The back-to-back shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4, followed by a third in Odessa, Texas, on Aug. 31 have kicked the gun control debate into high gear. As gun reform activists continue to push for stricter background checks and banning assault weapons, some people might not be aware of campus carry laws at their own local universities and colleges. Is this news to you? Well, here's what to know about campus gun laws, and how you can find out if your university allows them.
If you're surprised to hear that guns are allowed on many college campuses, well, it's understandable. Federal law bans guns on K-12 campuses under the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which criminalized possessing a firearm in school zones with the exception of acting law enforcement (and, in some states, those who hold a concealed carry permit). However, these laws don't apply to higher education campuses. Across the nation, 12 states openly allow students to carry firearms on campus, with two states — Colorado and Utah — requiring schools to allow those with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms everywhere on campus. Meanwhile, 17 states plus Washington, D.C., do not allow firearms on campus grounds. The remaining 21 states states leave it up to the university or college to decide.
In many places, campus carry laws have been the subject of controversy and debate from students and the public, with organizations such as advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety speaking out against the policy. "Universities are supposed to be the birthplaces of innovation and problem-solving, where people gather to figure out how to cure society's ills," Jessica Jin, a gun safety activist who organized 2016's "Cocks Not Glocks" protest at University of Texas, Austin, tells Elite Daily. The protest used public display of sex toys to push back against the concealed carry gun policy on campus. Jin calls campus carry a "caveman" solution and notes that a gun in the hand of an untrained person can be more dangerous than beneficial. "With minimal training, your chances of doing more harm than good in a crowded classroom are high," she says.
Dr. Alex McCourt, an assistant scientist at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who is affiliated with the school's Center for Gun Policy and Research, notes that universities allowing firearms on campus coincide with states loosening concealed carry regulations in general.
"It follows overall general trends in the United States on deregulating concealed carry," McCourt tells Elite Daily in an interview. "Since the '80s and '90s, there's been a big push to deregulate in public, specifically concealed carry. My understanding is that universities have followed that trend."
However, even in those states where guns are allowed on campus, that doesn't mean that every student will be packing heat. In most cases, an individual must be 21 years or older to apply for a concealed carry permit. Some states will allow an individual to possess a firearm at the age of 18 as long as they received permission from a parent or legal guardian. However, enforcing legal permits, or checking the validity of concealed carry permits, also comes with its own set of problems.
"It's very difficult to determine whether or not someone has a weapon, and if they do, whether or not they're allowed to have it," McCourt says, even if someone has a permit. "It's difficult for campus law enforcement to perhaps determine when they can check to see if someone has a gun or whether or not it's legal. These are concerns that people haven't really looked into yet."
Some students see campus carry as a safety issue. Thomas Filbert, Ohio State University campus leader for Students for Concealed Carry, believes the advantages of campus carry outweigh the possible danger. "Campus is an open and freely accessible space," Fillbert tells Elite Daily by email. "Allowing students who have a [concealed handgun license] and have undergone a thorough background investigation, submitted fingerprints to the local county sheriff, and completed a training and certification class to carry a firearm on campus serves as a deterrent to criminals, as it creates doubt in their mind as to their own safety." He says as a student, he heard from around two people per month who were "raped, groped, or robbed" either on or off campus. Per the U.S. Department of Education's Campus Safety and Security database, 11,210 campuses across the country reported a total of 38,100 criminal offenses in 2017, for an average of 3.39 reports per campus that year.
While universities may allow firearms in accordance with state gun laws or beliefs that it will reduce crime on campus, there are other factors these institutions should be considering. College can be a stressful time for many young adults as they try to balance schoolwork, social activities, and a new environment. According to a 2018 assessment from the American College Health Association, 63% of U.S. college students admitted to feeling extreme stress and anxiety while in school. Combine that with the fact that nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicides, per Everytown for Gun Safety, and the implications are troubling. McCourt warns that accessibility to firearms should have universities concerned for students, stress, and mental health.
"Suicidal behavior peaks in your teens, but the risk of suicide remains high through 25, and there's a lot of mental health conditions that arise during that time period," McCourt states. Per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2017, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for youth aged 15 to 19. In 2016, firearms were the second-leading method of suicide. "It can be a particularly tricky time to introduce stressors, whether it be school-related stressors or relationship-related stressors. So, throwing a particularly lethal means of self harm into the mix can be dangerous," McCourt says. "[That's something] universities should be thinking a lot more about with respect [to] allowing firearms on campus."
If you're wondering what's up with your school, here are the states that do, or don't, allow campus carry. If you're curious about your school in particular, check your student handbook.