Goddard: Why the Legislature should keep concealed weapons off Texas campuses
Colin Goddard, Elilta Habtu, Omar Samaha & John O. Woods, SPECIAL CONTRIBUTORS
Friday, May 08, 2009
In a May 1 column, five college professors expressed their desire to force Texas colleges to allow loaded, concealed handguns in classrooms. We join Texas students, faculty and school-based law enforcement in opposing this irrational, dangerous policy.
The fact is, keeping guns off campus can work. Colleges are some of the safest places in the nation. The Department of Justice found that 93 percent of the violence committed against college students actually occurs off-campus. Department of Justice studies also reveal that college students ages 18 to 24 experience violence at rates almost 20 percent lower than non-students of the same age.
Nevertheless, the professors based their column on research that has been thoroughly contradicted by follow-up studies. Professor John J. Donohue of Yale Law School found that, if anything, concealed carry laws like Texas' "are associated with uniform increases in crime."
The column's authors claim that "all multiple victim public shootings in the United States...have occurred where handguns are prohibited." This is clearly false. Three police officers in Pittsburgh were killed last month on the front porch of a man armed with an AK-47. His porch was hardly a "gun-free zone." A shooting spree across Alabama in March took 10 lives. The state of Alabama certainly isn't a "gun-free zone," either. What's more, both mass murderers reportedly had concealed handgun licenses that were also valid in Texas, which recognizes licenses from other states.
Additionally, the authors failed to note a 2000 news article reporting roughly 3,400 Texas concealed handgun license-holders arrested or convicted of crimes including double murder, armed robbery and kidnaping.
The five academics further fail to explain how their proposal would be enforced. Nor do they account for the additional complications created by forcing guns onto college campuses. The University of Texas has a preschool and an elementary school on its campus, not to mention a hospital and a bar, none of which are addressed in the National Rifle Association's bill.
License-holders are not required to have police training, and 10 hours of target practice is not sufficient for carrying a weapon into an environment as complex as a college campus. On the other hand, campus police are continually trained to take out active shooters on sight, equipping them to end a situation quickly without waiting for SWAT to arrive. By putting additional handguns into the campus environment, Texas risks slowing police response to a shooting, and thus increasing the death toll.
Rather than pushing more guns onto college campuses and trying to react to violence, we should work harder to prevent shootings. Simply reacting to such situations will not stop them from happening again. A policy of reaction is like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches.
Mental health is a major factor in school shootings. In almost every case, there have been friends, sometimes teachers, who knew the shooter was troubled and likely dangerous. In many cases — as in the Whitman shooting at UT and the Virginia Tech shooting — the gunman asked for help, then fell through the cracks. Among other things, Texas public universities have set up behavioral concerns hotlines to report troubled students to the proper authorities.
Texas could also do more to keep guns away from dangerous people in the first place. Felons and the dangerously mentally ill can buy semi-automatic handguns and AK-47s from private sellers at Texas gun shows with no background check required and no questions asked.
Worse still, the most recent available data show Texas supplies just 55 percent of its felony records to the Brady criminal background check system. And while Virginia has supplied over 100,000 records of its dangerously mentally ill to this system, Texas has submitted just 7, according to the most recent data available. How many thousands of dangerous individuals have also slipped through the cracks because the state hasn't done its duty to protect public safety?
The way to prevent bullets from flying in college classrooms is not to send more bullets flying. Strengthening the mental health system, supporting campus police departments and requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales will be more effective at preventing the next shooting — in Texas and nationwide.
Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting, works with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Habtu is a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting. Samaha is the brother of Virginia Tech victim Reema Samaha. Woods is a UT graduate student whose girlfriend was killed at Virginia Tech.