Now that the Gunshine State, a.k.a. Florida, has moved a step closer to letting everyone walk around on college campuses with a banger in their pocket, it’s time to look at the argument being made by proponents of campus CCW to see if their argument accords with the facts. Campus shootings are, in fact, something of a mini-legend in American culture thanks to ex-Marine Charles Whitman who, on August 1, 1966, went up to the top of the University of Texas campus tower and methodically gunned down 44 people, 12 of whom died, having previously shot his mother, wife and three people within the tower, for good measure. Whitman’s life ended in a blaze of police gunfire on the tower’s observation deck, but the episode helped launch Kurt Russell’s career who later starred as Whitman in a crummy TV-movie called The Deadly Tower.
The debate in the Florida legislature is following the now-typical path of all bills that seek to widen acceptance and use of guns, namely, that guns are valuable tools for self-defense. Leave it to the pistol-packin’ Grandma, Marian Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist to express it best: “The plain truth is campuses are not safe. They are gun-free zones where murderers and rapists may commit their crimes without fear of being harmed by their victims.” In fact the bill that would allow concealed-carry on Florida campuses was introduced following a shooting last November at Florida State University where a former student wounded three people before he was gunned down by the cops.
There has been heightened attention recently about campus crime, most of it concerning sexual assaults. Even the Federal Government has gotten into the act, holding hearings on proposed legislation that would require higher education institutions to better enforce laws against sexual assaults, as well as being accountable for tracking the incidence of such crimes. But the concern about campus rape doesn’t necessarily mean that colleges are less safe than other environments unless, of course, you toe the NRA line and assume that any location which doesn’t permit guns is, by definition, a less-safe place.
The good news is that we now have a very detailed report on campus guns published by Generation Progress, an activist organization which used to be known as Campus Progress, but like the Millennials they represent, has now grown up and addresses gun violence as just one of its progressive campaigns. Like many such reports, this report notes that campus crime rates are below crime rates in general, a statement I have seen elsewhere but have not been able to pin down hard data which shows this to be true. On the other hand, FBI data referenced in this report indicates that guns are used in roughly half of the homicides reported on college campuses, which is below the national number which pegs guns as the method used in 70% of all homicides committed in the United States.
A more important finding in the report is the fact that less than 10% of all serious campus assaults involved a perpetrator who was not connected in some way to the institution where the incident occurred. More than two-thirds of the assailants were students, former students or alumni and faculty or staff, with the remaining known attackers being spouses or partners of someone connected to the institution.
Despite Marian Hammer’s fear-mongering , the reality is that just about everyone who walks onto a college campus to commit a violent act is drawn to that location not because it’s a gun-free zone, but because they know the campus environment and can move around it with ease. Not that this information will persuade Florida legislators to retain the current ban on campus guns. After all, Florida issued less than 30,000 CCW permits in 2000, while in 2010 they issued more than 160,000 and surpassed the million mark in 2012. Meanwhile, the state had 499 gun homicides in 2000 and more than 700 gun murders in 2012. Duhhhh, if armed citizens protect us from crime, shouldn’t those numbers be reversed?