Tag Archives: concealed carry

“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.

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.

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.’ ]