You miss all the shots you don’t take

Effective advocates are entrepreneurial, constantly trying to tie their preferred remedies to any potential problem that comes up in the news.  This is the only way we can make sense of Students for Concealed Carry‘s effort to present their prime concern (allowing college students to pack weapons along with their book bags each morning) as a solution to the problem of sexual assault on campuses.

Let me confess that as someone who works on a college campus, I think the demand is ridiculous, dangerous, and completely counterproductive to the goal of making college life safer.

I’m not alone in these beliefs.  A story in today’s New York Times lays out arguments for and against concealed carry on campuses, noting that they are now being rehearsed in some state legislatures.  If young men knew that the young women in their sites might be carrying lethal force, they would be more careful, gun supporters claim.

Even if they could be armed themselves?  And, what of the alcohol-fueled, uh, celebrations that are often the initial staging areas for sexual assault?  It’s hard not to think of what else guns might bring to the party.

All that said, I learned of Students for Concealed Carry from this odd repurposing–against sexual assault–and the resulting Times story.  The new rationale also led to the group welcoming the first woman onto its Board of Directors (the website wasn’t updated to include her as of this morning).  I’ll bet the story generated more attention to SCC and its fundraising appeals than anything else since the group’s inception.  Provoking opposition and even ridicule isn’t always bad politics.

Watch to see the turnout at SCC’s “signature” event, the empty holster protest, scheduled for the first week in April.  (Is this really an April Fool’s prank????)

Note:  Like many professors, I have given lectures (and, more likely, grades) that disappointed students, relying on the premise that they are largely unarmed.  Then again, surely if my A students (the mythic “good guys with a gun” ) were also packing, I’d be protected….

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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7 Responses to You miss all the shots you don’t take

  1. 3boxesofbs says:

    Note: Like many professors, I have given lectures (and, more likely, grades) that disappointed students, relying on the premise that they are largely unarmed.

    Does your campus or building have metal detectors to prevent students from being armed?
    Or do you search everyone, their bags prior to class?

    I am amazed that the argument goes that a grade or discussion will set someone and carnage will erupt if they are armed. Since there is nothing to stop people from being armed now, except a willingness to follow the law.

    Nor is sexual assault the only reason to carry on campus. Many people carry cash or credit cars; robberies are common. And since most college students aren’t typically dorm dwellers, they have to come to and from the campus each day. Not being able to carry on campus prevents many from mounting effective defense in other locations.

    Then again, surely if my A students (the mythic “good guys with a gun” ) were also packing, I’d be protected….

    I wonder if the professors at Virginia Tech had time to wish more of their students — you know those mythical good guys with a gun — were armed when the VT killer (I refuse to name people like him) started his rampage.

    Bob S.

    • Thanks, Bob. I understand that everyone doesn’t follow the law or the rules all the time. Yesterday I saw someone smoking a cigarette on campus (banned), and also saw someone driving alone switch into the carpool lane. I don’t know if these minor miscreants will be punished, but I know that the overwhelming majority of people are sufficiently deterred that they accede to the rules.

      We live in a fallen world.
      There is no magic bullet (cheap pun) that will keep us all happy or even safe all the time. People sometimes do awful things.

      Smart policies should reduce the risk of things going wrong and reduce the harm when they do.

      I believe that making universities gun-free reduces the number of weapons on campus, which I support.

      Students for Concealed Carry argues that this state makes me, my students, and my colleagues less safe. They claim that the knowledge that potential victims or bystanders might be armed will deter some potential wrong-doers, and that those armed citizens will be able to limit the damage done by a crazed malcontent.

      It’s very hard to find serious evidence to support these claims. The potential of a gory end actually seems to entice some gunmen (witness: suicide by cop), and more than a few people with permitted weapons lack the skills, training, and experience to avoid doing more harm than good. (A few aren’t even able to keep track of their weapons.
      http://www.governing.com/gov-data/stolen-guns-lost-firearms-by-state-data.html).

      Gee, even the police in New York City, presumably better trained that the average gun-toting citizen, wounded 9 people when taking down a crazed gunman in front of the Empire State Building.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Empire_State_Building_shooting

      I can’t see why we should expect the haphazard collection of permitted gun-owners to do better in a crisis situation. And even if 90 plus percent are sure and safe shots, the remaining few can do a lot of damage.

      I’m certainly open to evidence on these points–but please don’t cite the discredited John Lott.

      I also wish–as I’m sure most academics do–that Congress allowed the collection and analysis of data on gun violence.
      http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/12/gun_violence_research_nra_and_congress_blocked_gun_control_studies_at_cdc.html
      I mean: we should all be open to evidence.

      And I was being flip in suggesting that I’m concerned about a shoot-out among students who had different experiences with my courses. Like most profs., I think most of the reactions I provoke will be limited to the angry email.

      • 3boxesofbs says:

        David,

        If gun free zones or restrictive laws would reduce the probability of violence; why do cities like Chicago Illinois have firearm related homicide rates (10 per 100K) greater than cities like Fort Worth Texas (6 per 100K)?

        Why do people like the Aurora Colorado theater murderer pass over places that allowed concealed carry to hit a theater much further away that doesn’t?

        It’s very hard to find serious evidence to support these claims.

        Of course it is. It is in some way a self defeating argument. If firearms on sight reduce the impact of mass shootings; then quite possibly those events never rise to the level of mass shootings (4 or more victims)

        http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/10-potential-mass-shootings-that-were-stopped-by-someone-wit#.frNrEWV6Q5

        There is a list of 9 events where someone with a firearm stopped a worse event from happening in all likelihood.

        and more than a few people with permitted weapons lack the skills, training, and experience to avoid doing more harm than good. (A few aren’t even able to keep track of their weapons.

        A couple of points on this. First lets put your link into perspective — in America there are approximately 300,000,000 firearms. Probably more.

        Nearly 200,000 guns were reported lost or stolen last year, according to federal data.
        So 200,000 stolen (a large portion of them) or lost represents 0.066% of all firearms in the country. By the way, how many cars are stolen each year?

        Next there is some evidence also to support the idea that ‘civilians’ are more careful or at least not as likely to shoot innocents as the law enforcement.


        Another study examined newspaper reports of gun incidents in Missouri, involving police or civilians. In this study, civilians were successful in wounding, driving off, capturing criminals 83% of the time, compared with a 68% success rate for the police. Civilians intervening in crime were slightly less likely to be wounded than were police. Only 2% of shootings by civilians, but 11% of shootings by police, involved an innocent person mistakenly thought to be a criminal. [145]

        (Please search for citation, i don’t want to provide too many links and get trapped in spam filter — “SHALL ISSUE”: THE NEW WAVE OF CONCEALED HANDGUN PERMIT LAWS By Clayton E. Cramer & David B. Kopel October 17, 1994)

        And even if 90 plus percent are sure and safe shots, the remaining few can do a lot of damage.

        So let me see if I have this straight; you don’t want normally law abiding people to carry firearms on campus because they could make things worse — such as a killer like VT, or the Washington Navy Yard — being able to kill without anyone responding to him before the police can?
        How does that make sense? Again — the evidence, not feeling, but evidence shows that isn’t the case.

        I also wish–as I’m sure most academics do–that Congress allowed the collection and analysis of data on gun violence

        Good grief, this canard.

        Your own article shows how off base that argument is

        o understand more about what we know and don’t know about the science of firearm violence, Slate contacted Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis Medical Center. For over 30 years, he has studied firearm violence and published more than 100 studies in the field.

        All the bill did was prevent the CDC from studying firearm related violence and that was directly because they were not neutral on the subject. But it seems that they still did research on the subject. To wit

        First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws
        Summary
        During 2000–2002, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (the Task Force), an independent nonfederal task force, conducted a systematic review of scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of firearms laws in preventing violence, including violent crimes, suicide, and unintentional injury. The following laws were evaluated: bans on specified firearms or ammunition, restrictions on firearm acquisition, waiting periods for firearm acquisition, firearm registration and licensing of firearm owners, “shall issue” concealed weapon carry laws, child access prevention laws, zero tolerance laws for firearms in schools, and combinations of firearms laws. The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes. (Note that insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness.) This report briefly describes how the reviews were conducted, summarizes the Task Force findings, and provides information regarding needs for future research.

        So your idea that gun control works does not seem to be supported by the CDC — the evidence was simply not sufficient to support that conclusion.

        In the mean time, consider that some of the people who would be carrying on campus might, just might be better trained then the average LEO. I, for one, was trained by the Air Force on both the M-16 and the 38 revolver. My Texas Concealed Handgun License proficiency test is nearly identical to the proficiency test required for Licensed peace officers in the state of Texas.

        Bob S.

  2. sherkat says:

    Unfortunately, only about 5% of my students earn A’s……

  3. Again, Bob S., thanks for your comments.
    My post was inspired by Students for Concealed Carry’s effort to attach their solution to a problem of campus rape, which you don’t address. People who study sexual assault suggest that providing bystanders with more firepower doesn’t address the real problem. (One criminologist joked, “only if the guns were limited to women.”)

    This led us to a discussion about concealed carry and gun control more generally. Without much effort, I can find arguments (often buttressed by anecdotes) to support all kinds of positions on these issues. I do not want to look for one to cite on the basis of its agreement with my gut reaction. Gut reactions are often wrong, and we can find stories to back up anything we want to say. I’m reluctant to make much of your Ft. Worth/ Chicago comparison because I know there are so many other differences between those cities beyond concealed carry. In the same way, I’m sure you’d be quick to point out all the differences between the United States and say Germany, which has stricter rules about access to firearms and a gun fatality rate nearly 1/10th as high. (As you know, you could pick just about any other rich country for that comparison.)

    The National Research Council, in conjunction with the Institute of Medicine, released a report in 2013 emphasizing how little is known about the effects of various gun control measures. http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2013/Priorities-for-Research-to-Reduce-the-Threat-of-Firearm-Related-Violence.aspx They called for more data and more research. (So did Garen Wintermute in the article you cited from Slate.) Using different models, other social scientists have suggested there are limited findings available; one study, for example, finds that Right to Carry laws lead to higher rates of aggravated assault, but don’t affect any other crimes. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1632599

    It’s very clear the modeling matters, and honest social science demands not picking a model or a story based on the results you want to find.

    I have citizen, not expert, knowledge of these studies, and am pretty much ready to trust the NRC. As an interested citizen, however, what I do know makes me very reluctant to endorse changes in policy that sanction more armed people on college campuses without compelling reasons. I’m totally prepared to believe that you are well-trained, competent, and sober; I certainly know gun owners who are. I also know others who are not–as I’m sure you do as well. A total of 200,000 *reported* lost of stolen weapons may be a tiny fraction of the number of weapons in the United States, but it’s still a lot of guns. The comparison with stolen automobiles is telling, as I don’t know of a single instance of someone driving a car into a student center with the intent of doing as much damage as possible.

    To return to what I do know: seeing discussions like this as a result of SCC’s new pitch has to be taken as a media win for the group, at least over the short term.

    • 3boxesofbs says:

      David,

      People who study sexual assault suggest that providing bystanders with more firepower doesn’t address the real problem.

      No I didn’t address SCCC argument because you are right in most cases on college campuses it wouldn’t do any good. Not all assaults are limited to date/acquaintance rape and if we can stop a couple of those by people being armed, I would be happy.

      I’m reluctant to make much of your Ft. Worth/ Chicago comparison because I know there are so many other differences between those cities beyond concealed carry

      You mistake my point. It isn’t just concealed carry; although that is considerably harder to get in Chicago then Fort Worth, but all of the restrictive laws. Chicago, until recently, was a college campus writ large. A mostly officially ‘gun free zone’ in a state with restrictive gun control laws. Yet their crime rate is higher than Fort Worth’s — my point is gun control laws don’t stop criminals.

      It’s very clear the modeling matters, and honest social science demands not picking a model or a story based on the results you want to find.

      I agree with that sentiment. I don’t agree that the federal government needs to be spending money on ‘gun control’ research. First and foremost that is too limited of a category; the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that firearm related violent crime makes up only 8 to 10 % of all violent crime. Second, there are plenty of people out there who can and do fund research of this type.

      As an interested citizen, however, what I do know makes me very reluctant to endorse changes in policy that sanction more armed people on college campuses without compelling reasons.

      So saving just one life isn’t a compelling reason? After all, if just one person is saved from a rape, an assault, a murder; that is a pretty compelling reason for them, isn’t it?

      The other aspect that to me is a very compelling reason is liberty. We’ve heard all the arguments before; blood shed in the parking lots of spaces, irresponsible/angry students, etc – yet those generally don’t come true do they? Firearm related deaths, injuries and crimes have been dropping for decades even as more and more people are carrying. Even as more and more places are taken off the prohibited list. Shouldn’t the freedom to exercise one of our fundamental rights be a compelling reason on its on?

      The comparison with stolen automobiles is telling, as I don’t know of a single instance of someone driving a car into a student center with the intent of doing as much damage as possible.

      Nice straw man argument — you try to limit it to just a student center — but how many times do we read about college students driving drunk, driving the wrong way on the highways or streets? Do people never use a car to commit homicide?

      In the end, the question isn’t should there be a compelling reason to allow it but is there a compelling reason to prohibit carrying on campus?
      I find it hypocritical to say a person can be trusted on the streets, in their work places, in retail establishments with a firearm but can’t be trusted on campus.

      Bob S.

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