Do Facts Matter in the Battle Over Guns on College Campuses?

by David French

Today the Chronicle of Higher Education featured a story about the battle over concealed carry on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. In June, Texas passed “campus carry,” which will eventually allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry weapons into buildings on campus. Gun control activists reacted with typical shock, outrage, and fear. Professors are apparently afraid that concealed-carry permit holders are uniquely dangerous:

Some have raised fears that professors would be afraid to discuss provocative topics, or that distraught students would be more likely to harm themselves or others.

Yet the available evidence indicates that not only are concealed-carry permit holders substantially less likely to commit crimes than members of the general public, they’re less likely to commit crimes than even police officers. In other words, the danger from “distraught” or angry students is greater if they’re not licensed to carry a gun.

Incredibly, activists are also claiming that concealed-carry permit holders could make mass shootings worse:

Shootings give rise to situations marked by panic, confusion, and terror, conditions under which judgment, especially among individuals who are untrained and inexperienced in such situations, is impaired.

While I know of no case where a concealed-carry permit holder made a mass shooting worse, UCLA’s Eugene Volokh was able to point to ten examples where citizens with guns stopped mass shootings. And since his list is confined to potential mass shootings it doesn’t include the much more common scenario where a citizen with a gun stops an individually-targeted crime.

And this objection is simply bizarre:

One of the issues that has been bedeviling us is what to do about mixed-use buildings . . . What about a building with labs containing chemical or explosive materials, where an accidental gun discharge could cause a catastrophe? Should that lab be off limits, but guns allowed in a classroom wing? Will you have a sign here and not there? At some point, it becomes impractical.

Unless UT-Austin is gripped by the illusion that concealed-carry permit holders are the rootinest-tootinest bunch of cowboys in the wild west, accidental discharges are vanishingly rare, and if there is a legitimate fear that an accidental discharge could cause an actual explosion, then ban weapons from the room. I’d note, however, that if the chemicals are that volatile, the addition of a holstered gun to the room should be the least of the students’ worries.

The bottom line is that a person is safer around a concealed-carry permit holder than around a member of the general public. The permit holder is less likely to steal, rape, rob, or kill. Moreover, the permit holder can at least give you a fighting chance if someone else tries to commit a crime against you. And the permit holder — unlike most of your other friends — has not only passed a criminal background check, he’s also received at least some basic instruction in the use of a weapon. If you’re standing next to a permit holder, you’re standing next to a law-abiding citizen. The other guy? He could be a felon. The other guy? He’s far more likely to shoot you than the permit holder.

Like most campus arguments, however, the debate is much more about feelings than facts. Since so many students feel icky about guns, they can’t bear the thought that the person beside them might be armed. And they definitely feel icky about gun owners. So attempting to ban guns is win/win — not only are there fewer guns on campus (they believe), there are fewer of their filthy owners. But while a gun ban may make activists may feel better, it renders them more vulnerable, and they’ve demonstrated once again that they won’t let reality stand in the way of their own intolerance.

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