Monthly Archives: July 2015

Students and Guns in the United States: What is the ‘Concealed Carry on Campus’ movement?

The last post explored the feelings of blame aimed at the ban on allowing staff and students to carry concealed firearms at Virginia Tech University. This post intends to expand upon this idea of an individual being responsible for their own safety, detailing what the ‘concealed carry on campus’ movement actually entails. Concealed carry laws at public colleges and universities generally fall into three categories: completely banning firearms on campus, including for ‘concealed carry permit’ holders; allowing individual institutions to determine whether to allow concealed carry on campus through mandatory or discretionary policies; allowing permit holders to carry their weapons on campus. Overall, thirty and nineteen states follow into the second and third categories respectively. (1) The movement known as ‘concealed carry on campus’ aims to achieve the third category of allowing students and staff to carry concealed firearms at public colleges and universities.
The official reports sanctioned by the government after the Virginia Tech shooting recommended that educational institutions continue to prohibit guns in campus. (2) Despite this advice, there were still a number of concealed carry on campus proposals after the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy. In 2008, Utah’s state Supreme Court concluded that, in order to comply with state law, higher and further education institutes did not have the authority to ban on guns on campus and so it became legally viable. The Utah case then became a model for other proposals in seventeen states in 2008, all of which failed. In 2013, five states introduced bills to forbidden concealed firearms on campus; however, all of these failed. At the present time, the states of Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin now allow concealed carry on campus.(3)
Further complicating matters are two United States Supreme Court cases putting some legal parameters on this debate: the Heller (2008)ruling maintained that the second amendment protected an individual’s right to a firearm in the home; whilst McDonald (2010) incorporated this right into the laws of states and localities, so any policies have to take this into account. Further complicating matters, the Heller ruling did not specify whether the right to carry firearms for self-defence purposes applied only to the home. The Heller and McDonald rulings also favoured retaining concealed carry bans in ‘sensitive places’ like government buildings and schools. Of particular interest in the ‘ concealed carry campus debate’ is that educational institutions fall under the rubric of ‘sensitive places’ as defined by Heller; however, at the same time, it is unclear whether this only applies to K-12 schooling where minors are present. The fact that colleges and universities do hold K-12 field trips and education camps and so forth may strengthen the ‘sensitive places’ argument.(4)
Consequently, it remains to be seen whether this movement will gain legislative traction in a post-Heller world. Despite this, the fear driving the desire to have concealed firearms on campus is ever-present — the next few blog posts will further elucidate the linkages between fear and this movement.

[This blog post was put together by reading the works of legal scholars and findings from the National Conference of State Legislatures. The next few blog posts will interrogate this movement further, looking at the reasons why people support it and the possible problems with the reality of allowing concealed firearms at colleges and universities.]

(1) See: L. M. Wasserman, ‘Gun Control on College and University Campuses in the Wake of District of Columbia V. Heller and McDonald V. City of Chicago,’ Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law 19(1), 2011: 4, 6. It is important to note that these restrictions apply to state-sponsored colleges and universities; hence, private institutions determine their own restrictions.
(2) Leavitt, Michael O., Alberto R. Gonzales, and Margaret Spelling (2007) ‘Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy.’ 13 June, Washington, D.C.:U.S. Department of Justice
Virginia Tech Review Panel. (2009) ‘Mass shootings at Virginia Tech April 16, 2007: Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel presented to Timothy M. Kaine, Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia (updated edition)’ November. Available at: http://www.governor.virginia.gov/tempcontent/techPanelReport-docs/VT_Addendum_12-2-2009.pdf
(3) National Conference of State Legislatures.(2015) ‘Guns on Campus: An Overview.’ Available at: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/guns-on-campus-overview.aspx
(4) For further information, consult the following scholars: Joan H. Miller, ‘The Second Amendment Goes to College,’ Seattle University Law Review 35, 2011: 248; J. E. Pratt, ‘A First Amendment-Inspired Approach to Heller’s “Schools” and “Government Buildings,’ Nebraska Law Review 92, 2013: 618, 620; M. Rogers, ‘Guns on Campus: Continuing Controversy,’ Journal of College and University Law 38(3), 2012: 665; M. L. Smith, ‘Second Amendment Challenges to Student Housing Firearms Bans: The Strength of the Home Analogy,’ Law Review 60, 2013, 1053.

“An armed student could have saved so many lives”: Blaming the Virginia Tech Shootings on the Concealed Carry Ban

The quote in the title exemplifies the idea circulating in online discourses[1] that the 32 tragic deaths at the Virginia Tech University shooting could have been prevented if students and staff had been permitted to carry concealed firearms on campus. This is explicated in statements such as these: “If only one person in that classroom had been armed, he might not have killed so many”; “One law-abiding armed citizen could have taken down the shooter after the first couple of shots.” Through speculative propositions with reference to the term ‘armed,’ it may be inferred that the circumstances shaping this are the lack of firearms. To some degree, online commentators blame ‘regulatory failures,’ where the ban in place is held accountable for students not being able to take the ‘appropriate precautions’[2] of carrying firearms to campus.

To take this argument further, for many users, the shooting at Virginia Tech represents an example of what can transpire when students are not allowed to carry weapons: “People thought Virginia Tech was safe, didn’t they?”; “Virginia Tech…enough said”; “Look at what happened at Virginia Tech.” The theorist Ferraro did say that fear of crime involves an “emotional response of dread or anxiety to crime or symbols a person associates with crime.”[3] It could be said that the shooting at Virginia Tech evokes images of horror and dread and is a ‘buzzword’ for the ‘worst gun massacre ever.’ Further to this, it appears that second-hand understandings of what took place at Virginia Tech — such as students hiding under desks waiting to be saved — are allowing for such perceptions to crystallise in a number of users.

In a similar vein, a video containing an interview with Virginia Tech survivor, Colin Goddard, who has worked with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led to outrage and anger from a lot of online debaters. Some displayed incredulity that Colin was against concealed carry on campus, stating that it was these rules which prevented him and his peers from ‘defending themselves.’ Such a sentiment was echoed by the Gun Owners of America’s Executive Director, Larry Pratt, who stated in the immediate aftermath of the shooting: “All the school shootings that have ended abruptly in the last ten years were stopped because a law-abiding citizen — a potential victim — had a gun…”[4] The terminology used here is indicative of an idealistic stance that a ‘law-abiding citizen’ was able to prevent themselves from becoming a ‘victim.’ The ‘solution’ to the problem is deemed by some to be allowing for concealed carry on campus — this will discussed in the next blog post.

[This post was put together using the results from critical discourse analyses of comment threads in thirty-two YouTube videos relating to the Virginia Tech shooting and the concealed carry on campus movement. The blog posts over this and next month will further explore the discussions around this movement and school shootings.]

[1] These came in the form of comments on thirty-two YouTube videos filtered as the ‘most relevant’ to the terms ‘Virginia Tech shooting’ and ‘concealed carry on campus.’ Please refer to the blog posted on the 15th October 2014 regarding the usefulness of YouTube in research projects.

[2] This is discussed as a way to avert and negate crime in the following source: Elias, R. (1986) The Politics of Victimization: Victims, Victimology and Human Rights. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 72, 87.

[3] Ferraro, K. F. (1995) Fear of Crime: Interpreting Victimization Risk. New York: University of New York Press, 179.

[4] As quoted in the following press release: Gun Owners of America (GOA) (April 2007) ‘Virginia Tech Shooting — Gun Bans Are The Problem, Not The Solution.’ Available at: http://www.gunowners.org/pr0704.html.