Tag Archives: concealed carry on campus

“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.

“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.

“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.]

“When seconds matter, police are just minutes away”: Doubts about Law Enforcement

The often-quoted sentiment in the title exemplifies the cynicism surrounding the ability of law enforcement to protect individuals. The post published on the 13th July 2015 demonstrated that a number of YouTube commentators blamed the ban on allowing students and staff at Virginia Tech University for the high death toll from the tragic 2007 shooting. What may be extrapolated from this is that the concept of defending one’s self is inextricably linked to individuals, rather than the police — this is particularly remarkable, considering law enforcement is an institutional body entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the public. The purpose of this blog post is to uncover the reasons why this is the case.

As posts published throughout July and August 2015 have highlighted, YouTube users are familiar with previous school shootings and draw upon those ‘second hand’ experiences to form ideas about what might transpire during such an incident. The relatively short time period in which school shootings occur is likely a driving factor. Some YouTube users made sardonic comments that pizza would be delivered before the police arrived. Commentators drew upon knowledge of past school shootings, pointing out that most of these ended before law enforcement arrived. There is some truth to this: only 27% of thirty-seven school shootings were stopped by law enforcement and several studies have documented the proclivity of school shooters to kill themselves before law enforcement intervention.(1)

Further to this, YouTube users were particularly scathing of the abilities of law enforcement on college and university campuses to offer protection, purporting they were ‘tiny forces’ with ‘little experience’ and thus ‘not equipped’ to act as first responders to a school shooting situation. Something which acutely concerned users was the fact that in some states campus police are ‘unarmed,’ meaning they do not have access to lethal weapons (firearms). The Secret Service (2002) report, however, found that only 8% of school shootings required law enforcement to discharge weapons. (2)

The outcome of these sentiments then translates into the idea that police are just there to ‘clean up the crime scene’ of all those killed before they arrived. Accordingly, numerous YouTube commentators appeared to believe that the purpose of the police is not to act as ‘bodyguards’ or ‘prevent crimes’ but to ‘enforce the law’ by investigating crimes after they transpire and acting as a visible deterrent to criminals. As documented in empirical studies, fear — in this case of a school shooting or even just general crime on campus — is a catalyst for eroding trust and confidence in the police. (3) Such a sentiment, hence, paves the way for the notion that the individual is the only one who can be trusted to protect themselves — this will be elucidated in the next post in relation to the issue of students and concealed carry.

[This blog post was put together from analyses of YouTube comments and further reading around fear and government studies of lessons to be learned from previous school shooting incidents. The next blog post will bring together all the elements discussed in posts throughout July and August 2015.]

(1). See the following studies: Lankford, A. (2013a). ‘A comparative analysis of suicide terrorists and rampage, workplace, and school shooters in the United States from 1990 to 2010.’ Homicide Studies: An Interdisciplinary & International Journal, 17 (3), 255-274; Lankford, A. (2013b) ‘Mass Shooters in the USA, 1996-2010. Differences between attackers who live and die.’ Justice Quarterly; Vossekuil, B., R. A. Fein, M. Reddy, R. Borum, and W. Modzeleski. (2004) The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. Washington.

(2) Vossekuil, B., R. A. Fein, M. Reddy, R. Borum, and W. Modzeleski. (2004) The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. Washington.

(3) Farrall, S. D., J. Jackson and E. Gray. (2009) Social Order and the Fear of Crime in Contemporary Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Gray, E., J. Jackson and S. Farrall (2011) ‘Feelings and Functions in the Fear of Crime: Applying a New Approach to Victimisation Insecurity.’ British Journal of Criminology 51, 75-94.

“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.