BY DR. CHRISTOPHER A. KIERKUS
am writing today in support of Sen. Randy Richardville’s proposal to remove college classrooms and dormitories from the list of “pistol free zones” under Michigan law (SB 747, co-sponsored by Sens. Cropsey, McManus, Patterson, Brown, Jansen and Barcia).More generally, I am writing in support of “concealed carry on campus.”
I believe that the present regulations, which restrict CPLs (concealed pistol licensees) from carrying in selected parts of college campuses (and in some cases, prohibit campus carry completely), represent misguided policy that only serves to make colleges into crime-friendly environments. These restrictions have no impact on criminals, but they do prevent law abiding citizens from defending themselves against violent attackers. Hence, while the goal of “pistol-free zones” is to create havens where individuals are safe from gun violence, the actual effect is precisely the opposite!
“Pistol-free zones” represent places where the criminally minded are free to carry out their attacks secure in the knowledge that their victims are unarmed.
Before I explain why I support the senator’s proposal in detail, I would like to take a moment to set the context for my remarks by telling you a little about myself.
I am a professor of criminal justice at Grand Valley State University in Allendale and while I have been studying crime for most of my adult life, I must admit that I am somewhat surprised to find myself involved in this debate, particularly as a proponent of CPL.
I grew up in Canada and generally did not give “gun control” much thought until I moved to Michigan. As recently as five years ago, had someone asked me: “Do you support concealed carry as a deterrent to crime?” I probably would have answered “No!”
My gut feeling, as a person who knew little about firearms, would have been “lots of guns probably mean lots of danger.”
So what changed? Simple: I took some time to review the best available scholarly research about what works (and what doesn’t) in terms of preventing violent crime. Having done so, I made two important decisions. First, I became a Michigan CPL (after completing the required training and background checks).
Second, I decided that part of my job as a criminal justice educator is to inform the public about the reality of “gun control.” It is from this perspective that I write this commentary.
There are four main reasons why I support concealed carry on campus (and why I find the counter arguments unconvincing).
They are as follows: 1. “Pistol free zones” simply do not work! The only thing they accomplish is disarming law-abiding CPLs (who respect the law) while ensuring that violent criminals (who ignore it) have access to a pool of defenseless victims.
There are dozens of tragic cases that illustrate this point: One merely needs to look to the recent shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University to appreciate the carnage that an armed assailant can inflict when he opens fire at a place where lawabiding citizens are prohibited from protecting themselves.
Moreover, while mass shootings are admittedly rare (as opponents of CPL will point out), other violent crime unfortunately is not.
Armed robberies, rapes, aggravated assaults and even homicides happen on university campuses every year. For instance, earlier this year, 20-year-old Asia McGowan was shot dead by another student at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn.
2. It is a dangerous myth that calling the police is a viable substitute for being prepared to defend oneself.
Despite their best efforts, law enforcement simply can’t respond fast enough to save most crime victims, and even when they do arrive at a “crime in progress,” statistics show that there’s a greater chance of a bystander being accidentally shot by a police officer, as compared to a CPL.
Conversely, cases in which CPLs have successfully thwarted violent crimes (often without firing a shot) are numerous (for multiple examples see http://www.learnaboutguns.
com/tag/self-defense-example/!) 3. There is virtually no scholarly evidence to suggest that expanding carry privileges on campus will lead to increased gun violence (by turning fi st fi ghts, or domestic violence incidents, into shootouts).
CPLs are among the most lawabiding and safety-conscious citizens in our society (statistically, they have lower crime rates than almost any other group of people, including police officers) and have a proven track record of using force only when faced with the threat of deadly violence.
States that have permitted CPL on campus (e.g. Colorado and Utah) have not experienced increases in campus shootings and generally enjoy low rates of violent crime.
4. There is little scholarly evidence to suggest that campus suicides or “drunken accidents” will increase if CPL is allowed on campus.
As stated earlier, the vast majority of CPLs take their carry privileges and obligations seriously.
There are already strict restrictions in place that prohibit CPLs from carrying while drinking.
Moreover, people who are licensed to carry firearms, almost without exception, exercise great care to store them safely, in ways that prevent unauthorized persons from gaining access to them.
Consequently, these concerns, like most arguments in opposition to concealed carry, are simply driven by the “fear of the unknown,” which brings me to my concluding argument: Fear is an extremely poor basis for criminal justice policy. It leads to ineffective measures that may make certain people “feel better,” but in reality leave all of us vulnerable to being victimized by crime.
Public policy should be based on facts, and the facts in this case strongly suggest that CPLs frequently use their firearms to thwart violent crime, but hardly ever abuse their carry privileges.
If people want to keep the ban on campus carry in place because they are “afraid of guns” or because “it might place a chill on the academic environment,” the answer to these concerns is education that raises awareness about the safety and effectiveness of CPL.
What we do not need are dangerous, arbitrary laws that benefit criminals while penalizing responsible, law-abiding citizens.
Dr. Christopher A. Kierkus is an assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Grand Valley State University, Allendale.
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