Category Research

Policies allowing civilians to bring guns to college are likely to lead to more shootings, homicides and suicides on campus, especially among students, a new report concludes.

The report, “Firearms on College Campuses: Research Evidence and Policy Implications,” was published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with contributions from Shelly Greenberg, a professor of management at the Johns Hopkins School of Education and a Applied Physics Laboratory faculty member, and other researchers.

At least eight states have laws allowing civilians to also bring firearms on campuses of public universities and colleges. A number of other states considered new laws to expand legal carrying of firearms on college campuses during their 2015-2016 legislative sessions.

Most laws allowing civilians to bring guns on college campuses are too new to assess their effects directly. The report examines available research on right-to-carry gun laws and data about mass public shootings in public spaces, and found that neither gun-free zones nor right-to-carry gun laws appear to affect mass shootings in public spaces.

Although the number of civilians carrying guns and mass shootings are increasing, legally armed citizens very rarely are able to prevent or interrupt mass shootings. The researchers also conclude from available data that proposals to allow guns on college campuses would likely increase the lethality of assaults and suicide attempts, which are far more common than mass shootings on college campuses.

“There is also little evidence that mass shooting perpetrators seek out gun-free zones for their attacks.” Louis Klarevas, University of Massachusetts, Boston

“Proponents of right-to-carry laws that make it legal for individuals to carry firearms, both on and off campus, often blame mass shootings on gun-free zones and argue that arming more civilians can deter or stop mass shootings,” said Daniel Webster, the report’s author and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “The best available evidence, however, does not support these claims.”

A review by Louis Klarevas, an associate lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and one of the report’s co-authors, examined the 111 high-fatality mass shootings, defined as six or more murder victims, that occurred in the United States since 1966 and found that only 13 had taken place in a truly gun-free zone.

“Not only do the vast majority of high-fatality mass shootings not occur in gun free zones,” says Klarevas, “there is also little evidence that mass shooting perpetrators seek out gun-free zones for their attacks.”

The report notes that Klarevas’s research indicates fatalities from mass shootings increased slightly on average after states adopted right-to-carry laws. “Rather than deter gun violence, the most recent and most rigorous research on right-to-carry laws suggests that the laws are associated with increased violence with guns,” says John Donohue, a co-author of the report and law professor at Stanford University.

The report’s authors summarize research on the civilian use of guns, impact of right-to-carry laws on violent crime and mass shootings, patterns in public mass shootings, and relevant factors related to the college campus environment to determine the potential benefits and risks of allowing civilian gun-carrying on college campuses.

The report also looked at the impact, if any, that legally armed citizens had on mass shootings. An FBI study that examined 160 active shootings in the United States found only one incident that involved an armed civilian intervening to end an attack in progress.

As for the college campuses, the report notes that fights, suicide attempts and reckless behavior—all of which are more lethal when a firearm is present—are far more common among college students in general than are opportunities for armed students to stop rampages.

“Taken together, it’s evident that many of the arguments used to support laws expanding civilian gun-carrying are not backed by solid research evidence,” said Webster. “And when you next consider factors and challenges specific to the college environment, you see that the college campus environment is particularly ill-suited for civilian gun possession.”

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