laws in Texas (Schidkraut et al. 602).
Another study conducted by Bartula and Bowen sought to consider a viewpoint that had previously been neglected in studies, that of campus police. The survey revealed that 91.5% of the sample were not in favor campus carry legislation. The self-defense argument that guns make people feel safer does not weigh heavily on the police officers since 83% disagreed with the assumption that campus carry would decrease the fear of crime (Bartula and Bowen 11). Another concern would be the liability of the officer responding in deciding which students were simply trying to help and the perpetrator. Research suggests that individuals in possession of firearms were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an attack than those who remained unarmed (Schildkraut et al. 489). This study is of particular importance because it is necessary to examine the perceptions of those most affected by this legislation considering that police officers are the first responders to firearm related attacks and it falls on them to enforce these new policies.
Despite all the studies on the effectiveness of campus carry and perceptions by those most affected, there remains gaps in the research. For example, the Gius study that addressed the correlation between guns and firearm related injuries and deaths on college campuses was solely focused on criminal activity. To get more encompassing results, researchers should examine campus carry’s effect on all types of gun violence, such as suicides, rather than simply fixating on gun-related criminal activity. By creating new avenues in research exploring the link between mental health’s impact on gun violence in college, policy makers will obtain results that can hopefully decrease suicides and other non-criminal related gun activity of college campuses.
Based on the studies of student and faculty perceptions and the lack of effectiveness from arming students, it is safe to conclude that campus carry policies are not effective at reducing campus crime rates. Due to this assumption, it seems best to keep campus carry an institution rather than state-level decision. Since the institution would be the one held liable for gun accidents, it should be up to them whether they want to take on the risk of allowing concealed weapons on campus. Another thing to consider is that suicides are much more prevalent on college campuses than gun-related criminal activity. Thus, law makers should take these non-criminal gun incidents into account if they want to enact policies that have been proven to have no significant correlation with deterring crime.
In an interview with a social worker and gun advocate, the subject agreed that the best form of intervention for school shootings is not arming students, but to reach out and intervene in the lives of future offenders before they have the chance to escalate plans into action. The subject argued that the best form of intervention for troubled teens and potential school shooters is a healthy and supportive social network. Rather than focusing on preparing for mass shootings, which are very rare even in the general population, policy makers should devote more effort into mental health and suicide prevention outreach programs on college campuses to deter the much more prevalent non-criminal firearm incidents on campuses.
Bartula, Aaron, and Kendra Bowen. “University and College Officials' Perceptions of Open Carry on College Campus.” Justice Policy Journal,vol. 12, 2015, pp. 1–14.
Gius, Mark. “Campus Crime and Concealed Carry Laws: Is Arming Students the Answer?” The Social Science Journal, 2018, pp.
Lewis, Shaundra K. "Crossfire on Compulsory Campus Carry Laws: When the First and Second Amendments Collide," Iowa Law Review vol. 102, no. 5 (July 2017): p. 2109-2144. HeinOnline, https://heinonline-org.du.idm.oclc.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/ilr102&i=2156.
Schildkraut, Jaclyn, et al. “A Tale of Two Universities: A Comparison of College Students’ Attitudes about Concealed Carry on Campus.” Security Journal, vol. 31, no. 2, 2018, pp. 591–617.
Schildkraut, Jaclyn, et al. “Armed and Academic: Perceptions of College Students on Concealed Carry on Campus Policies.” Journal of School Violence, vol. 17, no. 4, 2018, pp. 487–499.