College campuses are neither unique nor gun-free
By Madison D. Welch
Most arguments against the legalization of licensed concealed carry (of handguns) on Texas college campuses hinge on the belief that college campuses are unique environments requiring unique rules. Opponents of “campus carry” perform all manner of verbal gymnastics to explain why a trained, licensed, carefully screened adult (age 21 or above) who regularly and without incident carries a concealed handgun at a municipal library, a private health club, and a Luby’s Cafeteria would do immeasurable harm by carrying the same concealed handgun at a university library, a student recreation center, or a campus cafeteria. Nineteen years of Texas Department of Public Safety statistics demonstrate empirically that licensed concealed carry presents no threat to the rest of the state; therefore, opponents must argue that college campuses are fundamentally different from the rest of the state.
The most basic form of this argument conflates college campuses with stereotypical depictions of college life. Using hyperbolic language that more accurately describes a National Lampoon film than any actual institution of higher education, opponents make terrifying predictions about the dangers of mixing guns and alcohol. Not surprisingly, these predictions ignore the fact that the alcohol-centric activities often associated with college life take place almost exclusively off-campus and are seldom if ever found in lecture halls, libraries, or cafeterias—the places impacted by campus gun bans. Neither Senate Bill 11 nor House Bill 937, the two campus carry bills currently pending before the Texas Legislature, would change the laws at fraternity houses, bars, tailgating events, or off-campus parties—the places where students (particularly those old enough to obtain a concealed handgun license) are most likely to drink. Furthermore, both SB 11 and HB 937 would allow colleges to regulate the storage of firearms in dorms.
Purveyors of the colleges-are-different myth argue that students are simply too young, naïve, and emotionally immature to carry firearms. While many collegians, particularly military veterans and other nontraditional students, have good reason to take issue with that assessment, a discussion about the maturity of college students is nothing but a distraction. The debate over campus carry is not about who can carry a gun; it’s about where CHL holders can carry guns. The individuals who would be allowed to carry guns on college campuses are the same trained, tested, vetted, and licensed adults (age 21 and above) who currently carry guns at movie theaters, shopping malls, churches, grocery stores, restaurants, banks, and even the Texas Capitol.
Another focus of the anywhere-but-colleges line of thinking is the argument that law enforcement officers responding to a report of an active shooter on campus would be unable to differentiate the armed good guys from the armed bad guys. To understand why this isn’t a problem anywhere else licensed concealed carry is allowed and why it wouldn’t be a problem on college campuses, one must look at the laws governing concealed carry and the physics governing real-world shootouts. CHL holders are prohibited from drawing their weapons until and unless they encounter an imminent threat (NOTE: neither the sound of gunshots in the distance nor a text message from a campus alert system constitutes an imminent threat). They’re trained to move away from danger and not attempt to interdict a crime that doesn’t involve them. Given that, according to experts, most gunfights last only about three seconds, the odds of police encountering either gun-wielding students or an ongoing shootout are extremely low.
Campus carry is not an unproven concept. Outside of Texas, more than 150 U.S. college campuses have allowed it for a combined total of almost 1,500 fall and spring semesters, without a single resulting assault or suicide. Licensed concealed carry is just as safe and effective on college campuses as anywhere else, so why should Texas maintain honor-system-based laws and policies that stack the odds in favor of any violent criminal or homicidal maniac willing to disregard state law and school policy?
Madison D. Welch, a December 2014 graduate of Texas A&M; University, serves as the southwest regional director for Students for Concealed Carry.