Many colleges and universities have begun the practice of sending text messages and e-mails to students when dangerous situations unfold on campus. Additionally, institutions of higher learning have developed procedures for lockdown drills and sheltering in place until the perceived threat has been eliminated. In some colleges and universities nationwide, these procedures are practiced routinely in an effort to protect individuals during an active shooting event. The need to feel safe on campus, however, has led to more drastic measures being taken by some regions of the country in the name of safety.
Faculty and Students with Firearms
In recent years, the question has been raised as to whether students and faculty should be allowed to arm themselves with firearms on the premises of colleges and universities. In Texas, a recent bill was signed into law that allows any individual with a handgun license to carry firearms inside buildings on public university campuses.
Private colleges and universities are able to opt out of compliance of this new law. According to a post on the Texas Tribune website on March 10, 2016, private institutions of higher education must make their decisions by August 1. At the time of this publication, no private college or university in Texas has yet to reverse their policy to allow individuals to bring firearms inside their buildings.
Concealed Weapons on Campus
Texas is not alone in allowing the possession of firearms on college and university campuses. The states of Colorado, Idaho, and Utah also have laws in effect that allow concealed guns on campus with little restrictions. Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, and Oregon all have statutes that allow concealed weapons on campus, but individual schools are able to limit who is able to carry firearms.
Additionally, colleges and universities in these states are allowed to designate certain areas of campus as “gun-free” zones. Other states allow individual schools to develop their own policies concerning the possession of firearms, while still other states deem college and university campuses are entirely “gun-free” zones. Based on studies conducted over the last decade, it appears that a mad dash to arm individuals on campuses might be premature, if not entirely unnecessary.
Are Armed Students Safer?
Statistical evidence from the United States Department of Justice suggests that allowing students to arm themselves on university premises may not improve students’ safety. In fact, the Justice Department stated that ninety-three percent of violent crimes that involved college students occurred off campus. Students are more likely to be victims of violent crime in their off-campus residences or going grocery shopping than while attending class.
According to an ABC News report on February 25, 2016, some college professors are apprehensive concerning the possible changes to concealed carry laws on college campuses. A dean at the University of Texas-Austin has resigned because he does not agree that individuals should have the ability to carry firearms on campus. Academic freedom could also be stifled under this new legislation.
Professors have stated that they have been asked to modify their curriculum by university administrators. According to a February 24, 2016 article in The Guardian, some examples of these modifications include removing topics from various courses, in addition to avoiding some talking points altogether because they could incite anger and rigorous debate among students-students who will now be able to carry firearms on campus.
Campus Carry Policies
The issue of campus carry policies may open the door for potential active shooter situations. Since individuals are now allowed to carry firearms under these guidelines, people who wish to inflict harm to students and staff at colleges and universities could potentially go unnoticed. In essence, it would be difficult to distinguish a potential active shooter from the general population. This would put additional pressure on law enforcement officers who would be trying to neutralize a dangerous situation. In addition, students who are bystanders during an active shooting could intensify any hostile situation by approaching the shooter, if there are no restrictions as to who may possess firearms on campus.
Even if well-intended individuals are armed, there is no guarantee that students and faculty members would be able to neutralize an active shooter in the event of an actual emergency. Authorizing the possession of firearms within campus buildings does not increase the likelihood that students and faculty members will have additional protection in the event of an active shooter situation. There would likely be an increase in the number of casualties among staff members and students if an active-shooter situation did occur on the campuses of colleges and universities where students are allowed to carry firearms.
Lockdown Drills and Best Practices
There is no question that active-shooter events are a genuine threat to faculty and students in our nation’s colleges and universities. However, lockdown drills and accepted best practices should be used when generating active shooter safety plans. In addition to lockdown drills, best practices for colleges and universities include the use of required identification cards for faculty and students, adding closed-circuit security cameras, and installing panic buttons in classrooms and lecture halls.
As a society, it is important that higher institutions of learning remain free from restrictions of academic freedom. If armed individuals were allowed into college classrooms, students and professors may be less likely to engage in educational conversations that are intended to create intense debates among the students in each classroom. As active shootings on campuses are relatively sparse, it would appear that campus carry policies would only serve to curtail academic freedoms, as well as to potentially create the precise hazardous conditions that the law intends to prevent.