Hard data squared off against risk-benefit arguments at the Law Center in a continuing debate over whether concealed handguns should be allowed on college campuses. The discussion hosted by the Federalist Society came one day after a University of Texas student armed with an automatic rifle sent the campus into lock-down before killing himself.
Dr. John Lott, an economist and senior research professor at the University of Maryland, has long advocated the right to carry guns for personal protection and as a crime deterrent. Armed with statistics, Lott argued that violent crime, including murder, has declined after guns are allowed. And, conversely, “Where we have banned guns, we are essentially saying to criminals, ‘You are in a gun-free zone.’ ” He said concealed handguns could prevent bloodbaths like the Virginia Tech rampage in 2007 which left 33 students dead. “We were lucky that no one was hurt at the University of Texas other than the shooter,” he said. “I have kids in college,” he added. “This is not something I take lightly.”
Prof. Darren Bush of the Law Center boiled the issue down to a few simple questions: “Does the benefit of carrying a gun on campus – a relatively safe place – outweigh the risks?” And, “What kind of world do we want our academic institutions to be?” Bush wondered aloud if allowing guns would affect the collegiate experience for students or damage the campus environment. Most of the crimes reported on campus involve theft of property or are related to drinking, he noted, adding that “we all know guns and alcohol go well together!” A college campus is a tight-knit community, and a hotbed of activity. There is tension in dorms, academic stress, heated arguments over hot-button issues and occasional emotional discussions about grades with professors. Bush says he was once threatened by a student over an A-, adding with a laugh, “Not here!” He jokingly wondered how he would sell higher education to a job applicant: “It’s a great place to work, and by the way, our kids are packing heat.”
Lott agreed campuses are relatively safe, but said conflicts that occur within the ivy-covered walls are no different than those that arise beyond the ivory towers. “Why should you be forced to leave your gun behind when you walk onto a campus?” he asked.
Bush questioned whether guns are in fact a deterrent, especially if a person is intent on dying when the shooting stops. With greater gun accessibility, a person “crying out for help” might more readily make a statement using a gun rather than seek counseling. He said an armed citizenry could spark an “arms race” with more criminals “packing heat” because they would know many of their intended victims would be armed. He also said greater gun accessibility would result in more gun thefts, and he called into question the quality of training needed to obtain a gun license.
“Rather than hypothesizing about what might happen,” Lott countered, “let’s look at the data.”