“Gun-free zones are killing zones”: Anxiety about School Shootings and the ‘Concealed Carry on Campus’ Movement

At the crux of the ‘concealed carry on campus’ debate, discussed in the last two blog posts, is the notion of the ‘gun free zone’: a public place where guns cannot currently be carried by citizens. It tends to be the case that following a mass shooting incident, some argue that the shooter(s) chose this location because of the lack of ‘armed resistance’; conversely, others maintain that forbidding gun in certain public places is a safety measure. This post will further explore the first line of argument as it pertains to the feelings of fear and anxiety around school shootings.

As it transpired, in the sample of YouTube comments I assessed, there were thirty comments encompassing the notion that criminals purposely target gun free zones: “Shooters attack schools because they are an easy target”; “‘Gun free zones’ are an invitation for criminals.” Additionally, some YouTube users drew upon knowledge of previous school shooting events and argued that the lack of armed resistance encouraged the shooters to perpetrate their attack there. A similar argument was made by the executive director of Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt, in a news release following the shooting at Virginia Tech University:

Pertinent here is GOA’s framing with the terms ‘deadly’ and ‘dangerous,’ presenting the gun ban as being responsible for harm caused in shootings taking place in educational establishments — this is a one-sided assessment, for it fails to take into account the potential violence that gun bans in education institutions do prevent. The interest group in favour of allowing firearms on campuses, Students for Concealed Carry, made a similar argument: “‘Gun free zones’ serve to disarm only those law-abiding citizens who might otherwise be able to protect themselves.”(2) It, therefore, appears that the notion of a ‘gun-free zone’ has been socially constructed to infer a site where people are particularly vulnerable to attack.

‘Gun free zones’ being commonly described as ‘soft’ and ‘easy targets,’ henceforth, paved the way for the notion that people will be ‘defenceless’ in ‘gun-free zones,’ with YouTube users making statements like: “The fact that we aren’t allowed to carry here forces us to be a victim”; “Gun free zones equals killing zones.” These YouTube commentators are, henceforth, equating potential victimhood with being in a ‘gun-free zone.’ The implications of this fear are covered in comments from users surmising they would be helpless in a school shooting scenario:

“How is hiding behind my desk listening to my classmates scream and hoping that the police, who are minutes away, will arrive in time to save me the best way to defend myself?”

Such statements evoke the actor’s own subjective interpretation of the physical environment and risk of victimisation affect their fear of that particular crime. (3) The main conclusion to draw from this frame is a general feeling of helplessness that there is no way to negate the threat. Key here is the anticipation of threats: even though they are horrific when they occur, school shootings are actually quite rare within the wider spectrum of gun violence; it, hence, appears that people are overestimating the risks. Moreover, this ‘probability neglect’ can thereafter lead to ‘affect rich’ reactions where people take unnecessary precautions for the level of threat posed. In the case of school shootings, key to the feelings of susceptibility to attack is the notion of not being able to control the crime should it transpire. (4) Taking all this into consideration, it is not insurmountable to see how this would then translate into concealed carry on campus as the ‘solution’ to the problem — the next blog post will explore why individuals do not trust law enforcement to protect them.

[This blog post was put together using analyses of YouTube comments from a selection of 32 videos relating to the Virginia Tech school shooting and the concealed carry on campus movement. Also examined were the press releases and statements from Gun Owners of America and Students for Concealed Carry respectively. Literature relating to fear of crime was utilised to assess the findings. Future blog posts will continue this area of discussion.]

  • (1) 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.htm
  • (2) Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. (n.d.) ‘About: Who We Are.’ Available at: http://concealedcampus.org/about/
  • (3) Ferraro, K. F. (1995) Fear of Crime: Interpreting Victimization Risk. New York: University of New York, 9.
  • (4) Information taken from reading the following sources: Sacco, V. F.and W. Glockman. ‘Vulnerability, Locus of Control and Worry about Crime.’ Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 6(1) (1987): 99-111; Sunstein, C. R. (2005) Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Warr, M. (2000) ‘Fear of Crime in the United States: Avenues for Research and Policy.’ Measurement and Analysis of Crime and Justice.
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