Not a day goes by, it seems, when the media isn’t carrying another story about sexual assaults on our college and university campuses. And it’s not just an issue at jock-party-frat schools like Virginia, it’s also happening at elite schools like MIT. But while educators and parents alike struggle to find answers to what appears to be a growing problem, leave it to the gun folks to come up with the same solution that they use in every discussion about crime and safety, namely, get yourself a gun.
I am referring to an organization called Students for Concealed Carry, which has the requisite website, Facebook page and Twitter channel, all devoted to the idea that students should be allowed to carry guns on college campuses because self-protection is a “human right” and everyone knows that the best way to protect yourself is by carrying a gun. Of course the organization is not affiliated with the NRA and is at pains to present itself in a non-partisan way, its leadership representing “conservatives, moderates, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, etc.”
I’m always amazed at how non-partisan these pro-gun groups claim to be. Of course I have never seen any of these groups ever advocate a gun policy that wasn’t straight out of the RNC playbook, but that’s neither here nor there. After all, self-protection shouldn’t be a partisan issue, right? Except for one little thing. By advocating self-protection with a gun, groups like Students for Concealed Carry aren’t advancing human rights at all and they certainly aren’t promoting strategies that make us more safe. The leadership of this organization, whether they know it or not, is advancing an agenda that has not only been discredited in terms of research, but has been cynically promoted by the gun lobby as a way to sell more guns.
The nonsense about the protective value of gun ownership started in 1994 when a criminologist named Gary Kleck published the results of a telephone survey in which he asked people whether they had ever used a gun to prevent a crime from taking place. On the basis of 213 responses, Kleck stated that armed Americans prevented upwards of 2.5 million serious crimes annually, even though he made no effort to validate whether people were telling him the truth, or whether the person against whom they brandished a gun was actually going to commit a crime. The study was manna from heaven for the gun industry, which was trying to figure out how to replace its traditional hunting market with new reasons for people to own guns. And since the early 1990’s which saw a major rise in urban crime largely due to the spread of crack cocaine, connecting the public fear of crime with the supposed protective value of a gun made perfect marketing sense.
I wrote a detailed critique of Kleck’s so-called research in my latest book on guns, and pointed out that the biggest problem with his argument was the fact that his survey only asked respondents if they had resisted a crime by using a gun. It seemed to me that if you really wanted to prove that guns were a positive means for self-protection, the least you would have to do is compare the outcome of using a gun for self-defense with other options, such as running away, yelling or calling the cops.
But that research has finally been done and the author of that study, first published in 2005 and just republished this year, is none other than the selfsame Gary Kleck. And guess what the champion of gun self-defense found when he compared using a gun to other forms of self-defense in instances of rape and assault? There was really no difference at all. Oh, there were a few caveats about not having enough data to understand exactly whether guns made a difference or not, but the bottom line is that you don’t defend yourself from a rape or an assault any better if you do or don’t carry a gun. The folks who run Students for Concealed Carry might want to rethink their ideas.