AUSTIN, TX. -(Ammoland.com)-An October 15 report by Daniel W. Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and nine coauthors has resulted in several bold headlines but little critical analysis.
At best, the report is a pedantic, overly verbose op-ed that attempts to couch the usual arguments against campus carry in academic language. At worst, it is an attempt to portray the work of two of Dr. Webster’s coauthors—John Donohue and Louis Klarevas—as “the best available research” (p.2) on the subject of licensed concealed carry.
Brian Bensimon, Southwest regional director for Students for Concealed Carry (SCC), commented, “Propaganda doesn’t become research just because it’s written on letterhead from a prestigious university. If these ten professors genuinely wanted to study the issue, they could have conducted a peer-reviewed meta-analysis of the existing literature. Instead, they chose to phone it in with an editorial touting only those outlier studies that reinforce their personal prejudices.”
Those of us leading the Texas chapter of SCC are merely undergraduates and are, therefore, unequipped to prepare a formal academic analysis of a report authored by ten doctors. We are, however, more than equipped to point out flawed logic, straw man arguments, and factual errors.
THE REPORT IN QUESTION:
Claims, “The Most Recent Rigorous Research Studies Find RTC Laws Linked to Increased Violence” (p. 16), but cites only the prior work of report coauthor John Donohue and ignores the fact that Donohue’s findings are contradicted by the preponderance of peer-reviewed research on the subject, including a more recent (2015) study by Charles D. Phillips, Regents Professor of health and policy management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Dr. Phillips’ study concluded:
“The basic question underlying the hypotheses investigated in this research is simple—Is CHL licensing related in any way to crime rates? The results of this research indicate that no such relationships exist. For our study states, during the time period covered by our data, changes in crime rates did not affect subsequent CHL licensing rates. In addition, CHL licensing rates did not have a significant, negative or positive, effect on subsequent crime rates.”
Hypothesizes, “Increasing gun availability in campus environments could make far more common acts of aggression, recklessness, or self-harm more deadly and, thus, have a deleterious impact on the safety of students, faculty, and staff” (p. 3), but fails to examine the experiences of campuses that already allow licensed concealed carry.
The University of Texas at Austin’s campus carry policy working group, which was tasked with researching the issue of campus carry prior to the enactment of Texas’ campus carry law, found no reports of resulting assaults or suicide attempts at campus-carry colleges and stated, “We reached out to 17 research universities in the seven campus-carry states. Most respondents reported that campus carry had not had much direct impact on student life or academic affairs…What we can say is that we have found little evidence of campus violence that can be directly linked to campus carry, and none that involves an intentional shooting…We found that the evidence does not support the claim that a causal link exists between campus carry and an increased rate of sexual assault. We found no evidence that campus carry has caused an increase in suicide rates on campuses in other states.”
Focuses heavily on rebutting claims that campus carry will make college campuses safer and that active shooters seek out gun-free zones, despite the fact that such claims are not ubiquitous in the campus carry movement and are eschewed by Students for Concealed Carry, the nation’s leading campus carry advocacy group.
Claims, “According to the advocates of allowing civilians to carry firearms on college campuses, some individuals considering perpetrating a mass shooting will be deterred from attacking places where they stand a likelihood of being confronted by private citizens carrying firearms. In instances when deterrence fails and attacks are initiated, campus-carry advocates claim that armed students and staff will be able to intervene and halt gun rampages and thereby minimize the number of victims killed or wounded in the attack” (p. 7). The report backs up this attribution of motive by linking not to a policy paper by a pro-campus carry organization or to a speech by a pro-campus carry politician but, rather, to a listicle titled “12 Times Mass Shootings Were Stopped by Good Guys With Guns,” on the website ControversialTimes.com.
Claims, “Advocates for allowing civilians to bring guns onto college campuses and to deregulate carrying of guns in public places in general commonly cite research and statements by John Lott, an economist widely known for his claims that deregulating gun possession reaps significant reductions in violent crime” (p. 8). As proof that advocates generally rely on Dr. Lott’s work to make the case for campus carry, the report offers only a couple of endnotes citing Dr. Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime” series of articles and books.
According to one gun-rights research group, there have been “only two mass public shootings since at least 1950 that have not been part of some other crime where at least four people have been killed in an area where civilians are generally allowed to have guns.” This source obviously isn’t unbiased, and they admit to having looked only at “public shootings…where the point of the attack is simply to kill as many people as possible,” but this finding combined with the relatively low rate of licensure during the 2000-2013 period does give us reason to believe that maybe—just maybe—it’s unreasonable to assume that CHL holders would have been directly involved (not just somewhere nearby) in a large number of active-shooter incidents.
Argues (p. 22) that campus carry would impede campus law enforcement but fails to examine the impact of licensed concealed carry on law enforcement in non-collegiate environments.
Argues, “Most campus officers routinely respond to situations in which information is sparse. They respond to calls such as ‘suspicious person,’ ‘suspicious circumstances,’ ‘911-hang up,’ and ‘alarm sounding’ often with no additional information. If the presence of guns must be assumed, the level of seriousness, tactics used, and necessary precautions taken in response to such calls are elevated” (p. 23). However, in the absence of metal detectors, X-ray machines, or any other screening measure designed to prevent criminals from bringing guns onto campus, officers on any open campus—even a “gun-free” campus—must assume the presence of guns.
When officers get a report of a suspicious person, they don’t approach the suspect, thinking, “We’d better be careful—this guy might have passed extensive state and federal background checks in order to obtain a license to carry a handgun.” They’re thinking, “We’d better be careful—this guy might be a criminal who doesn’t care what the law says about carrying a gun or shooting a police officer.
States, “A recent study identified 85 incidents of shootings or undesirable discharges of firearms on college campuses in the U.S. from January 2013 through June 2016” (p. 3). This suggests that the authors of the report anticipate no difference in the behavior of individuals who endure personal expense and an extensive vetting process to obtain the right to lawfully carry a handgun on campus and those individuals who currently choose to ignore the school policies and state laws prohibiting possession of firearms on campus.
States, “Research demonstrates that access to firearms substantially increases suicide risks, especially among adolescents and young adults, as firearms are the most common method of lethal self-harm” (p. 3). However, the report offers no explanation as to how campus carry could increase the risk of student suicide if it doesn’t change the ability of a student to own a gun; have a gun at home, where 90 percent of suicides occur; or—in many states, including Texas—keep a handgun in a locked automobile parked on campus.
Claims, “Binge drinking, a common behavior among college students, especially elevates risks for involvement in violent altercations” (p. 3), but fails to note that most student drinking (particularly binge drinking) takes places at college parties and that most college parties take place at private residences where licensed concealed carry is already legal.
The types of locations where students are likely to consume alcohol are seldom the types of locations affected by campus gun bans and are, therefore, unlikely to be affected by campus carry laws. Texas’ campus carry law, which took effect on August 1, 2016, did not change the laws at fraternity houses, bars, tailgating events, or off-campus parties—none of which were covered by the nullified gun bans.
Cites (p. 19) numerous studies on the brain development of teenagers, as an argument against allowing campus carry by adults age 21 and above.
The report fails to mention that Jay N. Giedd, M.D., the author of five of the cited studies on adolescent brain development, also wrote, “Late maturation of the prefrontal cortex, which is essential in judgment, decision making and impulse control, has prominently entered discourse affecting the social, legislative, judicial, parenting and educational realms. Despite the temptation to trade the complexity and ambiguity of human behavior for the clarity and aesthetic beauty of colorful brain images, we must be careful not to over-interpret the neuroimaging findings as they relate to public policy.”
It should be noted that when scientists say that the human brain does not fully mature until the age of 25, the emphasis is on the word “fully.” The vast majority of brain development is completed by age 20. The remaining development is, in essence, finishing touches. Saying that the brain of a 21-year-old is not fully developed is like saying that a construction crew hasn’t finished building a house, simply because they still haven’t put the covers on the light switches—the statement is technically true but highly misleading. There is little or no scientific evidence that the decision making ability of a 21-year-old is substantially or even measurably different from that of a 25-year-old. However, there is a good deal of scientific evidence to the contrary.
Argues, “Age-specific homicide offending peaks around the age when youth reach the minimum legal age for purchasing, and carrying handguns (19-21 years)” (p. 3) and, “Risks for violence, suicide attempts, alcohol abuse, and risky behavior are greatly elevated among college-age youth” (p. 24). However, the report neglects to examine state-level data on the rates of concealed handgun license (CHL) revocation among persons of typical college age.
According to statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety, 0.147% of CHL holders between the ages of 18* and 23 had their licenses revoked in 2015. For those age 21-23, the 2015 revocation rate was 1.50%. By comparison, 0.155% of license holders between the ages of 38 and 43 had their concealed handgun licenses revoked that year.
*A person age 18-20 can only obtain a Texas CHL if he or she is a member or veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces. As of January 1, 2016, there were a maximum of 333 active Texas CHLs held by military personnel and veterans age 18-20. In that age range, that’s approximately one Texan out of every 3,634, or 0.0275%.
Conflates (p. 2) mass shootings (which typically happen in private residences and involve domestic disputes) and public rampage shootings, to reinforce the report’s assertion that most shooting sprees happen where civilians are allowed to have guns.
Reinforces its assertion that concealed handgun license holders consistently fail to stop mass shootings, by noting, “A review conducted by [report coauthor Louis] Klarevas of the 111 high-fatality mass shootings (six or more victims murdered) that occurred in the U.S. since 1966 found that only eighteen have taken place, in whole or in part, in a gun-free zone or gun-restricting zone” (p. 10). However, that finding is not entirely accurate.
Only thirty (27%) of the cited incidents took place in states that had shall-issue concealed handgun licensing laws at the time of the shooting. (Klarevas lists four Texas shootings that took place pre-1996, when only a law enforcement officer could lawfully carry a handgun in public. He lists fourteen incidents that took place in California, which has very restrictive licensing laws.)
Of those thirty incidents that took place in shall-issue states, sixteen took place entirely in private residences not open to the public. (The authors of this report apparently interpret the case of an Indiana man killing his six children in their sleep as a failure of licensed concealed carry.)
Of the remaining fourteen incidents that took place, in part or in whole, in public spaces, two were shootouts between rival gangs—not the type of threat against which a law-abiding citizen has much need to defend himself or herself and not the type of threat against which one person with a handgun is of much use.
That leaves just twelve incidents (10.8% of the list of 111) for which a case might be made that a concealed handgun license holder could have reasonably and lawfully intervened. And those twelve include two incidents in which the public portion of the shooting involved the gunman firing a rifle from the cover and concealment of an automobile—another scenario that doesn’t fit the model of a typical rampage shooting and that doesn’t lend itself to armed intervention by a CHL holder.
Offers a footnote (p. 11) listing five mass shootings that purportedly took place in locations where civilians were allowed to possess firearms. That foot note:
Lists the July 7, 2016, Dallas sniper attack, with no mention/examination of the fact that a sniper attack is logistically and strategically very different from a typical rampage shooting and offers little chance for intervention by a CHL holder.
Lists the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, with no mention/examination of the fact that concealed carry was against school policy for faculty, staff, and students. The report mentions that there were armed students on this campus, despite the fact that there is no record/evidence that there were armed students in the building where the shooting occurred. The only confirmed armed student (who was carrying a handgun in violation of school policy) was in a different building on the same campus and wisely chose to stay put.
Lists the terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, despite the fact licensed concealed carry is heavily restricted and relatively rare in California. The report mentions that there were armed civilians on site, despite the fact that there is no record/evidence that there were armed civilians in the building where the shooting occurred. The only confirmed armed civilian was in a building across the street from the Inland Regional Center. He saw one of the suspects fleeing but, not being sure what was happening, wisely chose not to fire.
Notes, “By contrast, the FBI found that 21 of the 160 active shooting incidents were interrupted when unarmed civilians confronted and restrained the gunmen. The FBI’s data suggest that unarmed civilians are more than twenty times likely to successfully end an active shooting than are armed civilians” (p. 12). The report fails to note that, of the 21 incidents stopped by unarmed civilians, 11 occurred in schools where concealed carry was not allowed.
Argues, “Shooting accurately and making appropriate judgments about when and how to shoot in chaotic, high-stress situations requires a high level of familiarity with tactics and the ability to manage stress under intense pressure” (p. 11). This argument conflates self-defense with law-enforcement-style interdiction.
The reference to “tactics” suggests that the authors believe that the average license holder, upon finding himself or herself in the vicinity of a mass shooting, would act like an amateur, one-man SWAT team and attempt to single-handedly clear the building and find the assailant or assailants. This is in direct conflict with the self-defense intent of licensed concealed carry and with standard concealed handgun training.
The report ignores the fact that survivors and victims of mass shootings have watched from nearby hiding spots as gunmen reloaded or have spent several minutes corresponding with 911 operators or loved ones before being shot.
The report ignores the fact that mass shootings are not the only or even the most common form of assault on college campuses and that, according to most experts, a shooting is likely to involve an assailant no more than three yards away, last no more than three seconds, and involve no more than three shots fired. In such a scenario, there is little need for “tactics.”
Suggests that “allowing more civilians to carry firearms into more public places could also facilitate more mass shootings. The Violence Policy Center has tracked incidents in which a concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit holder was alleged to have committed various crimes of violence and unintentional shootings. They identified 29 CCW holders who perpetrated non -‐ defensive shootings that involved three or more deaths not including the shooter during the period 2007 -‐ 2015” (p. 12). The report fails to note that 26 of those incidents clearly had nothing to do with licensed concealed carry, that two of those incidents most likely had nothing to do with licensed concealed carry, and that the one incident that likely related to licensed concealed carry was perpetrated by a convicted felon who should have been disqualified from obtaining a carry permit but was issued one due to a database error.
Concludes by noting, “Concealed carry permit holders have passed criminal background checks and, as a group, commit crimes at a relatively low rate. But, in states with the most lax standards for legal gun ownership, 60% of individuals incarcerated for committing crimes with guns were legal gun owners when they committed their crimes” (p. 23). This odd statement conflates concealed handgun license holders and legal gun owners—two groups that, although there is some minor overlap, are far from one and the same.
ABOUT STUDENTS FOR CONCEALED CARRY:Students for Concealed Carry (SCC) is a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization comprising college students, faculty, staff, and concerned citizens who believe that holders of state-issued concealed handgun licenses should be allowed the same measure of personal protection on college campuses that current laws afford them virtually everywhere else. SCC is not affiliated with the NRA or any other organization. SCC is a pioneer in the field of long-form press releases. For more information on SCC, visit ConcealedCampus.org or Facebook.com/ConcealedCampus. For more information on the debate over campus carry in Texas, visit WhyCampusCarry.com.