College, we like to think, is a time of intellectual inquiry. But it is also, as anyone who has spent any time on a campus knows, a time of boundary-testing, experimentation and alcohol-fueled parties. Not exactly the kind of place where it makes sense to let folks wander around carrying hidden weapons.
Yet that is exactly what gun-rights advocates are pushing for around the country. They succeeded most recently in Texas with a law that allows people licensed to carry concealed weapons to do so on college campuses. With no apparent sense of irony, lawmakers made the effective date of the law Aug. 1, 2016, the 50th anniversary of the incident in which Marine-trained sniper Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas at Austin clock tower and, over a period of more than 90 minutes, killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in what is considered the nation’s first campus mass killing.
With that law, Texas became the eighth state to allow campus carry (some of those states limit weapons to employees and faculty). Nearly half the states — 23 — leave the decision up to college and university officials, and 19 more — including California — ban the practice. But campus-carry drives, building on state-level Republican election wins in November, are underway in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.
As the nation has learned so painfully, there is little that can be done once someone has armed himself — and it is almost always a him — and starts shooting up a school or a workplace or a neighborhood, intending to kill as many people as possible. Lax gun control and the pernicious influence of the NRA have made access to military-style firearms far too easy, thus making people with a violent impulse — born of mental illness, anger or an insatiable grudge — all the more deadly.
Frankly, mass shootings are not the biggest gun violence problem afflicting American society; more deadly are the daily shootings and killings that kill fewer people per incident and attract less attention. According to statistics gathered by the Gun Violence Archive, there were more than 50,000 firearm incidents last year, in which more than 15,000 people were killed and 31,000 more were wounded — and that doesn’t include some 22,000 suicides by gun.
Meanwhile, according to the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety, there were 76 shootings on college or university campuses from 2013 to 2015.
Campus-carry advocates say that an armed America is a safer America. The NRA and its statehouse allies adhere to the disproved theory that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun, and thus the more firearms carried around, the safer society becomes. In fact, the opposite is true. Studies have found a correlation between higher statewide restrictions on access to guns and lower levels of gun violence in those states. Similarly, women in households where firearms are present are more likely to be shot to death by an intimate partner than they are to use it in self-defense. The presence of a gun makes an act of domestic violence much more likely to end in death.
It is the presence of firearms that makes violent encounters more likely to become deadly encounters. So why would anyone think it’s a good idea to add concealed firearms to college campuses? In its 2008 Heller decision, in which the Supreme Court for the first time recognized a 2nd Amendment right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the decision “should not be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.” States should recognize the unique nature of college campuses and keep the guns out.