Brendan Chan thinks students would be safer if they were allowed to carry concealed weapons. He is in the process of founding a UC Davis chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a non-partisan organization that claims over 36,000 members nationwide.
Chan, a junior psychology major, said the April 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, which left 32 people dead, inspired him to look into concealed carry laws. After conducting research, he decided carrying a gun would be “a good idea.“
“I don’t want a gun because it’s fun. I may not need it, but I don’t want to take that chance,” Chan said.
A self-described “pro-gun liberal,“ Chan defies the stereotype of a firearm aficionado. However, he is not alone in what supporters call a grassroots movement to legalize concealed firearms on college campuses.
A national movement
Concealed carry weapons, also referred to as “CCW,“ are legal in 48 U.S. states to varying degrees. Thirty-nine of those states have “shall-issue” policies, meaning that individuals who meet certain criteria must be granted a CCW permit. Nine other states, including California, have “may-issue” policies, which allow local officials to grant CCW to individuals at their discretion. Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington, D.C. do not permit CCW.
Concealed carry on college campuses is prohibited virtually everywhere either by state law or school policy. Thirty states, including California, have banned civilian firearms from college campuses. Utah is the only one of the remaining twenty states to have a law requiring the right to carry on college campuses.
Colorado State University and Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Virginia, are the only schools that voluntarily permit CCW.
California passed the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1995, which prohibits the transfer and sale of firearms on school grounds. Even in the unlikely event the law was repealed, UC Davis still has a zero-tolerance policy for weapons.
However, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC), which was founded after the Virginia Tech shooting, hope their burgeoning movement can change such laws.
“A lot of people agree with our mission,“ said David Burnett, one of the organization’s national leaders and a senior business management major at the University of Kentucky. “Security is not a partisan issue.“
SCCC is dedicated to lobbying states and colleges into legalizing CCW.
“Since the laws differ across states, we take a state-by-state approach [and] we try to lobby the colleges as much as we can,” Burnett said.
In 2008, 15 states considered laws that would allow CCW on college campuses, according to SCCC. Though none of them passed any legislation, Burnett called SCCC’s lobbying efforts successful.
“It’s definitely progress, considering it’s the first go-around,” Burnett said.
A call to arm – and disarm
Last February, a shooting at Northern Illinois University left six students dead and 18 others injured, providing another tragic example for those who wish to legalize CCW.
“Something has to be done,” Burnett said. “The Northern Illinois police were able to get to the scene in under 90 seconds, but that’s still 90 seconds that the murderer had to shoot students.“
While Burnett said the organization cannot guarantee that legal concealed carry would make college campuses safer, “it couldn’t possibly make things worse.“
Garen Wintemute, a physician of emergency medicine and violence researcher at UC Davis Medical School, disagreed. He argued that concealed weapons are a bad enough idea for the general public – let alone for college students.
“We know from a whole body of work, from dozens of investigators from all different fields, that having firearms around in one’s household doesn’t decrease of violent death, it increases risk,” Wintemute said.
Wintemute published a study in 2003 suggesting that applicants under a “shall-issue” CCW policy were more likely to be subsequently arrested for committing a violent crime than applicants under a “may-issue” policy.
Though his study did not reach statistical significance, Wintemute said numerous additional studies have linked increased violence with more liberal gun policy.
Owning a gun increases the risk for homicide by two to three times and the risk for suicide by as much as five times, Wintemute said. He conducted a study that found that in the year following the purchase of a gun, suicide is the leading cause of death.
Alcohol is another leading cause of suicide, which is why college campuses in particular should prevent the proliferation of guns, Wintemute said.
“Over and over again, studies of suicide have shown that one of the leading risk factors besides having a gun is use of alcohol,” he said. “Heavy and abusive alcohol consumption is high in student populations -including students at UCD – and easy access to guns and easy access to alcohol say to me that it’s only a matter of time.“
Burnett countered that laws already prohibit an individual from handling a firearm while intoxicated. Furthermore, since firearms are not the only means of committing suicide, it is unreasonable to prevent psychologically sound, law-abiding individuals from carrying them, he said.
“If someone wants to commit suicide, they can do it in any variety of ways, and if somebody’s bent on murdering people, they will ignore laws on concealed carry,” Burnett said.
Not rare enough
Wintemute does not believe that arming students would make campuses any safer. Given how rare school shootings are, it is far more likely that a gun-related accident would occur than a situation where an armed student could save others‘ lives, he said.
“School shootings are horrible when they happen [but] they’re rare events,” Wintemute said. “They get the intense media coverage that they deserve because they’re rare. If you put a bunch of people on campus ready to act on moment’s notice with little training, it’s far more likely to have an adverse effect.“
But Burnett said he does not believe active shooter scenarios are the only times when students could use a weapon.
“Self-defense isn’t limited to a public shooting. It’s for the female student or perhaps the homosexual student who’s being harassed,” said Burnett, noting Pink Pistols, a gay gun rights organization.
Burnett called the odds of gun-related accidents “remote.” Utah’s college campuses have seen no incidents of gun violence since legalizing concealed carry on campus, he added.
School shootings “are fortunately rare, but still happen way too often,” Burnett said. “It’s one sensational way of drawing attention to violence and crime on college campuses.“
UC Davis‘ security a work in progress
UC Davis has been without an active shooting incident of its own. In 2004, the UC Davis police responded to reports of an individual exhibiting bizarre behavior on campus.
The man, who was unaffiliated with UC Davis, fired at campus police officers in front of the Student Housing offices. Officers returned fire, killing him. No one else was hurt.
Since the people who reported him to the authorities did not know he was armed, legal CCW would not have made a difference in that case, said UC Davis Police Lt. Matthew Carmichael.
The recent school shootings at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech have prompted schools to rethink their strategies for preventing and responding to active shooter scenarios.
Despite the prohibition of concealed carry on campus, Carmichael said the campus is safer than it was prior to the Virginia Tech incident.
UC Davis Police are trained in “Active Shooter Response,” which means they can safely engage an active shooter within minutes of a 911 call rather than wait for a SWAT team to arrive, Carmichael said.
The UC Davis Police have worked with campus facilities to practice lockdowns and offer seminars to groups on how to survive shootings.
However, there is more work to be done, Carmichael said.
“This campus is probably more aware than it has been through emergency planning, but when it gets quiet and things aren’t happening, everyone gets a little complacent,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chan has attracted nine other members to the UC Davis chapter of SCCC. Since he just turned 21, Chan plans to purchase a handgun and undergo the various requirements to obtain a CCW permit. Though he will not be able to bring a firearm on campus, he hopes that will one day change.
“We’re not advocating for more guns,” he said. “We’re advocating for the right to carry on campus.“
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.