Thursday, March 24, 2011

Making School Safer by Arming Students

Modern College Student (Image by Nevada Tumbleweed)
This just in from Change,org: The Texas House has approved a new law allowing college students to carry concealed weapons on campus. While it is understandable that people are nervous in the wake of several recent shootings on college campuses, including one last year at the University of Texas, Austin, it is complete lunacy (and a statistical fallacy) to think that an increase in guns will somehow reduce gun injuries.

The plan is spearheaded by a group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. One of its members, Scott Lewis, was quoted by "We're basically fish in a barrel. . . This is about changing the odds."

As is often the case, people like Lewis are reacting with emotion, in this case hysterically, in response to a scary, but relatively rare occurrence. Well over 90% of the violence against students happens off campus. The vast majority of violence that does occur on campus is not the result of guns, at least not yet. Once students are allowed to carry concealed weapons, routine arguments and misunderstandings may start to escalate into shootings. There will also be an increased risk of accidents, as happened this year at a Los Angeles high school, when a students’ concealed weapon accidentally discharged.

University of Texas, Austin, grad student Aron Weinberg believes that the law will indeed increase violence and accidents and has started a petition at against the new law. The chief of campus police, Robert E. Dahlstrom, and the city police have also come out against the concealed carry law.


  1. Watch my full testimony, and then tell me that I'm "reacting with emotion, in this case hysterically": (My testimony starts at 01:43:00.)

    You'll note that when I said, "We're fish in a barrel," I wasn't referring to college students in general. I uttered that phrase while recounting what was going through my mind while sitting in a specific classroom, during a specific incident.

    You'll also note that I said, "This is not just about those admittedly rare mass shootings"

    The reason that 93% of violent crime against students occurs off campus is that most students aren't on campus during the hours (sunset to sunrise) when most violent crimes occur.

    As I said in my testimony (which the author of this blog post obviously never heard), the violent crime rate on a college campus is typically comparable to the violent crime rates in the nicer neighborhoods in the same city. Yet, we don't tell people that they can't carry guns in those nicer neighborhoods.

    We realize that those neighborhoods, just like college campuses, DO occasionally play host to every type of violent crime found in the rest of society. If you start telling people that they can't carry a gun somewhere because that place is already very safe, what you're essentially saying is that people should only be allowed to carry guns in those places where violent crime is likely or imminent.

    I don't know about anyone else, but I don't go places where violent crime is likely or imminent. I want the right to carry a gun so that I can protect myself if violence finds me somewhere where I wasn't expecting it, such as at a mall or a movie theater or a church or a campus library.

    Of course, doing some actual research on this subject (i.e., seeking out my actual testimony, rather than forming an opinion on the basis of the paraphrasing in one biased article) takes a little bit of effort. For anyone willing to put forth that effort, here is the side of the argument not considered by this blog post: (PDF)

    And here are more of my emotional hysterics:

  2. You are correct that your testimony is not especially emotional, but your hypothesis that arming students will protect them is based on an irrational fear, hence it is hysterical. It is irrational because the likelihood is exceptionally low that any of us will experience a situation in which a gun is needed and useful. Demanding the right to protect oneself from something that is so unlikely is irrational. Consider how we would perceive a surfer insisting on taking a gun surfing with him to shoot sharks. Furthermore, the tone and length of your response to my blog posting is an indication that you are quite emotionally invested in your cause.

    You said that “. . . we don't tell people that they can't carry guns in those nicer neighborhoods.” Yet most do not wander around those nicer neighborhoods carrying guns because they realize how unlikely it would be to need one.

    “If you start telling people that they can't carry a gun somewhere because that place is already very safe, what you're essentially saying is that people should only be allowed to carry guns in those places where violent crime is likely or imminent.”

    First problem: I never told anyone they can’t or shouldn’t carry a gun. Rather, I said it was crazy to think that increasing the number of guns will decrease injuries. Gun injuries are not possible without guns. Certainly there are responsible, cautious gun owners and I would think that the minority who have concealed carry licenses are even more cautious than average gun owners. Yet gun accidents happen all the time, including well-trained individuals with licenses, such as the L.A. school cop who accidentally shot himself recently. Secondly, according to your logic, everyone should be allowed to carry, including kids. Or are you saying that only adults should be able to protect themselves?

    “I don't know about anyone else, but I don't go places where violent crime is likely or imminent.”

    Lucky you have this choice. Many of us do not. I live in a neighborhood that has one of the highest homicide rates in the city, as do many teachers, working people and children. We do not have a choice, as the nice neighborhoods have houses that cost well over $1 million, and rents in the thousands of dollars per month. We try to use our common sense to avoid dangerous situations and most of us do not carry guns.

    “I want the right to carry a gun so that I can protect myself if violence finds me somewhere where I wasn't expecting it, such as at a mall or a movie theater or a church or a campus library.”

    It is exactly this kind of attitude that worries me most. If someone calls you violent names, will you shoot them? If they push you or punch you, will you shoot them? What if they throw a pie in your face or cut you off when driving or throw a brick through your window? Will you only use your gun when someone is already shooting at you, or whenever you feel threatened? Will having a gun embolden you to be more aggressive and less conciliatory to others because you know that you have the conversation stopper? What if they come from behind or catch you by surprise, as is often the case in a mugging?

    I’m sorry, but your arguments are indeed based on emotion and irrational fears and your solution is not very compelling.

  3. Nothing I said in my testimony reflects either emotion or irrational fear. My statements are entirely based on the facts of the issue at hand:

    1. In the state of Texas, one person out of every 55 is licensed to carry a concealed handgun (among persons of typical college age, the rate is closer to one person out of every 300); yet a person is 20 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be murdered or negligently killed by a concealed handgun license holder.

    2. Seventy-one College campuses currently allow licensed concealed carry on campus. About half have allowed it for an average of approximately six years. Not one has seen a single resulting incident of gun violence (including threats and suicides), a single resulting gun accident, or a single resulting gun theft.

    3. Every peer-reviewed study on the subject, including studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, has concluded that licensed concealed carry cannot be shown to lead to an increase in either violent crime or gun deaths.

    If there is no evidence that licensed concealed carry makes Texas less safe and no evidence that it makes the college campuses where it's allowed less safe, what evidence do you have that it will make Texas college campuses less safe?

    The same trained, licensed, carefully-screened adults--age 21 and above--who aren't getting drunk, angry, or despondent and shooting people at movie theaters, churches, shopping malls, office buildings, grocery stores, restaurants, banks, the Texas Capitol, etc., are the same trained, licensed, carefully-screened adults--age 21 and above--who won't be getting drunk, angry, or despondent shooting people on college campuses.

    Colleges and universities may have relatively low crime rates, but they're not crime free, as certain notable examples clearly illustrate:

    So, if licensed concealed carry is unlikely to make things worse and has the potential, in certain situations, to help, what justification is there for prohibiting it?

    Which is more hysterical--noting that violent crime does occasionally occur on college campuses and suggesting that the same trained, licensed adults allowed the means to protect themselves outside of campus be allowed the means to protect themselves on campus or conjuring up make believe scenarios that haven't played out on any of the campuses where concealed carry is currently allowed and pointing to those bogey men as a reason to disarm citizens on college campuses?

  4. The fact that you want a gun to protect yourself from something that is exceedingly unlikely to ever happen is irrational and fearful, regardless of how safe the average concealed gun carrier actually is. However, if you want protection yourself from something that is unlikely to ever happen, fine. If you truly are responsible and cautious, I do not care to stop you. In fact, I never said the law was wrong or that people should be prevented from carrying. I am not even opposed to guns.

    My only point was that the law was based on an irrational fear, and that it is excessive and unnecessary to pack heat everywhere you go, in anticipation of every possible bad scenario that could unfold.

    Perhaps I’m being egocentric. I do not like to carry extra stuff with me. Even in frigid San Francisco I feel too hot when I’m carrying anything more than a wallet and keys. A gun would just be a nuisance. I also like to trust that I live in a basically good place (and not assume that everywhere I go there are crazed and armed lunatics waiting to do me harm). I prefer to trust that I have the wits and personality to talk through my problems with people, without having to resort to violence. And I have, on numerous occasions, including with gang members and with agitated cops during protests and riots.

    The one time I was most threatened by a gun was in Mexico, at a demonstration, when soldiers surrounded us, crouched down, cocked their rifles, and aimed right at us—a situation in which having a gun would have probably caused me to be the first one shot. Fortunately, the soldiers were only trying to intimidate us and no one was shot. I was also shot at by a scared shop owner during the Rodney King riots. We ducked behind a car and waited for him to cool down. Had I used a gun to defend myself, I might very well still be in prison. Bottom line: a gun is not always the best solution for a dangerous situation.

    Finally, this is an education blog, not a gun blog. I really do not have the time or space to belabor this issue. I propose that we agree to disagree on this and let it go.

    Best of luck with your college career and your concealed carry movement.