“Campus carry” is a fraught and contentious topic these days—a professor at Wichita State recently resigned over that school’s firearms policy, while the Michigan Court of Appeals recently upheld the University of Michigan’s gun ban—but one college professor claims that we’re going about this debate in the wrong way.
At InsideHigherEd, Erik Gilbert, who is a professor of history at Arkansas State University, argues that, contra the prevailing narrative, “campus carry is not about preventing mass shootings.” The debate, he claims should be “primarily about the individual right to self-defense and self determination.”
Gilbert points to a legislative battle in Arkansas over HB 1249, the state’s “campus carry” bill. “One of the issues in play,” he writes, “was the content of the additional training that would be imposed on people who wished to carry on campuses.” Such training included “active-shooter training, active-shooter simulation scenarios, trauma care and defensive tactics, among other things.” Such training, Gilbert argues, would render campus carriers “virtually junior members of the local SWAT team.”
“[I] don’t think concealed carriers are likely to make effective interventions in mass shootings. Nor do I think the presence of concealed weapons is likely to hinder the response to a mass shootings,” Gilbert writes. “…I think the focus on mass shootings distracts us from the best arguments for campus carry, which should be primarily about the individual right to self-defense and self-determination — not about the ability or inability of concealed carriers to protect others from events like mass shootings.”
It’s instructive to look at a real-life example. During the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon — where campus carry is legal — several people who were present legally carried guns. None of them used their guns, and all seem to have done what everyone else did at the time: they cleared out in a hurry.
Why didn’t those armed students intervene? First, it’s terrifying to get shot at, and, as John Keegan’s The Face of Battle tells us, most people, when faced with a deadly threat and an avenue of escape, choose to flee rather than to fight. It’s people who are trapped and cannot flee who stand their ground and fight. Had the gunman trapped any of the concealed carriers in a room or corner, things might have turned out differently.
We should also keep in mind the types of weapons that concealed carriers bring with them. People who are less familiar with guns may assume that concealed carriers are armed in much the same way that the police are armed. They are not.
To be sure, some concealed carriers do lug around full-size pistols and extra ammunition. But those guns are heavy, bulky and uncomfortable to conceal. In practice, most concealed carriers favor easily concealed five-shot revolvers and pocket-sized autoloaders. While those types of guns are well suited to close-range self-defense, they are hard to shoot accurately beyond about 10 yards.
If you found yourself facing an active shooter armed with a rifle or even a full-size pistol in a large space like a library or student union, that little revolver with its two-inch barrel is going to feel pretty inadequate. It’s totally unreasonable to expect someone to take on a heavily armed shooter in such a scenario.
Police officers, Gilbert claims, are overwhelmingly more likely to be able to handle an active shooter situation than the average concealed carrier.
Framing campus carry as a matter of individual rights thus makes perfect sense, Gilbert argues. “The only valid objection to legally carried guns on campus,” he claims, “would be if the presence of those guns posed a significant danger to people other than those who carry them.” And given that expanded gun and carry rights over the past who decades have coincided with fewer gun murders and gun accidents, “it’s hard to make the case that concealed carry poses a significant threat to others.”