Dozens of shootings have occurred on college campuses since an armed student killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. Immediately after that attack — one of the deadliest gun massacres in U.S. history — higher education institutions nationwide hurried to put in place new plans for preventing and controlling such violence on school property. Meanwhile, some lawmakers, parents and others began pushing for laws allowing students and faculty to carry weapons so they could better defend themselves in case of an attack.
Since 2007, many states have introduced bills aimed at allowing individuals with concealed carry permits to bring guns onto school grounds. In 2013, according to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), “at least 19 states introduced legislation to allow concealed carry on campus in some regard and in the 2014 legislative session, at least 14 states introduced similar legislation.” Today, almost half of states allow their colleges and universities to individually decide whether to allow or ban concealed weapons on their properties. As of mid-2016, 18 states — including four of the five largest ones (California, Florida, New York and Illinois) — prohibited concealed weapons on college campuses, notes a 2016 report from the NCSL. Texas is the most recent state to allow concealed carry at its public colleges and universities. Its new law went into effect in August 2016.
The debate over whether to allow concealed weapons in schools remains fiercely divisive. Many college administrators and law enforcement officials — including the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators — have voiced serious concerns. Those who oppose the change often cite a lack of evidence showing that letting students carry weapons would reduce campus violence. They also argue there may be unintended consequences, including accidental shootings and the misuse of firearms at student parties and other gatherings.
While numerous researchers have studied guns and violence, not much of that work focuses on the issue of firearms on college campuses. Below, Journalist’s Resource has gathered several reports and peer-reviewed, academic studies that we think reporters will find useful as they examine this important topic.
“Concealed Carry Bans and the American College Campus: A Law, Social Sciences, and Policy Perspective”
Arrigo, Bruce A.; Acheson, Austin. Contemporary Justice Review, 2016. doi: 10.1080/10282580.2015.1101688.
Abstract: “Should individuals on American college campuses be permitted to carry concealed weapons? This issue positions second Amendment liberty guarantees against personal safety concerns and learning environment interests. Current policy prescription has yet to appropriately balance these competing demands. Accordingly, this article reviews and comments on three key dimensions of the concealed carry ban controversy. This includes a presentation of the governing case law, a recounting of the relevant social science findings, and a discussion of the societal forces and human dynamics that both inform and influence this public policy debate. We argue that these forces and dynamics constitute cultural impediments to achieving meaningful consensus-building legislation. The manuscript concludes by proposing several justice-based reformist directions with relevancies for academic researchers, political officials, and policy-makers.”
Views of college administrators, faculty
“University Presidents’ Perceptions and Practice Regarding the Carrying of Concealed Handguns on College Campuses”
Price, James H.; et al. Journal of American College Health, 2014, Vol. 62. doi: 10.1080/07448481.2014.920336.
Results: “The vast majority (95 percent) of respondents were not supportive of carrying concealed handguns on campuses. They perceived there to be more disadvantages than advantages to handguns on campus.”
“Packing Heat: Attitudes Regarding Concealed Weapons on College Campuses”
Patten, Ryan; Thomas, Matthew O.; Wada, James C. American Journal of Criminal Justice, December 2013. doi:10.1007/s12103-012-9191-1.
Abstract: “Gun violence at American colleges and universities has rekindled the debate surrounding concealed weapons on campus. This study examined college student and faculty opinions on two college campuses, focusing on their attitudes towards private citizens carrying concealed guns on campus. Data were collected during the fall 2008 and spring 2009, and over 2,100 students, staff, faculty, and administrators on the two campuses participated in the research. The results indicate over 70 percent of respondents oppose the option of carrying concealed guns on campus. In addition, the idea of more guns on campus makes the majority of students and faculty feel less safe, and allowing concealed weapons serves to decrease the sense of campus safety. This study continues to empirically advance the argument that those who live, work, and study do not want more guns on campus. Further research in this area, including an expanded range of the nation’s college campuses, should be explored.”
“Faculty Perceptions and Practices Regarding Carrying Concealed Handguns on University Campuses”
Thompson, Amy; Price, James H.; Drake, Joseph; Teeple, Karen. Journal of Community Health, 2013, Vol. 38. doi:10.1007/s10900-012-9626-0.
Abstract: “The purpose of this study is to assess the perceptions and practices of college faculty regarding support for carrying concealed handguns on their campuses. A valid and reliable questionnaire was sent to a random sample of 1,125 faculty at 15 randomly selected state universities in five Great Lakes states. A two wave postal mailing in the Spring of 2012 was conducted to help ensure an adequate response rate. A total of 791 (70 percent) of the faculty responded. The vast majority felt safe on their campuses (98 percent) and were not supportive of people carrying concealed handguns on their campuses (94 percent). Seven of the eight potential disadvantages of carrying concealed handguns on campus were supported by the majority of faculty members. Those who were significantly more likely to perceive there to be disadvantages to carrying concealed handguns on campus were: those who did not own a firearm (OR = 4.89), Democrats (OR = 4.52) or Independents (OR = 2.25), Asians (OR = 2.49), and females (OR = 1.51). The vast majority of faculty felt safe on their campuses and perceived that carrying concealed handguns on campuses create more risks than benefits to the campus environment. Aggressive efforts are needed to help maintain the uniquely safe environment of college campuses.”
“Community College Faculty: Attitudes Toward Guns on Campus”
Dahl, Patricia P.; Bonham Jr., Gene; Reddington, Frances P. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, February 2016, Vol. 40. doi: 10.1080/10668926.2015.1124813.
Abstract: “This exploratory research surveyed faculty who instruct in community colleges from 18 states about their attitudes toward the concealed carry gun policies that allow appropriately licensed citizens to carry a handgun in public places such as college campuses. Building upon previous research involving 4-year institutions, we surveyed 1,889 community college faculty who work in states that allow some flexibility in determining concealed carry policies and practices. Descriptive statistics, background characteristics, exposure to the use and ownership of firearms, and attitudinal questions about safety concerns, victimization history, and opinions about allowing concealed carry on community college campuses were analyzed. Our analyses revealed that the majority of community college faculty felt safe on their campuses, were not supportive of having students, faculty, or visitors conceal carry on their campuses, and they believed anyone granted a concealed carry permit should have to first pass a firearms training course. Our findings add to the current guns-on-campus discussions by illustrating that there is an across-the-board consensus among different types of postsecondary education institutions and levels of faculty who wish to stave off permitting lawful guns on their campuses. Further, our study suggests that faculty overwhelmingly feel that allowing guns on campuses would change the atmosphere from one that feels safe to one that feels uncharacteristically threatening. The number of American colleges and universities that permit concealed firearms on campus is small, but the number is growing as is the magnitude of the debate regarding guns on campus. Research has been conducted to ascertain the popularity of this policy among the major players: namely students, faculty, staff, and administration. Most of the research has focused on the community members of 4-year colleges and universities. This research, while replicating a study by Thompson, Price, Dake, and Teeple (2013), investigated the attitudes and perceptions of faculty who instruct in community colleges from 18 states. The states were chosen because in these locations the colleges have some flexibility in determining their weapons policy.”
“Presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities Perceptions and Practices Regarding Carrying of Concealed Handguns on Their Campuses”
Price, James H.; Thompson, Amy; Payton, Erica; Johnson, Juliane; Brown, Olivia. College Student Journal, 2016. ISSN 0146-3934.
Results: “The majority (97.4 percent) of presidents were not supportive of people carrying concealed handguns on campus. They also perceived that most faculty (97.4 percent) and most students (94.9 percent) would feel unsafe if faculty, students and visitors carried concealed handguns on campus. The majority (97.4 percent) of presidents indicated they did not see any benefits to faculty and students carrying concealed handguns on campus. The majority of campuses have taken actions in case of potential campus violence, including: referring potentially violent students (89.7 percent), mass text alerts (84.6 percent) , and have an active shooter plan in place (76.9 percent).”
College student views
“College Student Perceptions of Campus Safety Initiatives”
Schafer, Joseph A.; Lee, Charern; Burruss, George W.; Giblin, Matthew J. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 2016. doi: 10.1177/0887403416631804.
Abstract: “In the aftermath of tragic campus-based incidents causing injury and death, it has become common to see discussions concerning the safety measures institutions should be taking to prevent or mitigate the harm of such events. The recommended approaches reflect a degree of face validity but largely lack empirical grounding or clear evidence of support from the largest population they seek to protect — college students. Using survey data from six Illinois colleges, this study examines the level of student support for campus safety practices. Applying a framework derived from literature on fear of crime and other salient concepts, multivariate modeling is used to explain variation in the observed level of student support. The explanatory models offer limited insight into the factors shaping why students do or do not support campus safety practices. The findings demonstrate the importance of considering the views of students when institutions make decisions about campus safety policies.”
“Student Attitudes Toward Concealed Handguns on Campus at 2 Universities”
Cavanaugh, Michael R.; Bouffard, Jeffrey A.; Wells, William; Nobles, Matt R. American Journal of Public Health, December 2012, Vol. 102. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300473.
Abstract: “We examined student support for a policy that would allow carrying of concealed handguns on university campuses. Large percentages of students at 2 universities expressed very low levels of comfort with the idea of permitting concealed handgun carrying on campus, suggesting that students may not welcome less restrictive policies. Students held slightly different opinions about concealed handguns on and off campus, suggesting that they view the campus environment as unique with respect to concealed handgun carrying.”
“Differences Across Majors in the Desire to Obtain a License to Carry a Concealed Handgun on Campus: Implications for Criminal Justice Education”
Bouffard, Jeffrey A.; Nobles, Matt R.; Wells, William. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 2012, Vol. 23.
Abstract: “The current study examines whether students’ course of study is related to their desire to carry a concealed handgun on campus. This analysis is motivated by a growing number of studies that have explored differences between criminal justice (CJ) and other majors in the areas of personality, attitudes, values, and career expectations, and also by discussions of the issue of concealed handguns on campuses following recent shootings on college campuses. Using data from over 3,100 students who completed an online survey instrument, results revealed that CJ majors were in fact more interested in carrying a legally concealed handgun on campus, if it were allowed by university policies. These results held even when controlling for other significant predictors of the desire to carry a concealed handgun. Implications for CJ education and the wider debate about concealed weapons on university campuses are discussed.”
Guns, alcohol and college students
“Students’ Drinking Status and Likelihood of Carrying a Weapon on Campus”
Walter, Gayle; Dunn, Michael S.; Anderson, Peter; Florkowski, David. American Journal of Health Studies, 2015, Vol. 30. ISSN: 1090-0500.
Abstract: “The purpose of this study was to assess the association between different levels of alcohol risk, weapon carrying, and feeling of safety among 54,582 college students participating in the 2010 CORE Alcohol and Drug Survey. A higher number of binge drinking episodes was associated with higher likelihood of carrying a weapon. In addition, the interaction term in the model was significant which implies that the difference between those who feel safe and those who do not feel safe, in terms of carrying a weapon, is different for the levels of drinking risk.”
Guns used in self defense
“The Epidemiology of Self-Defense Gun Use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007–2011”
Hemenway, David; Solnick, Sara J. Preventive Medicine, 2015, Vol. 79. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.03.029.
Conclusions: “Compared to other protective actions, the National Crime Victimization Surveys provide little evidence that SDGU [self-defense gun use] is uniquely beneficial in reducing the likelihood of injury or property loss.”
Other resources for journalists writing about this issue:
- The National Conference of State Legislators monitors higher education trends, including state legislation allowing concealed carry on college campuses.
- Among the national groups that oppose allowing firearms in schools are Students for Gun Free Schools and The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus.
- Students for Concealed Carry is one of the most outspoken gun advocacy groups.
- The U.S. Department of Education has created a fact sheet on the issue.
- The Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool, a project of the U.S. Department of Education, is a searchable database of college crime and fire reports.
Keywords: firearm policy, concealed weapon, concealed carry, gun violence, mass murder, Clery Act, Seung-Hui Cho, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, protection, self defense