There were over 15 college shootings in 2014 and over two dozen in 2013. These incidents, and the infamous Virginia Tech shootings of 2007, have stirred fear within university populations and the parents of students. States feel the need to do something about this dangerous trend. One of the methods that they are employing is passing legislation that allows licensed handgun owners to carry concealed weapons on campus. Seven states have already passed such legislation. Texas may become the eighth.
On Feb. 12 the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 11, which calls for the legalization of concealed handguns on Texas universities, by a margin of 7–2. It is currently on its way to the Senate floor. Due to new conservative leadership and statements from Gov. Abbot, it looks as though the bill has a chance of being made into a law. The question is, should it pass?
There are generally two schools of thought on how to deal with campus shootings: increased security and campus carry.
Increasing campus security is one way to try to prevent campus shootings. This would come in the form of an increased police presence on campus, metal detectors at the entrance of buildings, more security cameras around campus, etc.
Future planning and education about campus shootings would also be a vital piece of this method. Escape plans could be enhanced, communication with local police departments could be improved, and training for teachers and students on how to behave when there is an active shooter on campus could be implemented.
Finally, universities can improve their mental health facilities. Campus Safety Magazine reports that Virginia Tech improved their own mental health facilities after the 2007 shooting by “[recommending] an increase in the number of case workers capable of identifying and handling students with mental health issues, and a threat assessment team be created to evaluate complex at-risk student cases.”
All of these methods are ways of managing school shootings. However, they do have negative consequences. Increased security measures poses a significant financial burden. Buffing up security systems is by no means a cheap affair. Universities would have to pay for the cameras, extra security guards, and improved mental health facilities, and this money would ultimately result in increased tuition. With an already unbelievable price tag, any increase to the cost of college is hard to justify.
Further, increased security often leads to privacy violations. More surveillance mean that students will be continuously watched while on campus. A major consequence of increased security could be a possible shift in the relationship between faculty and students. As students are viewed more as threats than as individuals eager for knowledge, violations of students’ rights could become more prevalent. While this claim might sound unfounded, one need only compare the dynamic between government and citizen in a post-9/11 U.S. Increased security measures were implemented to try to prevent more terrorist attacks in the U.S. and led to numerous instances of civil rights violations. One can easily imagine a similar dynamic occurring within universities.
Finally, there is no guarantee that increased security will do anything to prevent more shootings from happening. No matter how many cameras or police officers you add to a campus, an attack is still possible. Even if there are metal detectors at the entrance of every building, what prevents someone from attacking outside of a building? Is there any level of security that can prevent someone from setting off a homemade bomb?
The idea behind using campus carry as a means to prevent future school shootings is a simple one: if potential shooters know that anyone else might have a gun to return fire upon them, they will be more likely to dismiss the mere thought of attempting a campus shooting. Faculty members and students would be able to carry around concealed handguns on campuses, meaning that the responsibility of security is taken from outside agencies and placed in the hands of those already on campus.
On the surface, it seems as though this will be a cheap and effective means of dealing with campus shootings. However, this is the farthest thing from the truth.
First, a campus carry bill will not be a cheap means of preventing future campus shootings. The Houston Chronicle reports that
According to fiscal analyses drawn up by Texas’ higher education systems and obtained by the Houston Chronicle, so-called campus carry would cost the University of Texas and University of Houston systems nearly $47 million combined over six years to update security systems, build gun storage facilities and bolster campus police units.
Allowing guns on campus would cost $7 million for the Texas Tech University System, $2.5 million for the Texas State University System, $2 million for the University of North Texas System and at least $550,000 for Texas Southern University over six years. Neither Texas Woman’s University nor the Texas A&M University System had a cost estimate available.
In the University of Texas at Austin’s case, funds would be drawn from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s University Police Department, which means that money that would normally go to cancer research would be going to gun storage and maintenance. Where the other universities would be forced to draw money from is uncertain at the moment, but it’s clear that it would come at the cost of important university programs.
Secondly, even though Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, an author and leading advocate of Senate Bill 11, said that “[Concealed Handgun License]-holders are statistically the most law-abiding citizens in our state” this by no means suggests that they are prepared to deal with an active shooter situation. CHL holders are not trained security professionals. They are average citizens with a basic knowledge of gun rights and gun safety that will be faced with the moral imperative of helping prevent campus shootings. They have no tactics training, meaning that they will have no way of locating a shooter, distinguishing a shooter from a fellow CHL-holder, or coordinating with law enforcement.
Further, students are not the primary demographic of CHL-holders. People between the ages of 18–24 (an accurate age range for the average college student) were issued only 4.05% of Texas CHLs in 2014. The probability of one of those carriers being in a room with an active shooter are extremely low. However, SB 11 is not limited to just students and faculty. Anyone with a CHL is allowed to carry their weapon on campus. Yet, this does not mean that security will be improved. Rather, allowing CHL-holders unaffiliated with the university to carry their weapons on campus grounds appears to be a greater liability and threat. No matter the number of CHL-holders on campus, there is clearly still the possibility of a school shooting occurring. Simply allowing more people to carry weapons does not mean that a shooter will be stopped any sooner.
Finally, legalizing campus carry will promote an environment of fear for college students. Knowing that any student in their class could have a gun is terrifying and disrupting to education. College is stressful, surrounded by alcohol abuse and full of unstable relationships. University students know about these issues and their affects on a persons behavior and they know students dealing with such issues shouldn’t be trusted with weapons on campus. Therefore, it is very likely that fear among students will increase if a campus carry bill is passed. An environment of fear and anxiety will pervade the campus that will affect both students and faculty.
As has been illustrated, campus carry comes with the same negative consequences as increased security, but addresses none of the problems that increased security solves. Campus carry will prove a huge financial burden that will come at the expense of research and students, there is no guarantee that it will prevent school shootings from occurring or ending more quickly, and normal social structures on campus may be disrupted.
The problem lies in the amount of guns on campus. The more guns, the bigger the problem. Increased security works to lower the amount of weapons on campus and thus works to prevent campus shootings. Campus carry laws will increase the amount of weapons on campus and the likelihood of a campus shooting. Therefore, we are logically compelled to support increased security, despite it’s drawbacks.
While the 2nd amendment gives U.S. citizens the right to bear arms, our society have placed limitations on this right. We do not want people carrying guns around elementary schools, hospitals, or libraries. We don’t want easy access to explosives like RPGs or claymore mines. Practical limitations to the right to bear arms have developed and evolved over time. We have reasoned what is an appropriate limitation and what is not. Until recently, it has not been appropriate for weapons to be allowed on campuses. This recognition should by all means be continued. Responsibility to address this issue should be placed in the hands of university police departments and local law enforcement, not untrained citizens.
This is not an issue for NRA members or other conservatives to support simply because they believe in the 2nd amendment. Even Ronald Reagan, the idol of conservatives around the country, placed limitations on the 2nd amendment in 1986 when he signed the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which made the ownership of any fully automatic rifles that were not already registered at that time illegal. This is an issue that pro-gun advocates should realize has nothing to do with them, but instead involves the students on university campuses, the students’ parents, and universities administrations.
Any legislation that legalizes concealed handguns on campus is immoral and dangerous and should not be passed. At the very least an opt-out clause must be included in Senate Bill 11. This would allow the universities to decide whether or not to pass a campus carry bill. Further, if an opt-out clause is included, the students should vote on the passage of a campus carry bill, not the administration.
Rather than make efforts to arm students and faculty to defend against school shootings, Texas government should work to improve campus security without infringing upon the privacy of students. This is the real challenge and one that efforts should be focused on.
Sign a petition against Senate Bill 11 here.
Originally published at www.thesyndromeirregularly.com on February 25, 2015.