“The more rounds you can fire…the more victims you can create”: Restricting High Capacity Magazines

The quotation in the title was stated by one of the gun violence prevention experts to whom I spoke, highlighting the potential deadliness of high-capacity magazines. Due to their potential to fire off multiple rounds without the need to reload, these are commonly used in school shootings, as well as other incidents involving multiple deaths: for instance, the shooter in the Aurora cinema in Colorado, an event which killed 12 and injured 70, had a magazine that was able to fire off a hundred rounds. This blog post will advance the argument that the high death toll in school and other mass shootings is related to high capacity magazines.

The definition of a ‘school shooting’ denotes an intention to kill and injure as many people in an education institution as possible in a short period of time. It could, thus, be argued that high capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons, allowing for multiple rounds to be fired, facilitate this process. For instance, the perpetrator of the shooting at Virginia Tech University — considered the worst mass shooting in the United States, due to its high death toll of thirty-two — used a magazine holding thirty bullets and shot his victims, both those killed and injured, multiple times. During the Columbine school shooting, the perpetrators fired almost two hundred rounds; other school massacres from Sandy Hook through to Red Lake have involved the use of semi-automatic weapons to allow for continuous firing. Having the potential to fire multiple rounds pertains exactly to the goals of a school shooter to murder as many as possible.

Another issue to be considered is that when a shooter has to change a magazine, this gives an opportunity for them to be stopped. An example of this is the 2011 mass shooting involving former Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, in Tuscon, Arizona, when the shooter was tackled by individuals when he ran out of bullets and had to change the magazine on his weapon. The Red Lake High school shooting involved a student both grappling with the perpetrator to retrieve his weapon and stabbing him in the stomach with a pencil, heroic actions which are believed to have saved the lives of others. It is unknown whether the shooter was changing magazines at this point; although if he had been, this would have provided the distraction needed to take forceful action against him.

Despite all this, legislative action on limiting high capacity magazines has been slow. President Obama put together a package following the Sandy Hook shooting, which included a proposal to limit magazines to ten rounds. This failed to gain any noticeable support in the Senate, so it was subsequently dropped. Conversely, there is actually a modest degree of public support for limiting large capacity magazines to ten rounds: 68% of those surveyed by McGinty et al. (2013), with 48% being gun owners and 19% members of the National Rifle Association (1). Notably, there was a law implemented in the state of Colorado in 2013 that limited gun ammunition magazines to fifteen rounds. This is particularly significant considering Colorado has suffered a number of mass shootings over the years, including the Columbine and Aurora Theatre incidents. Candidates in the 2012 Colorado election were  asked by citizens about what action they were prepared to take on gun violence, so this was clearly an auspicious moment to try to pass this kind of legislation. There were, however, counterchallenges to the Colorado legislation from Concerned Citizens for a Safer Colorado, claiming it violated the right to self-defence; this group unsuccessfully tried to overturn the magazine limit. In future, it may be the case that it will fall to individual states, rather than the federal government, to enact similar legislation around high capacity magazines.

 

  • 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.

 

[This blog was put together using results from interviews with gun violence prevention experts and further readings pertaining to school shootings and gun legislation. The next series of posts will explore ways to frame the gun violence debate in order to gain policy traction.]

The Dunblane Shooting: A Tragedy Close to Home

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the tragic shooting at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland. This incident involved the murder of sixteen schoolchildren and their teacher, as well as the wounding of fifteen others, perpetrated by Thomas Hamilton. The Dunblane shooting was particularly shocking and horrifying, given mass shootings were — and still are — extremely rare in the United Kingdom.

As mentioned in the blog post published on the 14th of April 2014, the Dunblane incident had a lot of parallels with the school shooting that occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary School in the United States: the victims consisted of female staff members and very young children aged five and six; the attacks were perpetrated by adult males, using hollow point bullets as their ammunition. Although the incidents occurred sixteen years apart, the similarities between them meant a comparison could always be drawn between the earlier tragedy in Dunblane, Scotland and the later one in Newtown, Connecticut. Some of the families of the Sandy Hook victims drew upon support and friendship from a handful of the Dunblane parents. Both incidents were so high-profile and shocking that they gave traction to proposals for gun legislation; although the response in the United Kingdom to the Dunblane shooting was far more notable for its blanket ban on the private ownership of handguns, unless ‘good reasons,’ such as pest control for farmers, could be cited.

At the time of the Dunblane shooting, I was also a primary school student (albeit slightly older than the victims) living in Glasgow, Scotland. The resonance and close geographical proximity of the incident meant I was thereafter scared in school, feeling that another attack was likely at my school. One of my teachers used to ask the class where they would hide in the event of a shooting and options for finding help; this further cemented my theory that a shooting at my school was imminent. I also witnessed the changes made to school security policies in the aftermath of Dunblane. Due to the salience of the memory of that time in my life, the Dunblane incident was something I could never forget. Thankfully, there was never another school shooting attack in Scotland or the United Kingdom as a whole since then. Conversely, the United States suffered a spate of them, starting to really become a trend in the 1990s. School shootings also occurred in other countries, including Canada, Germany and Finland. Being horrified by all of these tragic incidents, I decided that something should be done about the problem. With that in mind, I decided to pursue a research project looking at policy solutions to try to prevent school shootings: this eventually became a doctoral thesis. Even though this particular project is finished, I am still pursuing avenues to find a solution to such a horrific crime. There are still too many children out there who are scared to go to school.

This blog post is dedicated to the victims of the Dunblane shooting, their families and the wider Dunblane community.Those who have lost their lives in Dunblane and all other school shootings should never be forgotten.

[This blog post was put together with further reading about the Dunblane and Sandy Hook shootings. The next posting on the 31st March will return to a discussion about policy proposals.]

Closing the ‘gun show loophole’: Failure to Gain Policy Traction

The previous blog post discussed the legislative changes made after the Virginia Tech shooting as they pertain to mental health monitoring. Following these changes, claimants then began to describe the initial response to the shooting as inadequate. For instance, a TIME article published in April 2008 claimed that “the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by people who are not technically mentally ill” and so “sharing mental health data is not a comprehensive solution.” Conversely, the main issue trying to be pushed by the news media was ‘closing the gun show loophole’ in Congress. This post will discuss the reasons why this policy proposal failed to gain any traction following the Virginia Tech shooting.
Feature article writers surmised about the possibility that, had the mental health loophole not been in place in state law, the Virginia Tech shooter could have circumvented restrictions anyway by purchasing firearms from a gun show. The selections of voices utilised by the news media were relatives of survivors and those killed in the Virginia Tech shooting, with one stating “We are begging the Senate to pass this bill”; a Virginia Tech survivor and activist, Colin Goddard, tried to highlight this issue by himself going to gun shows in Texas, Ohio and Virginia and testing their system. Interest groups specialising in gun violence prevention, such as Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, were ‘selected’ and made their points that ‘easy access’ to firearms was facilitated by the ‘big loophole’ where private dealers can circumvent background checks. There was even a feature article written by a relative of a girl killed during the shooting, which made this point: “I look back over the past 1,097 days since my sister died and wonder how it is still legal for criminals and people with serious mental illness to buy guns without passing a background check.” He carried out a similar experiment to Colin Goddard and was able to purchase ten guns in less than an hour with no background check or identification needed: “It was as easy as buying a bag of chips at a grocery store; simple cash and carry.”
Adhering to the ‘elite dissensus but policy certainty within the executive’ scenario of Robinson’s (2002) model — where the news media puts pressure on the government to change but to no avail — political actors reshaped the debate away from the prospect of gun regulation. (1) At the time of the Virginia Tech shooting, there seemed to be the perception that any form of gun regulation would equate to political failure, particularly in key swing ‘purple’ states like Florida. What transpired after Virginia Tech was that Democrats were said to be ‘silent’ on this issue and, when they did respond, they adopted similar stances to Republicans. For instance, Rahm Emanuel, previously a top aide to Clinton and who had pushed the assault weapons ban, stated: “There are successful laws [already] on the books. They have to be enforced.” This is a way, therefore, for politicians to ‘take action’ to tackle gun violence, without any implementing anything.
Tracing the lack of action back to its origins, prior to Virginia Tech, there was a political climate where Democrats were reluctant to take any action on guns and instead proclaimed their support for gun owners’ rights. In their analysis of post 9/11 news frames, a study by Schnell and Callaghan found that there has been a shift to ‘pro-gun’ sentiment that attempts to deride existing gun regulations. (2) It, therefore, seems that the reason why the media-policy relationship fit the ‘elite dissensus but policy certainty within executive’ state as specified by Robinson’s (2002) model was the political climate at the point in time when Virginia Tech occurred.

[This post was put together by critically assessing a sample of feature articles published up to five years after the Virginia Tech shooting. Relevant studies informed the analysis. The next blog post will focus on the Dunblane Primary School shooting on its twentieth anniversary.]

(1) Robinson, P. (2002) The CNN Effect: The myth of news, foreign policy and intervention. London, New York: Routledge.
(2) Schnell, Frauke and Karen Callaghan. (2005) ‘Terrorism, Media Frames and Framing Effects: A Macro and Micro Level Analysis.’ In Karen Callaghan and Frauke Schnell. Framing American Politics. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 123-147.

Mental Illness, Gun Purchases and Policy Action

The debate around children and guns, as documented in the blog posted on 28/01/16, shifted onto another perceived ‘dangerous’ social group of the mentally ill after the Virginia Tech school shooting. The perpetrator of that attack had been issued with a temporary detention order a year and a half prior to the shooting, where a Virginia magistrate found him to present “an imminent danger to self or others as a result of mental illness.” Under Virginia law, however, because Cho was only “temporarily detained” rather than “committed,” he was able to circumvent the federal restrictions and be eligible to buy firearms.

After this massacre, school and other types of mass shootings were depicted as a problem by the news media via aggregations of those killed by such incidents. The ‘elite consensus’ stance (Robinson 2002) of the media — evident in them supporting changes to mental health criteria — paved the way for political actors to reframe the Virginia Tech shooting into an issue of mental health and needing to improve weaknesses relating to gun purchases in this area. The focus on mental health had more of a chance of gaining policy traction than other gun initiatives suggested by the relatives and survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting: renewing the assault weapon ban and closing the gun show loophole in Virginia and nationally. One ‘remedy’ to the problem (Entman 1993) was directly related to closing the loophole defining prohibited persons that allowed the shooter to legally procure his firearms in the state of Virginia, despite his having been detained at a mental institute. The Governor of Virginia acted upon this recommendation using executive order to change Virginia state law so it encompassed voluntary detainment and treatment by those found to be a danger to themselves and/or others.

The other idea was to improve the federal ‘background checks’ database by encouraging individual states to submit mental health records. There was support from the NRA — typically an opponent to gun regulations — with one anonymous source claiming “we have no problem with mental health records being part of the NICS” and its executive director, Wayne LaPierre, arguing “We’re strongly in support of putting those records in the system.” One ‘counter-voice’ was the gun-rights group Gun Owners of America, who were concerned the bill was “a denial of civil liberty.” Likewise, mental health organisations were concerned about it stigmatising people with mental illness. The chief executive of Mental Health America said the bill was “going to do harm” because it failed to consider that mentally ill people could be treated. The Virginia Citizens Defense League head said that it might discourage people from seeking mental health treatment. As it transpired, the president signed into law, the ‘NICS Improvement Amendments Act’ (2008), strengthening the ability of the Attorney General to procure information from federal agencies and departments regarding prohibited persons, requiring annual reports are provided to Congress, and authorizing incentives for states, tribes and court systems to provide records for the NICS. Financial grants totalling almost forty million dollars were divided up and awarded to twenty-five states from 2009-2011. The ‘counter-movements’ (Klocke and Muschert 2010) were not powerful enough to resist this action, likely because the ‘elite consensus’ scenario was in place where both the media and the government were in agreement about the actions to be taken (Robinson 2002), and had additional support from typical opponents like the NRA.

 

[This blog post was put together using analyses of news media coverage and policy debates around the time of the Virginia Tech shooting; alongside literature about policy framing and the ‘CNN model.’ The next blog post will continue this theme, by documenting the lack of traction on a particular gun policy after the Virginia Tech shooting.]

 

  • Entman Robert M. (1993) ‘Framing: toward clarification of a fractured paradigm.’ Journal of Communication 43(4), 51-58.
  • Klocke, Brian and Glenn W. Muschert. (2010) ‘A Hybrid Model of Moral Panics: Synthesizing the Theory and Practice of Moral Panic Research.’ Sociology Compass 4(5), 295-309.
  • Robinson, P. (2002) The CNN Effect: The myth of news, foreign policy and intervention. London, New York: Routledge.

 

Children, Gun Policy and School Shootings: A Lack of Action

In order to assess the linkage between news media coverage and subsequent policy proposals, the ‘CNN model’ is a useful starting point, allowing for the identification of “instances when media coverage comes to play a significant role in persuading policy-makers to pursue a particular policy” (Robinson, 2002: 37). The purpose of this blog post is to explore this in relation to the news media discussion around the Columbine (1999) school shooting. Findings indicate that the initial response to Columbine by the news media and politicians was framed around restricting children’s access to guns.

At the time when Columbine occurred, the previous spate of school shootings meant the conditions were optimum for a discussion about the problem of youth violence. Further, the ‘fear’ about children’s safety at school paved the way for a ‘something must be done about it’ mindset. Echoing the findings of Wondemaghen’s (2013) research, news media content contextualised the Columbine shooting within the wider trends of school shootings and youth gun violence more generally. Opinion polls from the public show a similar level of concern about youth gun violence.

The next stage of policy development was that the Clinton administration suggested ‘remedies’ (Entman 1993) centring on restricting children’s access to guns and increasing parental accountability. News media adhered to the ‘elite consensus’ scenario (Robinson 2002) by building support for a particular policy agenda. The selection of sources allowed the news media to ‘frame’ this issue: researchers in the field, advocacy groups for gun reform, and parents of survivors and those killed at Columbine were amongst the main voices to be heard. The ‘counter-movement’ of gun rights organisations and politicians strongly against gun regulation managed to dissipate the development of policy, as the proposals failed in Congress.

Paralleling Wondemaghen’s (2013) study, the news media then moved on to criticise the official response — in this case, a lack of action on children and guns — and suggested ‘alternative solutions’ to the problem: ‘closing the gun show loophole’ that allowed the Columbine perpetrators to procure their weapons. At the national level, this adhered to the criteria of ‘elite dissensus but policy certainty within executive’ (Robinson 2002), for the news media pressured the government to close the loophole but with no success. The common theme was that Democratic politicians were ‘afraid’ to take action on this issue because of the power of the National Rifle Association: this means that the ‘counter-movement’ to this form of social regulation was successful.

The ‘alternative solution’ to the lack of federal-level action on the ‘gun show loophole’ was for the voters to put the issue on the ballot in the state of Colorado; this is action which was driven by interest group Safe Alternatives to the Fifrearm Epedemic (SAFE), heavily supported by local media and received the backing of the Clinton administration. This resulted in legislation being passed in Colorado to close the ‘gun show loophole.’ These results build support for Robinson’s (2002) theory that news media has the greatest impact when policy is uncertain. Overall, the policy action was driven by the public and an interest group and thereafter supported by the media and the political actor who originally had suggested this regulatory measure as a ‘remedy’ to the problem (Entman 1993).

 

[This blog post was put together by tracking and analysing news media coverage and policy debates pertaining to the Columbine school shooting. Literature about policy framing was also utilised as a lens through which to assess findings. The next posting will continue this theme, by exploring the news media-policy linkage of the Virginia Tech school shooting.]

 

  • Entman Robert M. (1993) ‘Framing: toward clarification of a fractured paradigm.’ Journal of Communication 43(4), 51-58.
  • Robinson, P. (2002) The CNN Effect: The myth of news, foreign policy and intervention. London, New York: Routledge.
  • Wondemaghen, Meron. (2014) Media Construction of a school shooting as a social problem.’ Journalism 15(6), 696-712.

 

Campus Police as ‘Full Law Enforcement’: Widening the Jurisdiction

The previous two blogs have discussed the issue of policing in the form of SROs in K-12 schooling and external law enforcement agencies; this post will now turn to look at the transformation of law enforcement in colleges and universities across the United States. Similar to the alterations which took place at K-12 schools after the Columbine shooting (refer to the previous two blogs for more details), the impetus for change at further and higher education institutes occurred after the tragic incident at Virginia Tech University in 2007.
To begin with, an investigation carried out at the request of the President into the circumstances around the Virginia Tech shooting found that there were a number of limitations with the current status of law enforcement. (1) It was found that campus police felt that they were not considered to be ‘full law enforcement’ by students, campus officials and officers from external law enforcement departments. The ‘legitimacy’ of police is of key important in convincing people to trust their decisions and follow their orders. (2) Concurrently, the report ordered by the Governor of Virginia, recommended that the mission statements of campus police should give precedence to their role as crime prevention officials. (3) This was subsequently translated into policy at Virginia Tech University, where the jurisdiction of the campus police department was expanded to give it the same authority as law enforcement agencies to do the following activities: make arrests, conduct investigations, enact security procedures, enforce laws and approve building modifications. Additionally, the police and rescue departments have been amalgamated into one facility, hence cementing the legitimacy of their position. (4) Rationalising and redefining the roles of police to deal with crime relates to the ‘culture of crime control,’ where government agencies alone — in this case, educational institutions — are not trusted to manage the risk. (5)
On another note, the report prepared at the request of the president noted that many campus police departments are under-staffed and lack critical resources. (6) At Virginia Tech University, funds of $487, 400 were appropriated by its executive vice president to employ eleven new members of staff in the campus police department. The police department currently has forty-nine officers, ten dispatchers, eight security guards and five support personnel. Equipment was also procured by the university: marked cars to increase visibility of police; uniforms for security guards; rifles for patrol officers. (7) Once again, this brings to mind the idea of ‘militarism’ within law enforcement, where the weaponry of the military is utilised as a problem-solving tool. (8) Overall, these actions are tangible indicators of the institution ‘doing something,’ further strengthening the legitimacy of campus police in their role of managing school shootings and other threats faced.

[This blog was formed using analyses of federal and state policy documents published in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, alongside relevant academic readings. It wraps up the theme of law enforcement changes following school shootings that have been the focus of the last few blog posts.]

(1) Leavitt, M. O., A. R. Gonzales, and M. Spelling. (2007) ‘Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy.’ 13 June, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
(2) Tyler, T. R. (2011) ‘Trust and legitimacy: Policing in the USA and Europe.’ European Journal of Criminology 8(4), 254-266.
(3) 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. http://www.vtreviewpanel.org/report/index.html.
(4) Internal policy documents ‘University Safety and Security’ and ‘Crisis and Emergency Management Plan,’ both published throughout 2012.
(5) Garland, D. (2001) The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
(6) Leavitt, M. O., A. R. Gonzales, and M. Spelling. (2007) ‘Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy.’ 13 June, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
(7) Internal policy documents ‘University Safety and Security’ and ‘Crisis and Emergency Management Plan,’ both published throughout 2012.
(8) Kraska, P. B. (2007) ‘Militarization and Policing – Its Relevance to 21st Century Police.’ Policing 1(4), 501-513.

“In law enforcement, we cannot have a cookie cutter solution”: Post-Columbine Changes to Law Enforcement Tactics

The quote in the title is indicative of the stance law enforcement has now adopted in a post-Columbine context. The statement was made by Sergeant AJ DeAndrea (Arvada Police Department), a SWAT member involved in Columbine and two other school shooting incidents in Colorado. (1) This blog will discuss the ways in which law enforcement changed its rescue priorities and training techniques to deal with school shootings following the Columbine incident. It could be said that these represent the ‘militarisation’ of police forces, where they adopt the cultural (values, styles) and organisational (tactics) aspects of the military. (2)

A noticeable element of the Columbine shooting was the criticism it provoked of law enforcement response. The law enforcement officers stationed outside Columbine went through the lengthy process of ‘securing the perimeter’ to stop the perpetrators escaping and of escorting students out after searching each one for weapons. Issues contended in the public sphere more generally were whether: teacher, William ‘Dave’ Sanders, who was shot in the chest and survived for four hours afterwards, could have been saved had medical teams been ‘allowed’ to enter the school; and a more expeditious law enforcement response could have prevented the bulk of the carnage, which took place in the library and resulted in the deaths of ten students. (3)

On the contrary, a report by Jefferson County provided a justification of sorts for the delayed response at Columbine. The SWAT officers had to form an ‘ad hoc’ team of police from different agencies with no previous contact. Other difficulties facing the teams were: incorrect Intel being provided, such as there being snipers, hostages and up to eight gunmen in the building; out-dated information about the building layout; most officers did not have their tactical equipment with them. Additionally, inside the school, officers faced hazardous conditions of flashing strobe lights, overflowing sprinklers, and fire alarms wailing. (4)

Since the confusion about building layout was something that hindered police response to Columbine, law enforcement tactical operations are now driven by knowledge about the environment in which a crisis is occurring, according to Sergeant DeAndrea. A useful technique in preparing law enforcers for potential school shooting attacks could be ‘tactical architecture,’ predicated on interpreting public spaces and their links to behaviour, an approach intended to aid operational policing. (5) Relating this to schools, it could allow law enforcers to instruct staff and students of ways to optimise survival if a shooting were to take place by highlighting escape points and places to hide.

Secondly, Sergeant DeAndrea explained that law enforcement training since Columbine has been honed into a single response led by SROs (see previous blog post for more details of their role in emergency management and response). Further to this, during an active shooter or hostage situation, the law enforcement rescue priorities have now changed to ‘hostages, civilians, cop, suspect.’ Sergeant AJ DeAndrea went on to clarify that hostages being held against their will on the threat of violence and civilians in an active shooter situation are the priorities for rescuing; the lives of cops comes below this and the life of the suspect is the least important factor, since the most important aspect of response is rescuing those in harm’s way.

[The blog post was put together using statements made during Sergeant DeAndrade’s presentation at the ‘School Safety Symposium’ in 2013, further reading around the response to Columbine and scholarly discussions of law enforcement training. The next post will look at the differences to campus police at colleges and universities in the United States following school shootings.]

  • Statements from Sergeant DeAndrade were made during a presentation at the ‘School Safety Symposium’ held at Columbine High School in June 2013, organised by I Love U Guys.
  • For further information, see: Kraska, P. B. (2007) ‘Militarization and Policing – Its Relevance to 21st Century Police.’ Policing 1(4), 501-513.
  • These were criticisms often made in news media reports and letters to the editor. An extensive sample of these were analysed by the author as part of a separate research project.
  • Jefferson County Sheriff reports examined SWAT techniques, equipment and the critical incident reponse overall on the day of the shooting. See http://extras.denverpost.com/news/colreport/columbinerep/pages for more information.
  • Jonescu, E. ‘Strategic and Tactical Architecture: An Instrument of Law Enforcement.’ In Bouttell, L. and S. Doran. Reframing Punishment: Silencing, Dehumanisation and the Way Forward. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary, page numbers needed.

“It’s a fantasy”: Will Concealed Carry Guarantee Protection?

The quotation part of this title was said by one of the gun violence prevention (GVP) group representatives to whom I spoke, evincing that they perceived the concealed carry and protection linkage to be idealistic in nature. Another interviewee made a similar point that, unlike law enforcement, individual citizens are not specifically trained to respond to dangerous situations. The purpose of this blog is to challenge the ideas presented in the past couple of posts about concealed carry allowing for successful self-defence against a school shooter and other threats.

One GVP group representative pointed out that students might mistake concealed carry shooters for the school shooter’s accomplice. Similarly, debates became quite heated in the YouTube discussions with regards to whether students with concealed carry permits could viably defend against an armed attacker. One source of conflict centred on the ability of students to adequately defend without inadvertently hitting an innocent bystander. Other YouTube users rebuffed such concerns, stating that concealed carry permit holders were well-trained and thus would be able to shoot the school shooter without hitting any innocent bystanders.

Another dispute in YouTube discussions was how law enforcement would know whether the persons firing guns were attacking or defending. Several of my interviewees from GVP groups drew similar conclusions that a situation involving concealed carry holders firing back would likely create an ‘O.K. Corral situation,’ where law enforcement cannot distinguish between the two groups. Such sentiments take the form of an ‘anticipatory state’ where people are surmising about potential dangers which could arise in a certain scenario. (1) The YouTube commentators’ counter-responses to the concerns that law enforcement would not be able to distinguish between the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ relied on preconceptions held about the inadequacy of law enforcement. Further to this, the idea that the school shooter and concealed carry ‘protectors’ would be so easily distinguishable relates to what the theorist Robert Spitzer calls the ‘Good Guy-Bad Guy Myth’ where an imagined separation exists between the two and one can easily tell them apart. (2)

Perhaps an explanation for this idealistic separation lies in the dichotomy between ‘criminals’ and ‘law-abiding citizens’ terms also prolific throughout YouTube comments. In such discussions, the ‘Criminal Other’ is a ‘Boogeyman’ onto which anxieties can be projected (3). In this case, YouTube users emotively refer to those within that group as ‘psychopaths’ or ‘psychotic’ and have the preconceptions that criminals, especially school shooters, will be able to circumvent the law to obtain guns and will kill indiscriminately. This is where the ‘law-abiding citizen’ fantasy figure comes in: the ‘ideal’ gun owner who is responsible, controlled, well-trained and willing to protect others. Relating these findings to Walter Lippmann’s notion of the ‘stereotype,’ showing these good guy-bad guy perceptions are something people are told about and hence imagine before they actually experience it. (4) In reality, it seems that a concealed carry permit holder firing their gun would likely cause further problems, whether it be from inadvertently hitting an innocent bystander or being mistaken as an attacker by other concealed carry holders and/or law enforcement — considering all of this gives credence to the idea documented in the title’s quotation that successful self-defence from concealed carry is a fantasy.

[This blog is the final in a series of discussions about concealed carry on campus. It was formed using analyses from interviews with GVP group members and YouTube comments. The next post will move on to look at the role of law enforcement in schools in preventing and managing school shooting attacks.]

  1. Farrall, S. D., J. Jackson and E. Gray. (2009) Social Order and the Fear of Crime in Contemporary Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 155.
  2. Spitzer, R. J. (2012) The Politics of Gun Control (fifth edition). Boulder, Colorado; London: Paradigm Publishers, 176.
  3. Farrall, S. D., J. Jackson and E. Gray. (2009) Social Order and the Fear of Crime in Contemporary Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 151.
  4. Lippman, W. (1922) Public Opinion. Free Press: New York.

“Why does my right to defend myself end when I go to class?” The Individual Rights Paradigm and Concealed Carry on Campus

The question in the title relates to the idea raised by a number of YouTube users that campus gun bans violated their individual right to self-defence. The constitutional debate around the second amendment due to the Supreme Court’s ‘Heller’ case was briefly discussed in the post published on the 27th July 2015. This blog will return to this, advancing the argument about the ‘individual rights’ interpretation of the second amendment being entrenched in the notion of concealed carry on campus and self-defence.

To begin with, the Supreme Court ruling ‘Heller versus the District of Columbia’ passed in 2008 centred on an appeal by Dick Heller, a police officer who wanted to keep a handgun in his home for self-defence but was unable to do so due to a ban implemented in the District of Columbia following a sharp increase in gun crime in the 1970s. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled 5-4 that ‘the handgun ban violates the second amendment,’ with the five acceding judges maintaining it protected ‘an individual right to possess a firearm…for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home.’ The ruling, therefore, favours the ‘individual rights paradigm’ that the constitution circumscribes the rights of individual citizens to own firearms for self-defence; it has subsequently led to debates about whether other bans on owning and carrying guns ‘violate’ the second amendment. This then made its way into the concealed carry on campus debate, with the interest group Students for Concealed Carry maintaining that the concealed carry ban violated state-level legislation, the ‘Colorado Concealed Carry Act,’ and the state constitution’s right to self-defence. As it transpired, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favour of Student for Concealed Carry and this led to universities in Colorado allowing concealed carry on campuses.

A number of commentators on YouTube drew upon similar lines of argument, claiming that firearm ban on college and university campuses violated their constitutional rights and were denying them a chance to defend themselves. One YouTube user compared carrying firearms to having fire extinguishers in classrooms: a safety precaution in case an emergency was to transpire. These are examples of ‘dogmatic thinking,’ seeking to reinforce current ideological stances that the purpose of the second amendment is to provide protection against threats. (1) To support their argument, a handful of users referred to the Supreme Court ‘Heller’ ruling. Missing from YouTube discussions, however, is the fact that the ruling mandated that bans in ‘sensitive places’ like educational institutions still apply. Further to this, as discussed in the last blog post, the idea of guns on campus is unsettling for a number of YouTube users — the right to be safe is also another aspect of the constitution and something which must also be considered in all debates around this topic.

[Results from YouTube analyses and further reading about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ‘Heller’ case informed the writing of this post. The next blog will completely wrap up this topic by critically assessing the idea that carrying concealed firearms will allow individuals to defend themselves and others against school shooters and other threats.]

  1. Lane, R. E. (1966) ‘The Decline of Politics and Ideology in a Knowledgeable Society.’ American Sociological Review 31 (5), 649-662.

“Fist fights could turn into shootouts”: Concerns about Concealed Carry on Campus

The last three blog posts detailed the reasons why concealed carry on campus might be perceived as the ‘solution’ to the threat of school shootings and other types of crime. Conversely, the quotation in the title evinces that there are those who are concerned that the presence of firearms might lead to further violence. One particular concern expressed by a number of YouTube users was that the young age of most students might hinder their ability to make rational decisions; hence, meaning that physical confrontations could be exacerbated by students carrying guns, perhaps even leading to serious injuries and deaths. Further to this, the presence of alcohol and drugs on campus — particularly in dorms where parties take place — was believed to impair the judgment of those carrying firearms. The idea of students as drunken, emotionally immature and irresponsible relies on stereotypical schemata: mentally stored ideas forming perceptions. (1) In contrast, there were YouTube users who challenged the claims, stating not all students use alcohol and drugs and it is hypocritical not to trust students since they are intelligent enough to be receiving a higher education.

On the other side of the argument, there were some YouTube commentators who supported concealed carry on campus in theory; yet, drawing from their own college and university experiences, maintained that certain students they knew could not be trusted to carry firearms. Other users argued that firearms on campus were quite a frightening prospect, so it removed the security and freedom of all students. This brings to mind a point made by about car park signs reserving spaces near the door for female drivers: this is meant to reassure them but could also serve to remind them there is a ‘threat’ in that environment. (2) A similar scenario could be applicable to concealed carry on campus where the presence of weapons or the knowledge that there was the possibility students have the potential to be legally armed could trigger more fear.

In a compromise of sorts, some users then were supportive of the idea but with general conditions: 1) not allowing students to carry whilst drinking alcohol; 2) requiring more training for permit holders to carry on campus, perhaps from law enforcement officials; 3) obtaining a full background check, perhaps even asking their professors for references; 4) carrying guns in a holster as ones in backpacks could be easily triggered or stolen. One user even suggested that it could be an impetus for students achieving a higher standard of grades, where they had to maintain their scores in order to be allowed to carry. It, therefore, seems that for concealed carry on campus to ever gain widespread support certain conditions will have to be met — the safety and security of students, staff and visitors has to be the first priority in any policies implemented.

[This blog post was put together using results from analysing comments from relevant YouTube videos and further reading in this area. This blog wraps up the topic of concealed carry on campus, which has been the focus of School Shooting Research for the past few months — the topic will be revisited in an upcoming blog, when the practicalities of translating concealed carry into successful self-defence against a school shooter are critiqued.]

  • For further details see: Entman R. M. (1993) ‘Framing: toward clarification of a fractured paradigm.’ Journal of Communication 43(4), 51-58.
  • An idea discussed in Gabriel, U. and W. Greve. (2003) ‘The Psychology of Fear of Crime: Conceptual and Methodological Perspectives.’ British Journal of Criminology 43(3), 600-614.