Tag Archives: doubt about law enforcement

“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.