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February 9, 2009

“We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools”

In the wake of recent shooting tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, there has been a push by the gun lobby to allow concealed carry permit holders to bring handguns onto college campuses. To date, lawmakers in 17 states have considered bills that would prohibit university officials from regulating the possession of firearms on school property. Fortunately, all of these measures have gone down in defeat due to the strong opposition of students, university administrators, and campus law enforcement officials.

During the past six months, two respected organizations, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), have released well-researched policy briefs that argue clearly and convincingly against allowing concealed handguns on college campuses.

IACLEA was founded in1958 and is affiliated with the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers (NASSLEO) and campus law enforcement organizations in 29 states. In their position paper, “Concealed Carrying of Firearms Proposals on College Campuses,” IACLEA’s Board of Directors states unequivocally that such initiatives will not make campuses safer, pointing out that, “There is no credible statistical evidence demonstrating that laws allowing the carrying of concealed firearms reduce crime. In fact, the evidence suggests that permissive concealed carry laws generally will increase crime.”

The paper also states that, “IACLEA is concerned that concealed carry laws have the potential to dramatically increase violence on college and university campuses that our Members are empowered to protect. Among the concerns with concealed carry laws or policies are: the potential for accidental discharge or misuse of firearms at on-campus or off-campus parties where large numbers of students are gathered or at student gatherings where alcohol or drugs are being consumed, as well as the potential for guns to be used as a means to settle disputes between or among students. There is also a real concern that campus police officers responding to a situation involving an active shooter may not be able to distinguish between the shooter and others with firearms.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities—a group devoted to helping to advance public education, economic development and the quality of life at our nation’s universities—has issued a policy brief entitled “Concealed Weapons on State College Campuses: In Pursuit of Individual Liberty and Collective Security.” The brief states that “the vast majority of college administrators, law enforcement personnel and students maintain that allowing concealed weapons on campus will pose increased risks for students and faculty, will not deter future attacks, and will lead to confusion during emergency situations.”

The brief further notes that, “While police are extensively trained to deal with crises, students or university staff with concealed weapons are not trained or integrated into campus security plans. Even with the best of intentions, armed students or employees could escalate an already explosive situation further, accidentally cause harm or use a gun in a situation that is not warranted.”

Once upon a time, even the National Rifle Association recognized the wisdom in keeping schools gun-free. In the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre addressed the issue in a speech at the 1999 NRA National Convention, stating: “First, we believe in absolutely gun-free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period, with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel. We believe America's schools should be as safe as America's airports. You can't talk about, much less take, bombs and guns onto airplanes. Such behavior in our schools should be prosecuted just as certainly as such behavior in our airports is prosecuted.”

Great irony can also be found in recent comments by Ken Stanton, the Virginia Tech Campus Leader for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC). SCCC believes “there is no pragmatic basis for declaring college campuses off-limits to concealed carry.”

Speaking about Haiyang Zhu, who tragically murdered a fellow Hokie on campus last month, Stanton said, “He wasn’t like [Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho] at all. He’s a very social, outgoing guy. He was just a normal outgoing kind of person like the rest of us. We couldn’t have seen this coming.” Stanton did not make it clear why the behavior of students with concealed carry permits—which now can be obtained through a one-hour online “training” course in Virginia—would be any more predictable.


  1. You are absolutely right about this. Students should not be allowed to carry guns on our children's campuses. This is beyond the pale. The majority of us do not want guns on college campuses -- and legislators better listen to us because these schools are funded by our tax dollars. If our legislators want to put a match under the rocket ship of mobilizing parents across the country on ridiculously lousy gun laws which threaten our children's lives, they've just done it.

    Thank you for educating us about what's going on out there and working to keep America safe.

  2. The quote from LaPeirre was in response to the Columbine incident. He was reffering to high schools and lower grades, not colleges.

    Anyway, law enforcement opinion on campus CCW is by no means universal. As author Chris Bird noted in his book, "The Concealed Handgun Manual":

    "Sheriff Wayne Rausch of Latah County, Idaho, favors more law-abiding citizens, including adult students, getting permits to carry concealed handguns. However he has experienced occasions when permit holders have hindered police while intending to help. In most cases permit holders should use their guns only to defend themselves or their families, he says.

    “An active shooter situation is certainly an example of an exception where I would like to see the armed citizen get involved,” Rausch said. “Because one of the questions that was posed to me by many of the people that called was: ‘What could law enforcement have done differently at Virginia Tech?’

    “Quite frankly I’ve spoken to a lot of my fellow sheriffs and chiefs and we all agree: basically nothing. It’s absolutely ludicrous to think that on a huge campus like that when there is an isolated incident going on that is not only dynamic but changing fast that somehow or another police are miraculously going to be able to pinpoint the exact location and have immediate response to shut it down before it gets worse. That’s just not feasible; that’s just not going to happen.”

    Rausch feels that the most reasonable expectation is that law enforcement is probably going to get the information about a shooting by someone calling on a cell phone. When police are alerted, they go there and take care of it as quickly as possible.

    “On the other hand, the quickest answer to this obviously is that if you’ve got a classroom full of students and you are lining them up to shoot them and some of them are armed themselves, there is a possibility this may be shut down much quicker.”

    He says the deterrent factor of some students being armed should not be discounted.

    “It seems to me that there must be some sort of intimidation factor for the bad guy – that if I know I am among an armed populace, I could be picking a fight with someone who is going to kill me.”

    Anyway, I'm not going to get into a detailed response of the anti-CCW talking points on this page, all of which are easily refuted by the SCCC:


    I just have one question. If it is your position that CCW makes schools more dangerous, then what evidence do you have to back that up? What evidence do you have showing the colleges that allow CCW are any more dangerous then the ones that do not?

    This is a point the gun control lobby constantly refuses to address. This was clear over the recent debate about the rule change on guns in federal parks. Not once did I see any gun control supporters cite a single study showing that state parks which allowed CCW were more dangerous then federal parks that up to until now had not.

    If the gun control lobby is going to keep insisting that CCW makes campuses more dangerous, I think asking for some evidence that colleges which allow CCW are more dangerous then those which do not isn't an unreasonable request.

  3. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. As we understand it, Sheriff Rausch made his comments about the benefits of an armed populace shortly after a horrific shooting tragedy that took place in Moscow, Idaho, on May 19, 2007. On that day, Jason Hamilton, a Latah County resident, fatally shot his wife at home and then drove to the Latah County Courthouse armed with two military-style semiautomatic rifles. He fired approximately 125 bullets into the sheriff's dispatch center and vehicles in the parking lot, killing one law enforcement officer and wounding two other officers and an armed University of Idaho student. He then moved across the street to the First Presbyterian Church and shot and killed a 62 year-old church sexton. After firing off an additional 60 to 80 rounds from inside the church, Hamilton then turned one of his guns on himself, taking his life. An M1A1 7.62 caliber rifle was found in the courthouse parking lot. An AK-47 rifle was found next to Hamilton's body.

    Nothing about the Moscow tragedy confirms Sheriff Rausch’s claims about the “intimidation factor” an armed populace would present for deranged active shooters. Hamilton directly attacked police officers in what can accurately be described as a “gun-full zone.” He was clearly suicidal and not intimidated in the least. The tragedy also tested Sheriff Rausch’s theory about armed students. University of Idaho senior Peter Husmann rode to the scene of the shooting on his bicycle armed with a .45 caliber handgun. He never got off a shot at the courthouse. Husmann was shot three times by Hamilton and was lucky to survive after undergoing two surgeries.

    Equally disturbing was the revelation that Sheriff Rausch had issued a concealed carry permit to Hamilton, despite that fact that Hamilton had a 2005 misdemeanor domestic violence conviction that barred him from possessing firearms. The terms of that conviction called on Hamilton to surrender all of his firearms to law enforcement authorities. A lengthy criminal rap sheet was not Hamilton’s only problem. He was also a crystal meth user with an extensive history of mental illness. Hamilton was temporarily detained in a psychiatric institution after attempting suicide in 2007. At that point he told a doctor that if he was going to kill himself, he would take a bunch of people with him.

    Sheriff Rausch has never explained why authorities made no attempt to confiscate Hamilton’s firearms after his 2005 domestic violence conviction. He never explained how Hamilton acquired the military-style firearms used in the shooting despite being a prohibited purchaser. He never explained why a concealed carry permit was issued to Hamilton. Until the day he ran amok, Hamilton was one of the concealed carry permit holders that Sheriff Rausch claims will enhance public safety in his county.

    For this reason, Sheriff Rausch’s call to arm more students and residents to protect the county was not embraced by Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney, Moscow Police Chief Dan Weaver, or officials at the University of Idaho. The Moscow Human Rights Commission examined the shooting and focused on prevention. Looking at Hamilton’s 2005 conviction for choking his girlfriend, they cited the need for a misdemeanor probation office in Moscow. A regional mental health court also was started in direct response to the incident. - CSGV

  4. As for evidence that colleges that allow CCW are more dangerous than other schools, there is scant data to be found. For starters, there are only 11 schools that allow concealed handguns on campus out of a universe of over 4,300 colleges and universities in the United States. Second, the reports that have been published by those 11 schools contain no detailed data that breaks down reported offenses (i.e., violent crimes, thefts, etc.) by weapon type.

    What we do know is that our nation's colleges and universities are currently some of the safest places in all of America in terms of homicide rates, and that is certainly due in part to their strict, gun-free policies. A 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that the overall homicide rate at postsecondary education institutions was 0.07 per 100,000 of enrollment in 1999. By comparison, the criminal homicide rate in the United States was 5.7 per 100,000 persons overall in 1999, and 14.1 per 100,000 for persons ages 17 to 29 (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, “The Incidence of Crime on the Campuses of U.S. Postsecondary Education Institutions,” p. 5). Another study, conducted by the Department of Justice, found that 93% of violent crimes that victimize college students occur off campus.

    The data also bears out that states with liberal concealed carry laws have higher rates of gun death. In 2005, of the 30 states with the highest rates of gun death per capita, 29 had "shall-issue" concealed carry laws (CDC data, WISQARS tool). The six states with the lowest rates of gun death per capita all have far stricter policies concerned concealed carry (CT, NY, NJ, RI, MA, HI).

    Given the record of gun-free schools in preventing violence, and the statistics on gun violence in shall-issue concealed carry states, we feel that the concerns of IACLEA and AASCU presented in this blog are perfectly legitimate. And they are far from alone in sharing those concerns, as national polling data indicates. - CSGV

  5. While it's true that the presence of armed people at the place of Hamilton's shooting spree didn't prevent it, it did greatly reduce the casualties that resulted from it, especially compared with other shooting rampages that occured around that time frame in "gun free zones" such as NIU (5 dead, 18 wounded) and VT (32 dead). Unlike those other incidents, Hamilton could not simply walk in the middle of large groups of people he knew would be unable to shoot back, murdering them and reloading with no opposition. He had to take a more careful approach, and the result was fewer deaths.

    The fact that only two people died in Hamilton's rampage shows that the ability to respond to an "active shooter" with immediate return fire one of the best ways to reduce casualties and save lives, something that pro-CCW cops like Wayne Rausch and citizens have been saying all along.

    You point out that Hamilton had a concealed handgun permit, but I fail to see how that had any effect on his shooting rampage at all. Hamilton didn't use a concealed handgun; his weapons were rifles. Besides, even if he did use a handgun, it is hard to see how having or not having a CCW permit would have made any difference. People are fully capable of going on handgun rampages without a CCW permit, as the events at NIU and VT clearly proved. A CCW permit doesn't grant anyone a special power that they would not otherwise have with regard to guns. All it does is remove the legal penalty for carrying a gun in public. Since Hamilton was not concerned with the laws against murder (and planning to kill himself anyway), it is highly unlikely that the prospect of violating gun carrying laws would influence his thinking.

    I do not dispute your claim that colleges "are currently some of the safest places in all of America in terms of homicide rates", however my point is that since you have no data to prove otherwise, it is clear colleges that allow CCW also fall into that catagory.

    As such you have no basis to make the claim "that is certainly due in part to their strict, gun-free policies", since you have no evidence the colleges that allow CCW are any less safe then the ones that do not.

    At the very least, you should consider the possibility that the reason colleges are so safe is due to other factors then bans on CCW.

  6. Thanks for your comment, thestaplegunkid9. We're certainly not arguing that our nation's universities' gun-free policies are the only factor that has made them so safe. Certainly, campus administrators and law enforcement (along with local law enforcement officials) also deserve a great deal of credit for implementing effective security policies and procedures.

    Whatever exact combination of factors is at play, it has worked well and kept America's students safe - far safer than they are in the communities outside their campuses.

    As for the effectiveness of the policies of the 11 schools that allow the carrying of concealed handguns, there will be no clarity on that specific question until more detailed data is released by these institutions. - CSGV