Just days after the October shooting that left 10 dead, including the gunman, and nine injured at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, two more students were killed and four others left injured in two separate shooting incidents on college campuses in Texas and Arizona. The circumstances of the shootings differ: While the Oregon shooter went on an unprovoked rampage, the incidents in Texas and Arizona were the result of arguments that escalated into gunfire. But each of these shootings could happen only in an environment where it is all too easy to get a gun — and thanks to the efforts of the gun lobby, it’s now easier than ever to bring a gun onto our nation’s college campuses.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, which tracks school shooting data, there have been at least 52 school shootings in 2015 — an average of more than one per week. The mass shooting events, such as the incident at Umpqua last week or Sandy Hook in 2012 or Virginia Tech in 2007, get the most media attention. But many of the incidents occur, as apparently happened Friday at Northern Arizona University’s campus in Flagstaff and hours later on the Texas Southern University campus in Houston, when an altercation escalates and — instead of walking away or, at worst, throwing a punch — someone reaches for the all-too-accessible gun.
That’s what happened on April 16, 2013, at Stillman College in Alabama, where an argument about a bet over a video game resulted in one student being shot twice and the other charged with attempted murder. A few months earlier, on January 22, 2013, three people were shot on the campus of Lone Star College in Texas after a fight between two men in the library erupted into gunfire. On Jan. 16, 2013, it was the turn of Chicago State University in Illinois, where a fight broke out at a basketball game, spilled into the parking lot and ended with a 17-year-old fatally shot. These are just a few random incidents from the very beginning of Everytown’s data-collection period. For more recent examples, we need look no further than Texas Southern University. Friday’s shooting at TSU was the third shooting this week on the school’s Houston campus, and all were the result of arguments that escalated due to the availability of guns.
Overall, in more than a third of school shootings in the U.S. since 2013, at least one person was shot after an argument or confrontation escalated and a gun was on hand, according to Everytown’s data.
FBI statistics from 2005-2008 show that U.S. college campuses were home to an average of more than 7,000 aggravated assaults a year, but just 60 homicides annually. This relatively low homicide rate is attributed to the lower availability of guns on college campuses. So imagine what would happen if the people involved in those 7,000 aggravated assaults on U.S. campuses suddenly had easy access to firearms. Soon, that will be the case in Texas, the most recent state to pass legislation allowing concealed weapons on all public college campuses. The law will make Texas one of eight states to allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public college campuses. The others are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Here’s why that’s such a bad idea.
We already know that permissive concealed carry laws are linked to an increase in violent crime, and that workplaces which allow guns are significantly more dangerous to workers—more guns on campus place a burden and pose a risk for people who work at schools too. Additionally, the university experience introduces new stressors and social pressures to students, factors contributing to an increase in risky behavior—like drinking and drug use—that make college campuses a hazardous climate for relaxed access to firearms. And there is even evidence that the students who are most likely to bring guns to college for protection are the most susceptible to these risky behaviors. According to a 1999 study published in the American Journal of College Health, students who have firearms in college “disproportionately reported that they engaged in behaviors that put themselves and others at risk for injury,” including “binge drinking, being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, and damaging property as a result of alcohol ingestion.”
Furthermore, a 2002 study published in the American Journal of College Health found that having a gun in college was associated with a significantly increased risk of being threatened with a gun — a finding that points to a probable combination of two factors: 1) the weapons effect, a proven psychological phenomenon in which the mere presence of a weapon leads to more aggressive behavior; and 2) the documented tendency among gun carriers to get involved in more non-self-defense-related altercations due to the false sense of confidence and security gleaned from carrying a weapon.
In fact, evidence suggests that those who obtain concealed carry permits can and often do pose a greater threat to public safety than non-permit-holders. A Violence Policy Center study found that Texas concealed handgun license holders were arrested for weapon-related offenses at a rate 81% higher than the general population of Texas aged 21 and older (offenses included 279 assaults, 671 unlawfully carrying a weapon, and 172 deadly conduct/discharge of a firearm). Between January 1, 1996 and August 31, 2001, Texas concealed handgun license holders were arrested for 5,314 crimes—including murder, rape, kidnapping and theft. Investigations in other states shave reached similar conclusions.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that Americans, in overwhelming numbers, believe that concealed weapons have no place at our colleges and universities. In one national survey, 94% of Americans answered “No” when asked, “Do you think regular citizens should be allowed to bring their guns [onto] college campuses?” University administrators and campus safety experts also strong oppose ‘campus carry’ laws. In a 2014 study of more than 900 college and university presidents, 92% said that most faculty and staff would feel unsafe if faculty, students, and visitors could carry concealed handgun.
On Wednesday, Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin, announced he plans to leave the university after this year because of the safety risks posed by the state’s new campus carry law. “With a huge group of students, my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law,” Hamermesh wrote in a letter to the school’s president.
Texas’ campus-carry law, passed in June, will allow concealed handguns in classrooms, dorms and other campus buildings. It will take effect at the state’s universities in August 2016, exactly 50 years after gunman Charles Whitman opened fire from a clock tower at at the University of Texas at Austin, killing 16 people in what was one of the nation’s first mass shootings on a college campus. It will take effect at the state’s community colleges in August of 2017.