This series was originally published in Huffington Post as an article titled How To Get Guns Off Campuses: A Call To Action!
We will be publishing this series over the next few days. This is Part 4.
The below primer, which can also serve as a general resource, provides an overview of facts, figures, and arguments against campus carry from which talking points could be formulated:
- History. The framers of The Bill of Rights never intended for the 2nd Amendment (1791) to apply to campuses. When Thomas Jefferson and James Madison founded the University of Virginia, they forbid student from carrying firearms on campus. In fact, the fundamental individual right to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment was only established federally in 2008 (DC vs. Heller). The ruling recognized “Like most rights, the 2nd Amendment is not unlimited,” failing to assert this fundamental right in “sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings.” Although Texas is only required to follow statutory minimums established by the U.S. Supreme Court, neither DC vs. Heller nor any other U.S. Supreme Court ruling has ever asserted this fundamental right in public, let alone on campuses and in classrooms.
- Pro-campus-carry argument. Somewhat ironically, the main public proponents of this legislation, Students for Concealed Carry, don’t argue for campus carry under the 2nd Amendment. Aside from practical reasons for supporting the law, at least currently on their website SCC’s epistemology is based on the idea that “self-defense is a human right.” Some may question, however, whether the exercise of this human right in university classrooms should necessarily includes handguns.
- Statistics on Texas handgun licensees. Although the vast majority of individuals with a License-to-Carry (LTC) are law-abiding, as a sub-demographic, individuals with LTCs in Texas may not be quite as law-abiding or responsible as one widely-discredited academic has claimed. Background checks for prospective LTCs in Texas, as the Department of Public Safety (DPS) admits, are not always comprehensive since “local agencies do not report all arrests and court decisions to DPS.” This means applicants with disqualifying arrest or conviction records are sometimes eligible to receive LTCs. Furthermore, DPS statistics for actual LTCs do not include most instances of negligence – including when a child or suicidal individual shoots themselves with an unsecured gun owned by a handgun licensee – or accurately reflect rates of criminal recidivism. But that’s the tip of the iceberg.Other evidence demonstrating how Texas handgun licensee data has been either omitted or misrepresented in DPS records has been largely overlooked in the debate over campus carry. First, in 2001 the Texas State Legislature authorized DPS to (a) eliminate public arrest records and (b) only report “convictions” of “certain serious offenses” for Texas LTCs. (This information has also been retroactively omitted from 1996-2001 DPS records.) Non-licensed Texans, in contrast, have never been granted these two privileges of omission in crime-related record-keeping. Second, before arrests were stricken from public record, a 2002 study of DPS statistics found arrests for weapons-related offenses (1996-2001), which are considered a reasonable proxy for criminal behavior, were 81% higher for LTCs compared to the general public. Third, besides the current 1996-2016 omission of all arrest records and of convictions that do not fall under “certain serious offenses” for this sub-demographic, DPS’ annual reports of LTC conviction rates in themselves would fail a class project in a basic statistics course. Instead of reporting conviction rates of LTCs within the mere 4 percent of Texans who have them, DPS instead reports these conviction rates within the overall Texas population – one that is currently over 25 million. It’s like saying people who drive yellow sedans are the safest drivers on the road because they only account for a small percentage of overall traffic accidents. And less than “certain serious accidents” by yellow sedans aren’t even counted as accidents in the first place. In total, to say DPS data does not capture the complete picture of overall risk associated with LTC holders as a sub-demographic would be an understatement.
- Training of Texas handgun licensees. Many experts, including law enforcement and firearms safety trainers, argue an introductory training course – which in Texas runs 4-6 hours – is insufficient for understanding the correct operation of a handgun and acquiring skill-sets that are crucial for performing competently in real-life self-defense scenarios. According to one expert, the simple act of picking up a pistol correctly requires 2,500 repetitions. Such claims are unsurprising given that New York City Police officers, who are required to re-qualify at the shooting range with their service weapons twice-per-year, have an on-the-street accuracy rate of 34% overall, and 43% from a distance of 6 or less feet from their target. The distaste expressed by some experts for a poorly-trained individual with a License-to-Carry to engage threats or perceived threats with a handgun might be summarized by the statement made by one gun-policy writer: “Bystanders don’t get caught in the crossfire of high-velocity knives.” How prepared are Texans after a state-mandated course that requires them to shoot as few as 50 rounds? Although some leave the training as decent shots on a gun range, others leave without properly understanding how to use a handgun. Performance and success are also not particularly well-correlated: Texas rubber-stamped 99.7% of applicants in 2014. Furthermore, interacting with an actual handgun isn’t technically a requirement for receiving an LTC in Texas. Texas recognizes the handgun licenses of 43 states –twenty of which do not require a “live-fire training component” to receive a license. One “recognized” state, Virginia, allows any Virginia resident or non-resident – including a Texan living in Texas – to receive an LTC after watching a quick online video and completing a short multiple choice quiz.
- Lack of necessity for guns on campuses. Guns are furthermore unnecessary on campuses, which overall are historically safe environments. Even if they weren’t, guns do not provide a clear advantage in self-defense situations or serve as an effective defense against sexual assault. Individuals with a License-to-Carry (LTC) are also unlikely to lower crime on campus or stop a mass shooting. Even if a mass shooting were to occur, it’s unlikely an LTC would thwart it: According to a 2013 FBI report, only 1 in 160 active shooter incidents (2000-2013) in America was stopped by an LTC, and he was a member of the Marine Corps – 21 other mass shootings were stopped by unarmed civilians.
- Safety risk of guns on campus. Campus Carry may, however, make campuses less safe. The leading cause of gun homicides in the United States results from arguments, which in academic environments are frequent occurrences. Suicides, which are frequently impulsive acts, may also become more common. Serious concerns have also been raised about the effect of campus carry on women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who are all disproportionately affected by gun violence. Additionally, Chancellor McRaven previously argued that “the presence of handguns…will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds.” After SB11 took effect on August 1st, 2016, his prediction appears potentially prescient a mere three weeks into the fall academic semester: A License-to-Carry holder at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth, TX negligently discharged his firearm in a dormitory on September 15th, 2016, where fortunately no one was hurt. Indeed, negligent discharges even happen to people with significant firearms experience: A UT-Austin police officersustained serious injuries in May, 2016 after accidently shooting himself. Moreover,handgun safety and and licensure training issues on Texas campuses will likely be compounded if Democratic Lawmakers are unable to thwart gun-friendly measures proposed in the 2017 Texas Republican Legislative Agenda, which may include adopting Permitless Carry and eliminating “all Gun-Free-Zones” on campuses.
- The perspective of campus police. Aside from opposition from the International Association of Chiefs of Police and The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement, The Texas Association of College and University Police Administrators is against firearms on campuses in the hands of campus community members and believes it makes their job of ensuring campus safety far more difficult. Before the Texas law passed, former UT-Austin Chief of Police, Robert Dahlstrom, stated that “without firearms as a factor, UTPD is called to respond to real and perceived threats provoked by volatile language and inappropriate behavior. Firearms on campus add other concerns to this dynamic.” Dr. Pete Blair, the current Executive Director of Texas State University’s ALERRT Center, went further by issuing a warning to LTCs who might consider utilizing campus carry for more than self-defense: “If there’s an active shooter and you’re a person with a gun, you look like the active shooter…if police see you with a gun, there’s a high probability you will be shot.”
- Opposition from campus community. Before campus carry was implemented in Texas, it was publicly opposed by the UT System’s current Chancellor, William McRaven and former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, along with several university presidents in Texas. Since the law has passed, several grassroots movements in Texas have emerged against it, particularly at UT-Austin where an overwhelming portion of the campus community does not support the law. Despite the recommendation of the “Campus Carry Working Group” to permit handguns in classrooms in order to comply with SB11, their December 2015 report noted: “Every member of the [19 member] Working Group – including those who are gun owners and license holders – thinks it would be best if guns were not allowed in classrooms.” Similar sentiments in favor of a gun-free campus environment were shared by UT-Austin President Gregory Fenves, who stated “I wish like private colleges, we could prohibit guns” and UT-Austin’s football coach Charlie Strong, who has a strict “no guns” policy. Along with a professor at Texas A&M at Galveston, a professor and prominent dean at UT-Austin have thus far resigned over campus carry – several others have declined offers to teach or visit UT-Austin because of it – and at the University of Houston, some professors have discussed potential changes to their curriculum and teaching practices under the new law. In what is perhaps the strongest indication of the overall unpopularity of this state-mandated law in Texas for public institutes of higher education, all but three of 41 private colleges and universities have chosen to opt-out of SB11. Additionally, statements against guns-on-campuses have been either written or signed by The American Federation of Teachers, The American Association of University Professors, The Association of American Colleges and Universities, and 29 national academic societies. Gun-Free UT and Students Against Campus Carry at UT-Austin are currently planning for the upcoming legislative session, while Gun-Free UH at The University of Houston is holding a partnered October event entitled “Project Safe Campus.”
- Effect on free speech and academic freedom. Campus carry also has the potential to have a chilling effect on free speech and the vigorous intellectual discourse that is essential to classroom learning and academic freedom. Before SB11 became law, UT-Austin’s former Chief of Police and the UT-System’s current Chancellor voiced serious concerns over the potential of campus carry to inhibit free speech in the classroom. Such concerns prompted three UT-Austin professors to file a 1st amendment lawsuit against it, (which also includes 2nd and 14th Amendment claims). As argued by the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit, which will receive a trial in the upcoming months, the U.S. Supreme court has argued that the “robust exchange of ideas” is a “special concern of the 1st Amendment.” Although concealed handguns in classrooms was never intended to inhibit “the robust exchange of ideas”, these three professors, among others, have claimed campus carry will differentially impact classrooms where controversial,“hot-button” issuesare discussed. The U.S Supreme court has additionally argued “academic freedom” comprises not only an “individual” but also an “institutional right – areas “in which government should be extremely reticent to tread.” This claim that guns-in-classrooms may compromise the mission of public higher education in Texas to properly educate its students has been made not only in the lawsuit – applying particularly to classrooms where “hot button issues” are discussed – but for classrooms in general in comments made by the UT-System Chancellor and in a Faculty Senate presentation to professors at The University of Houston. Furthermore, the debate itself over concealed firearms on campuses may have already spilled over into free speech territory. A small fringe portion of the gun-rights community has attempted to curtail the free speech of students who are against campus carry at UT-Austin by intimidating advocates in the movement. Although fortunately no one has been physically harmed, one advocate has received numerous death threats throughout the last year, and a video released on August 31st that was publicly disavowed by both Students against Campus Carry and Students for Concealed Carry depicts the brutal murder of an anti-campus carry advocate being shot in the head. Threats have also not been limited to such high-profile incidents. On September 16th, a veiled threat of a bullet casing, which included a handwritten note with the word “triggered” on it, was left on top of a Gun-Free UT sign advertising a “Peace Zone workshop” in a UT-Austin building, accompanied by graffiti reading “In the land of the pigs, the butcher is king.” Two other empty bullet casings at other campus locations have also been found. The incidents are being investigated by the UT-Austin Police Department. It seems likely such threats will persist and may continue to pose a risk to academic freedom in the UT-Austin community.
- Financial Cost. Campus carry may compromise the quality of our education by costing millions of dollars to implement over the next six years. This figure, however, has been contested by several sources as an over-estimate.
- Opt-Out. Given the unnecessary risks posed by campus carry, the broad opposition against it in Texas, the prohibition against firearms on campus imposed by the primary author of the 2nd Amendment, and federal recognition by the U.S. Supreme Court that the statutory minimum of the individual right to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment does not include schools, we propose an amendment to SB11 that allows public universities the choice to opt-out of campus carry, which all but three of 41 private colleges and universities in Texas have already done.