In the years following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, college and university leaders have heeded the call to strengthen campus-wide violence prevention and crisis response systems. Threat assessment and behavioral intervention teams have become regular and integral components of prevention efforts. Mental health and counseling services were acknowledged as a necessary and critical campus resource. Technology allowed for the development of confidential bystander reporting tools that enable law enforcement and others responsible for campus safety to promptly assess or respond to a potential threat. Memoranda of understanding with local law enforcement enable the more efficient handling of threats or violence. These comprise a brief description of the methods used to build and bolster the campus safety architecture by college and university leaders.
Across the states, legislation and campus policy have confined the presence of firearms in educational settings to law enforcement officers, be they campus or otherwise. But in recent years, fueled by the narrative that ‘the best person to protect your safety is you,’ gun rights advocates have increasingly pushed for the rights of concealed carry firearms permit owners to wield their weapon in college and university settings, if they so choose. Recent legislative activity has signaled a shift in the momentum related to firearms’ presence in postsecondary settings, with rapid and substantial growth in the number of states considering bills that would allow conceal and carry permit holders to bring their firearms on campus. In a soon forthcoming report, the Education Commission of the States and NASPA note that nearly one half of the states considered such legislation this past year, representing an increase from just under one-third the year prior. In a report released in early October of this year, the Education Commission of the States and NASPA note that nearly one half of the states considered such legislation in 2016, representing an increase from just under one-third the year prior.
But as the volume of the campus carry cause has built to a crescendo, its advocates have yet to answer the essential question: Will more guns make our campus communities safer? The answer depicted by research is ‘No.’
We can compare crime statistics with state gun laws and observe, for instance, that individuals are already able to carry firearms in six of the ten states with the highest rates of violent crime per capita. If firearms are the solution to individual or public safety, we should expect states with loose gun regulations not to be among the states with the highest rates of such crime. The science of aggression has also discovered the ‘weapons effect,’ a phenomenon in which the mere presence of firearms actually increases aggression in those who have not otherwise been provoked. Investigative journalism has also shown that individuals who are not provided crisis-response training are ill-equipped to protect themselves and others in the moment of unforeseen violence regardless of their level of training in the basic handling of a firearm. This last point is important because no state’s concealed carry licensure requirements mandate any – let alone ongoing – crisis response training, and many other states fail to require training in even the basic handling and use of a firearm to obtain a permit. Gun ownership is also associated with accidental self-inflicted harm or death, interpersonal violence, and abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
We cannot overlook how all of these factors affect the safety and well-being of our campus communities, and, in turn, influence the teaching and learning missions that we hold in trust to stakeholders and – most importantly – to students. Though it seems we increasingly find ourselves in a ‘governance by anecdote’ environment, it’s imperative that educational leaders share perspectives on the unintended consequences and implementation concerns associated with proposals that would bring change to our campus communities. Of equal importance, we should engage one another in thought partnership to influence the outcome of policy that brings change to our efforts to prevent violence, and, when we must comply with new law or regulation, work together to envision strategies to comply while affirming our commitment to the quality and care of our living, learning, and working environments.