Are Guns on Campus Uniquely Dangerous?


Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a group that formed in the wake of last year's Virginia Tech massacre, has attracted new support following last month's shootings at Northern Illinois University, which once again revealed the limitations of campus security measures. On Wednesday The New York Times reported on the debate over an Arizona bill that would allow concealed carry on campus. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, at least 12 other states are considering similar legislation. Utah is the only state that already allows guns on campus.

As I said after the Virginia Tech murders, I am sympathetic to the idea that students and faculty members who are licensed to carry guns should be allowed to carry them on campus. "Gun-free zones" clearly do not protect people from gun-wielding maniacs (or ordinary criminals or scary ex-boyfriends) and may well attract them to places where they know their victims will be unarmed. Guns in the right hands can deter attacks or at least cut them short.

The downside of letting people carry weapons on campus is the same as the downside of letting them carry weapons anywhere else: Everyday arguments might escalate into deadly violence, accidents might happen, police (assuming they ever arrived in time) might mistake a law-abiding gun owner for an attacker, drunken gun owners could start whooping it up by wildly firing shots into the air, etc. These are the same arguments that gun controllers deployed in opposing the liberalization of concealed carry laws across the country, and the nightmare scenarios never materialized, even though 39 states now have nondiscretionary permit policies. On the whole, permit holders turned out to be remarkably well-behaved, committing crimes at a lower rate than the general population and rarely doing anything bad enough to lose their permits.

Instead of an increase in violence, adoption of Florida-style concealed carry policies has been followed by a decline in violence. The extent to which that decline can be attributed to more guns in the hands of law-abiding people in public places remains a matter of much controversy. But one thing seems pretty clear: The fears stoked by opponents of concealed carry liberalization were unjustified. Are there good reasons to think their dark predictions about guns on campus will be any more accurate? 

[Thanks to KD Sim for the Inquirer link.]