Whether or not firearms are allowed on college campuses, students, staff, and faculty across the country are increasingly likely to be asked to consider or plan for gun-related violence. Gun-related violence in the United States is not, despite some claims, at the highest it has ever been, but it has been increasing over the last decade. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that 42% of Americans live in a household with a gun and that, whether someone personally owns a gun or not, US residents have broad exposure to them.
At the state level, where most decisions about guns on campus are made, the gun lobby is noted for its tenacity, returning year after year to remove restrictions on when and where individuals may carry concealed weapons. Whether due to this concerted effort by the pro-gun lobby to systematically weaken state gun laws or not, a 2018 analysis conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds there is a positive correlation between more permissive gun regulation and violent crime. Therefore, whether you support concealed carry on college campuses or not, changes in our broader gun laws will continue to impact students and student affairs professionals.
Reports in the media around guns and changes in gun laws tend to focus either on the use of firearms in mass shooting incidents or on the rights of individuals to protect themselves while moving through their daily activities. While both are important considerations for campus safety, these conversations obscure other aspects of increased prevalence of guns in society and on campuses that student affairs professionals are most likely to encounter.
At one extreme, there is ample research linking increased availability of firearms with increased rates of fatal suicide attempts. While there has not been comprehensive research to date comparing student suicide rates or fatality on campuses that allow guns compared to those that don’t, research by Allan J. Schwartz notes that suicide fatalities among college-age nonstudents are higher, despite the rates of suicide attempts being equal. Dr. Schwartz notes that the increased access to firearms by nonstudents is a likely cause of the increased rates of fatality. As student affairs professionals may be relied on in the aftermath of a student suicide, the resulting mental and emotional toll of a higher proportion of attempts resulting in fatality as guns become more available to students, whether on campus or off, should be considered.
Accidental reveal of concealed weapons, including incidents of guns left behind in bathrooms, is another aspect of increased campus carry that student affairs professionals may be called upon to address. Analysis released yesterday by Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence details over 60 publicly-reported incidents of mishandled guns in the last five years in K12 settings, pointing to the ease with which even firearms in the possession of trained professionals can lead to accidental or incidental harm. Related to these incidents are the increased costs campuses incur both in making necessary changes to facilities, but also in retraining staff, including campus police, to ensure both student and staff safety in responding to potentially emotionally charged situations.
The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced a change in policy that would ban bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to operate as if they were fully-automatic, after their use in the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. The policy change went into effect last week, March 26, 2019 and was immediately subject to two challenges by gun activist groups, Gun Owners of America and the Firearms Policy Foundation and Florida Carry Inc. The Supreme Court of the United States refused to grant temporary stays, as requested by the challenging groups. Related legislation which would regulate high-capacity ammunition feeding devices, including magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition has also been introduced in both chambers of Congress (Keep Americans Safe Act (S 447 / HR 1186)).
Earlier this year, the House held their first hearing on gun violence prevention in nearly a decade, focusing on the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 (HR 1112), which would improve the system for background checks. Most relevant for student affairs professionals was the inclusion of two student witnesses at the hearing. Aalayah Eastmond, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last year, recommended that more guns on schools and college campuses, either by arming teachers or increasing security presences in schools, is not the answer to preventing mass shootings. Ms. Eastmond instead advocated for more mental health counselors. Savanah Lindquist, a student at Old Dominion University, spoke in favor of allowing concealed carry permits on campus to allow victims of sexual assault and domestic violence to feel safe in their ability to protect themselves. As these students represent, views about guns on campus are varied and complicated.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), concealed carry of firearms is allowed in every state in the United States with varying requirements for licensure, including whether a license is required at all. Whether or not those rights extend to college campuses depends on an ever-changing landscape of state legislation, regulation, and court rulings, though there has been steady pressure across the states to loosen restrictions on campus concealed carry (“campus carry” for many years.) NCSL notes that 16 states expressly ban campus carry, and another 23 allow each campus within a state to set their own policies. State legislation or court rulings in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin allow at least some people to carry concealed weapons on campus.
So far for 2019, we’re tracking 50 pieces of legislation in 20 states that either directly impacts the ability of college campuses to regulate firearms on some or all of their property, which would restrict the ability of state resident to carry a concealed weapon even if licensed, or allow any resident to carry a concealed weapon without a license, also known as constitutional carry.
A promising trend in legislation being introduced in 2019 is an increase in proposed bills that would allow for law enforcement to remove firearms from the possession of an individual who is found to represent a credible threat of harm to themselves or others, often called “red-flag laws”. These bills could allow for individuals who have threatened suicide or who are subject to orders of protection in relationship violence situations to be disarmed by law enforcement officers under an “extreme risk protection order”. Given the high proportion of shootings in the United States that are within the contexts of relationship violence, these laws represent significant improvement to protecting individuals from interpersonal gun violence.
The March 25th NASPA Policy Update provides information on gun-related legislation we are tracking, including the list of states and bill numbers. Pease check back regularly throughout the year for additional updates on state legislation we regularly track.
 Only faculty members with valid concealed carry permits are allowed to carry concealed weapons on campuses in Tennessee.