November 20, 2017

Does allowing guns on Texas’ campuses really make them safer?

Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

Consider the following scenario: A monster with a loaded gun comes onto campus and begins blazing away at students. A heroic student with a loaded gun returns fire. The monster has made the campus most unsafe, to put it mildly. But will two shooters make it safer? And when the campus police arrive, determined to take down the shooter, how will they know whom to shoot?

And what if not one monster, but more, are shooting students? And what if not one hero, but more, are returning fire? Will this make it easier for the police to determine who are the good guys and who are the bad, who needs protection and who needs death?

Fortunately, these questions are usually just hypothetical. Despite the gruesome stories of campus shootings, campuses are currently quite safe. A U.S. Justice Department  study concluded that between 1995 and 2002 college students between the ages of 18 to 24 were subjected to 24% less violence than people of a similar age not in college, and 93% of the violence inflicted on college students was off campus anyway. Others have determined that a student is twice as likely to be struck by lightning as to be shot by a monster on campus. Indeed, stories of campus shootings get widespread coverage precisely because they are so rare.

Yet to make Texas college campuses safer is the main reason supporters of campus carry offer.  Evidently they think that in the unlikely event a monster opens fire on campus an armed student can fire back and hit the monster without shooting innocent bystanders. Really? A RAND Corporation study of the New York City Police Department, whose members get far more training than is required to earn a concealed handgun license in Texas, showed that in the line of duty  the police hit their targets only about 18% of the time (by the way, where do the bullets that don’t hit the intended targets really go?). Does anyone honestly think that those with less training could do better? An experiment reported by ABC News showed that even with good training armed citizens in simulated classroom assault scenarios could not take down the bad guys.

And what about accidents? The Federal Centers for Disease Control reported over 500 accidental deaths with guns, and over 16,000 nonfatal accidental injuries with guns, in 2013. How will bringing more guns onto the college campus make it safer, especially when college life is sometimes such a toxic mix of alcohol, sex and anxiety over grades? By the way, to acquire more fun facts, why not google “police officers shooting selves?” After all, they get far more training than required for a concealed handgun license, but what you may discover may surprise you.

None of this is to say guns should be banned from everyday life. People must continue to have the right to keep guns in their homes to protect themselves and their property, as well as to participate in legitimate recreational activities such as hunting and shooting contests.

But the sanest voice in the debate over campus carry has been that of William McRaven, retired Navy admiral, former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command which bagged Osama Bin Laden, and currently Chancellor of the University of Texas System. He has argued that the adoption of Campus Carry by the State Legislature, which will allow guns into classrooms, cafeterias, and elsewhere on campus, may diminish the quality of education by inhibiting students—especially unarmed students—in the classroom, by making faculty recruitment more difficult, and by adding additional safety expenses to university budgets. In a saner environment the state legislature would pay more attention to him than to those who claim college campuses are more dangerous than they really are, and who would inadvertently make college campuses less safe by allowing more people to bring more guns into more places on campus.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987.  His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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