A Primer on Campus Carry

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 statestwenty 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.
  • 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.