The Case Against Guns On Campus
There are many reasons why it would be dangerous to introduce guns into colleges and universities. The college age years - 18-24 - are among the most volatile periods in a person's life. As such, these are the peak years for abusing alcohol and drugs, attempting suicide, having other mental health problems, and committing gun crimes. Students who engage in binge drinking and drug abuse put themselves and others at risk. If guns are involved, it is more likely that these situations will result in serious injury or death.
Reason #1. Arming Students Would Make Campuses More Dangerous Every Hour of Every Day
Binge drinking and drug abuse. College students engage in a great many high-risk behaviors - including binge drinking and drug abuse - at alarming rates. Nearly half of America's full-time college students abuse drugs or binge drink at least once a month . For college gun owners, the rate of binge-drinking is even higher - two-thirds .
Suicide and mental health issues. College students are also at elevated risks for suicide, with about 1,100 successful suicides and an additional 24,000 attempts every year. If a gun is used in a suicide attempt, more than 90% of the time it is fatal, compared to a 3% fatality rate for suicide attempts by drug overdose. This is why guns in the home increase the risks of suicide fivefold. How many more suicide fatalities will we see on college campuses if guns become widely available?
Accidental shootings and gun thefts. Studies show that guns in the home are far more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting than in self-defense. In addition, even trained gun owners often do not realize that a gun is loaded. This often happens with pistols where the ammunition magazine is removed, but a hidden bullet remains in the chamber, ready to kill. Guns stolen from homes and cars fuel crime. College dorm rooms, by comparison, would be even easier targets for gun thieves. Guns are also often taken and used in suicides.
Reason #2. Armed Students Would Be Accountable to No One
Colleges have duty to protect safety of students. College administrators and campus law enforcement have a duty to protect the safety of students, faculty, and visitors on college campuses. Indeed, schools can be held liable for failing to take adequate security measures or otherwise failing to maintain a sufficiently safe environment. According, armed campus law enforcement officers are thoroughly trained to handle crisis situations, when and when not to fire their guns, and how to best secure the campus environment.
Gun owners do not. College gun owners operate under none of these constraints. They are accountable only for the safety of themselves. If, in a shootout they miss the shooter and hit other students - an extremely likely scenario given that even trained police officers, on average, hit their intended targets less than 20% of the time - they will claim self-defense and claim no responsibility, even if they have directly caused the death of a fellow student. For this reason, security professionals believe that arming students to shoot back would actually make matters worse in the extremely rare instances where mass shootings occur on campus.
College gun owners have been proven to be dangerous. Harvard researchers have shown college gun owners to be highly irresponsible. They are more likely than the average student to:
- Engage in binge drinking,
- Need an alcoholic drink first thing in the morning,
- Use cocaine or crack,
- Be arrested for a DUI,
- Vandalize property, and
- Get in trouble with police.
Reason #3. Arming Students Would Not Deter the Rare Campus Shooting
Suicidal attackers cannot be deterred. The perpetrators of mass shootings are nearly always suicidal, and end up taking their own lives at the end of their rampages. Armed students would likely become the first targets of any suicidal attackers, who can prepare for such an attack by maximizing their firepower. For example, a crazed gunman who attacked a city council outside St. Louis, Missouri, in March 2008, first shot and killed two armed police officers before continuing his rampage. He even used one of the officer's guns in furthering his attack.
Reason #4. Academic Debate Cannot Flourish In a Room Full of Guns
Freedom of expression. Protecting free expression of teachers and students is the most obvious way in which academic freedom must be secured. Teachers must be able to address even the most controversial subjects, in their research and writing endeavors as well as in the classroom, without fear that they will be punished for challenging conventional thought or espousing provocative ideas. Students must have the same ability to pursue knowledge without risk of being penalized or restrained by those who might disagree with the students' views. All of these cherished values of our educational process would be greatly diminished if college classrooms were filled with armed students and teachers.
Self-governance. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the importance of respecting schools' rights to self-governance and independent decision-making. This principle of institutional autonomy has been enshrined in the constitutions of many states. Thus, college administrations must be free to set their own policies with respect to firearms.
Reason #5. There Are Better Ways to Make College Campuses Safer
Campuses are safer than surrounding communities. Despite the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, college campuses are far safer than the communities that surround them. Ninety three percent of the violence against college students occurs off campus, where guns are widely available. To prevent future mass shootings, we must strengthen our gun laws to make it as hard as possible for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons.
Strengthen background checks, don't arm everyone. The shooter at Virginia Tech was a prohibited purchaser whose disqualifying records were not in the Brady background check system when he bought the guns he used. Since then, Congress has enacted legislation to encourage states to put more records of those too dangerous to buy a gun for mental health reasons into that system. Congress should go farther, however, and extend the Brady background checks to private sales at gun shows to make it harder for dangerous people to arm themselves. Such actions will complement and support other safety strategies that colleges and universities have adopted in the wake of Virginia Tech.
1 All facts herein have been sourced in our in-depth report No Gun Left Behind: The Gun Lobby's Campaign to Push Guns Into Colleges and Schools (Brady Center 2007), available at www.bradycampaign.org/gunsoncampus .
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