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February 9, 2017 by By Wyoming College President's

Guns on Wyoming Campuses: Worth the Risk?

Main hall building and library

Proponents of legislation currently making its way through the Legislature believe that allowing concealed firearms on campus will make our campuses safer and suggest that past acts of violence could have been minimized or avoided entirely, had concealed carry been allowed.  Opponents of the legislation argue that more firearms on campus will result in more injuries and fatalities. 

Because the free and vigorous exchange of ideas in an environment of civil discourse is a cornerstone of college and university life, we have followed this debate with interest.  Unfortunately, so far the debate has not been illuminated by valid research, in part because carrying firearms on college campuses is relatively new and in part because the research is not readily available.  As a result, we, like all Wyoming citizens, have been asked to rely on anecdote, speculation, and hypothesis, often highly emotional, as we weigh a decision that may have far-reaching impacts on campus safety.

There is, however, a growing body of research backing the notion that allowing concealed carry of firearms on college and university campuses is not the answer. Some examples: 

  1. Evidence does not support the conclusion that civilians carrying guns will reduce injury or stop violent crimes. Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey suggest the use of a firearm for self-defense during violent crimes is very rare and is no more effective in mitigating injuries than any other type of response from victims.  In addition, a study by the FBI in 2013 found that, of the 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, only one was stopped by a person with a concealed carry permit, and he happened to be a Marine.  In contrast, 21 active shooters were stopped by unarmed citizens.
  2. Accidental discharge of firearms on campus is a legitimate concern. For example, in 2012 a University of Colorado employee injured herself and another woman when she attempted to show her gun to her co-workers.  More recently (2014), an Idaho State University professor with a concealed carry permit accidently shot himself in the foot in a classroom full of students just months after Idaho’s campus carry law went into effect.  A student at Weber State (Utah) was carrying a gun in his pocket when it went off, shooting himself in the leg.  A University of Southern Mississippi student accidently shot himself while sitting in his car. 
  3. Recent research from the University of Massachusetts–Boston suggests that civilian firearm carry may lead to more fatalities, not fewer. In a study of 111 mass shootings from 1966 to 2015, 90% of the shootings occurred in areas where civilians were already allowed to carry firearms.   More concerning, of these 111 shootings, those that occurred in states with right-to-carry laws or no concealed-carry regulations had average death tolls higher than those occurring in states without this latitude. 
  4. Student behavior makes guns on campus dangerous. The college years are a time when students often explore risky situations and risky behavior. In part, this is because portions of young adults’ brains are undeveloped, impacting their judgment. A 2002 study by Harvard’s School of Public Health found that students who carried guns were more likely to binge drink and engage in risky and aggressive behavior after drinking. For example, during a fraternity fight at Northern Arizona University, a student retrieved a gun from his car, ultimately killing one and injuring three others.  At Texas Southern University, an argument escalated until one individual pulled a gun, killing another and wounding a bystander.  At Lone Star College (TX), an argument turned physical, with one of the students ultimately pulling a gun and injuring the other, wounding a college maintenance worker as well. 
  5. Stress, depression and mental illness, which are increasingly being reported among students, present another major concern. Johns Hopkins University research asserts that suicide attempts leading to hospitalization or death rise dramatically and peak during the years that most youth enter college. Research from Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center indicates the presence of a gun in the home in the U.S. increases the risk for suicide.  Many students’ home is in our residence halls or in rental homes and apartments nearby. The heightened emotional volatility of the college years, combined with the higher “success” rates of suicide attempts with firearms, argues against having firearms easily available on campus.

Many other concerns are emerging as valid in the research.  These range from impacts on free speech in classrooms or on campus when guns are present, to the ability to recruit and retain faculty and staff, to significant cost increases for insurance and damages from lawsuits resulting from incidents of guns on college campuses. 

For all of the reasons stated above, the belief that these decisions should be left to local control, and the conviction that there are numerous other approaches to ensuring or increasing safety on our college and university campuses that should be considered first, we collectively stand in opposition to HB136.

Submitted by Drs. Laurie Nichols (President, UW), Paul Young (President, Northern Wyoming Community College District), Karla Leach (President, Western Wyoming Community College), Rick Patterson (President, Eastern Wyoming College), Stefani Hicswa (President, Northwest College), Brad Tyndall (President, Central Wyoming College), and Joe Schaffer (President, Laramie County Community College).