Category Archives: Gun Legislation

“You are responsible for protecting yourself”: Fear, Anxieties and Concealed Carry on Campus

The quote in the title exemplifies the feeling at the crux of the concealed carry on campus movement that individuals are responsible for defending themselves against threats like school shooters. The blogs posted throughout July and August 2015 detailed the contributory factors leading to this assumption. This post will summarise the various facets of these discussions.

To begin with, YouTube debates found that users commonly blamed the high death toll of thirty-two staff and students at Virginia Tech University in 2007 on the institution’s ban on concealed firearms. Since this school shooting is commonly referred to as the deadliest in U.S. history, it seems to epitomise what can transpire if students and staff are not armed at the time of a shooting. In a similar vein, commentators on YouTube drew upon their knowledge of other school shootings to make the case for arming students as a way to ‘take down’ the shooter before a high number of people are killed. Such sentiments have been translated into legislative proposals, with eighteen states debating whether to allow students to carry concealed firearms at colleges and universities in the year following the Virginia Tech shooting. Consequently, most of these did not pass and seven states currently allow concealed carry on campus; although it is probable that the number of states where it is legal may increase in future.

The next dimension to the argument is the anxiety around college and university campuses being targeted by shooters. The socially constructed term ‘gun free zone’ was utilised to describe a public location where citizens cannot legally carry firearms, with most educational institutions falling under that standard. Users discussing this on YouTube felt that these ‘gun free zones’ would be purposefully targeted by criminals because of the lack of armed defence. Such a perception disregards the role of law enforcement in dealing with active shooter scenarios; this, however, is explained by the lack of trust in the abilities of law enforcement displayed by YouTube users. Notably, the general feeling seemed to be that ‘law enforcement will not adequately protect citizens and are just there to clean up the crime scene.’ Users remarked that individuals are within the situation and police just respond to it, frequently quoting the notion that ‘when seconds matter, police are just minutes away.’ Previous school shootings with high death tolls have probably contributed to this perception, with people feeling that the police were not there in time to save the lives lost on those occasions.

Combining all these elements gives the following scenario forms the perception that: 1) ‘gun free zones’ will face threats from criminals; 2) without concealed carry on campus, potential victims will be unable to defend themselves; 3) law enforcement will not protect them and will just ‘clean up the crime scene.’ Extrapolating from this it is not a far stretch to see how this leads into the ‘solution’ of concealed carry permit holders taking firearms to class to avert and negate any potential threats of criminal activity and extreme violence — the next blog will outline the problems with this perceived solution.

[The blog was put together using the findings from posts published throughout July and August 2015, most of which utilized results from analyses of YouTube comments from relevant videos. The next post will detail challenges to the concealed carry on campus argument.]

“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.

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.

“These people [school shooters]: they’re seriously mentally ill, they’re hearing voices”: Will redefining the criteria for prohibited gun owners reduce school shootings?

The quote cited in the title, said by one of the experts on gun-related legislation I interviewed, highlights the difference of school shootings from other types of gun violence in the U.S. A commonality in school shootings and other types of spree incidents does tend to be mental illness: the Virginia Tech University shooting (2007); the Northern Illinois University shooting (2008); the mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona (2011); the Aurora Theatre shooter in Colorado (2012); the ‘Navy Yard’ shootings in Washington, D.C. (2013). In all of these examples, the perpetrators legally procured firearms: my gun violence prevention interviewees claimed that this was due to limitations in existing laws.

One interviewee pointed to the restrictiveness of the criteria for disqualification under the federal-level “Gun Control Act” (1968): being admitted to a psychiatric institution or being formally adjudicated by a court as a danger. For instance, the Virginia Tech shooter was prohibited from purchasing firearms under federal law; however, because he had only ‘temporarily detained’ at a mental institute rather than ‘committed,’ he was able to circumvent the federal restrictions and be eligible to buy firearms under state law at that time. Following the attack, the Governor of Virginia, using executive order, changed the law to prescribe that anyone found to be a danger to themselves or others by a court-ordered review — regardless of whether or not it was voluntary — should be prohibited. It was suggested by another interviewee that the specific criteria for firearm purchase exclusion at both the federal and state levels should mandate a broader scope of the threat posed by individuals, based on their history and whether they have expressed intentions to harm themselves or others.

Citizens themselves could also play a part by monitoring those closest to them and taking precautions to ensure untoward things do not happen, suggested one of my interviewees. This is particularly relevant when considering the Sandy Hook elementary school shooter had severe mental illness, yet was able to access his mother’s firearms to kill her and the victims at the school. The careful monitoring of those closest to them could also encourage those with mental illnesses to seek treatment before they carry out violent actions. Notably, the Virginia Tech school shooter (2007) did not pursue treatment on his own; rather, it was his remark to his suitemates “I might as well kill myself” that resulted in him getting mentally assessed.

In order to put mental health on the government agenda, interviewees recommended framing it as a ‘public health issue’ centred on school and other types of mass shootings. The issue of mental health and guns would then have to be based on a reconceptualisation of public safety based on the increasing number of mass shooting incidents, particularly those where the perpetrator legally procured a gun despite a history of mental illness. When it comes to school shooters, it is possible that putting barriers in the way of those who are mentally ill and have the potential to act violently could allow for interventionary efforts to help the individual before it culminates in a shooting incident.

[This blog used results from interviews with representatives from gun violence prevention groups and other experts in gun-related legislation. Further adding to this post were studies about the legal changes after the Virginia Tech shooting and general readings about past mass/school shooting incidents. The next blog post will examine how emergency management could play a part in reducing the severity of school shootings.]

“There’s nothing stopping prohibited persons until we close that background check loophole”: Will universal background checks prevent school shootings?

The quotation in the title was said by one of my gun violence prevention (GVP) interviewees. This is due to a loophole in the federal-level law the Brady Bill (1994), allowing background checks to be foregone in private transactions between individuals (such as classified advertisements) and at places like gun shows and flea markets. My GVP interviewees pointed to a lack of transparency surrounding such sales as the main motivation for prohibited persons using them. Notably, a gun show is where the Columbine perpetrators obtained three of their weapons. Robyn Anderson, a ‘straw buyer’ for the shooters who purchased the guns and then transferred them, admitted that she would not have done so had there been paperwork to fill out One of the shooters, Eric Harris, had been legally old enough to purchase the three long guns obtained. Presumably, then the Columbine shooters went through the ‘straw purchase’ method with Robyn Anderson to avoid alerting anyone to their plans. The fact that it facilitated preparations for this particular school shooting makes one think closing the gun show loophole federally — which would then act as a baseline for all the states to compile with —should at least be considered as a policy option.

A number of research studies have pointed out that ‘closing the gun show loophole’ only goes a limited way to solving the problem, as it is only addressing a small portion of private sales. (1) Taking this argument further, the interviewee quoted in the titled explained that those prohibited from buying and owning guns could also use the internet, newspaper advertisements and personal connections to circumvent the restriction. With this in mind, my gun-related interviewees overall believed that universal background checks would reduce school shootings and the more commonplace gun violence deaths, meaning it is the law which will save the most lives.

The post-Sandy Hook grassroots momentum pertaining to background checks has been described by one of my interviewees as ‘palpable,’ with it “all coming down to ‘let’s do the background checks’” for all GVP groups, which should generate solidarity and improve their chances of success. Despite not having a clear link to background checks, Sandy Hook has mobilised public support for this policy measure. This is evident in the introduction of a universal background checks bill into the Senate in spring 2013 shows this issue has been identified and acted upon. The bill failed by a narrow margin; however, interviewees were hopeful this will be successful if reintroduced in future.

Universal background checks also get the highest level of public support than any other regulatory measure. A nationwide poll carried out by the Pew Research Center found that 85% of 1500 adults supported universal background checks. (2) This support is not particularly partisan either: 86% of Republican and 92% of Democrat supporters were in favour of universal background checks. (3) It seems, therefore, that despite its divorcement from the Sandy Hook shooting itself, background check support has increased as a result of it.

This measure appears to have a higher chance of gaining public backing because it does not affect gun owners in any way: it is about regulating who can buy and own guns, rather than controlling guns themselves. This is reflected in high, non-partisan levels of public support. To sum up, universal background checks appears to be an objective that all GVP groups and politicians can get behind because it focuses on the users of guns rather than controlling guns themselves.

[This blog was put together using material from interviews with GVP groups and attendance at related events, polls and information about the ‘Brady Bill’ legislation. The next blog will look at redefining the criteria for prohibited persons in relation to mental illness, which is a common factor in school shootings.]

(1) Webster, D. W., J. S. Vernick, E. W. McGinty and T. Alcorn. (2013) ‘Preventing the Diversion of Guns to Criminals through effective Firearm Sales Laws.’ In D. W. Webster and J. S. Vernick. Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 109-121.
Wintemute, G.J. (2013a) ‘Comprehensive Background Checks for Firearm Sales: Evidence from Gun Shows.’ In D. W. Webster and J. S. Vernick. Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 95-107.
(2) Cited in Page, S. (2013) ‘Poll spots activism in gun control debate.’ USA Today, 15th January, News 6A (hard copy).
(3) McGinty, E. E., D. W. Webster, J. S. Vernicle, and C. L. Barry. (2013) ‘Public Opinion on Proposals to Strengthen U.S. Gun Laws: Findings from a 2013 Survey.’ In D. W. Webster and J. S. Vernick. Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 239-257.

“I think we should forget about more gun control, what we need is bullet control”(1): Could regulation of bullets reduce school shootings?

A neglected aspect of the gun debate in the U.S. is the notion of ‘bullet control’: this would take the form of conducting background checks for buying ammunition. The selling point is if someone owned a gun and became ineligible after committing a felony, this would prevent them from buying ammunition for that gun. Since ideology has been defined as an interest-linked perspective, there exists a ‘struggle for legitimacy’ (i.e. confirmation of that particular ideological perspective) predicated on existing divisions within society (2). Something like ‘bullet control,’ therefore, could possibly depoliticise the issue away from the debate on ‘gun rights’ and ‘gun control.’ A number of my interviewees, however, were sceptical about this being a way to circumvent the politics of gun regulation, believing the National Rifle Association would fight against it.

Ammunition regulation used to be a part of the federal-level ‘Gun Control Act’ (1968) prohibiting mail order sales and requiring a log of ammunition sales. This ended, however, in 1986 due to the ‘Firearm Owners’ Protection Act’ diluting elements of the 1968 law. This means it will now fall to individual states to make decisions regarding the regulation of ammunition. California, for example, has just implemented a law mandating: the marking of bullets, background checks for purchases, and recording buyer information. Notably, the gun violence prevention groups to whom I spoke indicated that California was the progressive ‘model’ for gun regulations to aspire to, as this state is able to take further steps than the rest of the nation. As a whole, California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York require licenses to purchase or possess ammunition.

Suggestions were made from gun violence prevention groups about regulating the quantities of bullets able to be sold. This seems particularly applicable to school shootings since the Virginia Tech shooter carried almost four hundred bullets with him; whilst the Columbine perpetrators fired almost two hundred rounds and wore utility belts containing clips of 9mm bullets. Taxation of bullets was dismissed as a viable strategy, however, since mass shooters are unlikely to be deterred from their goal based on the cost of ammunition. An alternative strategy is perhaps New York’s recent law requiring logs of purchases, so the police can be informed if someone is stockpiling bullets.

Another recommendation was restricting bullets that increase the severity of wounds. There seems to be a link between harm-inducing bullets and school shootings. The Virginia Tech shooter used 9mm ‘hollow point bullets,’ which penetrate further parts of the body rather than exiting it and are designed to inflict higher levels of damage than ordinary bullets. Similarly, the Sandy Hook shooter used bullets the same size as those used by military troops designed to tear bone and tissue apart. Tighter regulations of these could, at the very least, serve to reduce the severity of injuries in a school shooting situation; henceforth, framing the problem in terms of medical costs. Furthermore, a legal scholar (3) claimed that limiting certain bullets, such as .50 calibre ones, would be constitutional because it would not affect self-defence; meaning this is definitely something which could viably be pursued as a legislative goal.

[This blog was compiled through a number of sources: interviews with gun violence prevention groups and other experts in matters relating to gun legislation; studies by legal scholars; data about state laws. The next blog post will look at using YouTube as a tool to analyse school shootings.]

(1) The quote in the title appeared in episode ‘2162 Votes’ (2005) in season seven of the fictional television show The West Wing.
(2) Philo, G. (2007) ‘Can Discourse Analysis Successfully Explain the Content of Media and Journalistic Practice?’ Journalism Studies 8(2), 175-196.
(3) Volokh, E. (2009) ‘Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-Defense: An Analytical Framework and Research Agenda.’ UCLA Law Review 56, 1443-1549.

Sandy Hook and the Arming Teachers Debate

In the blog published on the 30th April 2014, the impact of the Sandy Hook school shooting (2012) on provoking calls to tighten up gun legislation in the United States was deliberated. On the other hand, it also led to legislative proposals in twelve states to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in elementary, middle and high schools. The rationale behind this ‘arming teachers’ movement by those promoting it is that it would allow teachers to defend against future school shooters, preventing one occurring through deterrence or limiting the death toll if one should transpire. A small town in Texas, Harrold, trained a number of teachers and allow them to carry concealed weapons, purporting that this will be a safer solution than a uniformed security guard, given the identities of the armed teachers will be hidden.
Markedly, the emergence of this is relative to a particular social and historical context. Following the Columbine school shooting, there were only sporadic mentions of arming teachers, which were quickly dismissed. Following the Sandy Hook shooting, however, it seems this issue has begun to be accepted as a viable solution to the problem of school shootings. Analysing YouTube videos on this topic finds that some users blamed the high death toll of the Sandy Hook shooting (six educators and twenty children) on the ban on concealed carry at the elementary school, claiming that an armed teacher could have neutralised the shooter; and, henceforth, that allowing teachers to be armed in schools would negate any future school shootings. This policy response is part of the legacy of fear discussed in an earlier blog and draws upon a neoliberal interpretation of self-defence, where ‘individual responsibility,’ as encompassed by the armed teachers, is paramount.
Despite its straightforward premise of armed teachers prevent school shootings, this issue is a bit more complicated in reality and likely to polarise the American public. Although some parents may feel safer knowing teachers at their children’s schools are armed, it could have the opposite effect on others. There may be teachers, who will feel safer knowing they are carrying weapons; whilst others could be overwhelmed at the onus for saving students and possibly having to shoot one (most school shooters are internal attackers) being put on them. Additionally, an insurance attorney speaking at ‘The Briefings’ in summer 2013, outlined the possible general liability insurance problems associated with arming teachers, due to the possibility of accidental discharge or students stealing the guns. He also maintained that the parameters for self-defence need to be clarified for armed teachers: should teachers use guns to break up physical fights between students or would it be limited to incidents involving weapons; would it also apply off school grounds, such as field trips, sports games at neighbouring schools; is there a possibility the teacher would be held liable if they failed to act in a situation and someone was wounded or killed. There is also the issue of the Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010) Supreme Court rulings, which stipulated restrictions on concealed carry of firearms should still apply to ‘sensitive places’ like schools. Any future Supreme Court rulings centring on this issue should define the parameters of ‘sensitive places,’ so the issue is clear for both supporters and opponents of arming teachers.

[The findings for this blog were taken from research conducted on social media, background reading and the insurance attorney’s presentation at ‘The Briefings.’ Special thanks go to the organisers of ‘The Briefings.’ ]