Campus carry criticisms based on faulty assumptions, gun advocates say

One prominent gun violence researcher said he believes campus carry laws only “invite tragedies” and will do nothing to prevent mass shootings or reduce crime.

Except, that’s not the reason why supporters even want the ability to bring firearms onto college campuses. It’s simply, they say, a matter of self-defense.

Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and lead author of “Firearms on College Campuses: Research Evidence and Policy Implications,” argues colleges are “ill-suited to gun possession” and claims research proves armed civilians aren’t good at stopping mass shootings.

In his report, released last week, Webster cites data collected from a handful of recent studies he says support his claims.

“The risks and interconnectedness of violence, alcohol abuse and reckless behavior are elevated among college-age youths,” Webster said in a Washington Post editorial published Friday promoting the study. “The frequency of binge drinking among college students is a deep and enduring problem, and the evidence from studies of criminal assaults both outside and inside the home and comparisons of victims who are treated at hospitals for nonlethal assault-related injuries with homicides shows that the presence of firearms dramatically increases the risk of death and injury during altercations. Freely inserting firearms into this environment is a recipe for tragedy.”

Michael Newbern, assistant director of public relations for Students for Concealed Carry, isn’t buying it.

“This study makes several claims with respect to our arguments for campus concealed carry that are just not true,” he told Tuesday. “Nowhere in our testimony, calls to action, website, or Facebook page will you find Students for Concealed Carry citing reductions in crime and/or mass shootings as justification for campus concealed carry. We have always contended campus concealed carry is about allowing a licensee the ability to practice on campus the same method of self-defense we enjoy off campus.”

Students for Concealed Carry describes itself as “a student-run, national, non-partisan organization which advocates for legal concealed carry on college campuses in the United States as an effective means of self-defense.”

But the idea that permitting concealed carry “will somehow introduce crime to the campus environment” is a common fallacy gun control advocates repeat often, Newbern said.

“This study follows that same tactic in a failed effort to add some academic credibility to that argument,” he said.

Campus carry laws now exist in eight states: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Webster, however, doesn’t want to see other states join the list.

“We oppose guns on campus not in the hackneyed stereotype of liberals scolding from the ivory tower but as a result of a searching examination of relevant research, as well as a common-sense assessment of reality,” he said. “What the evidence to date shows — and what we hope state legislators across the nation who are pondering such measures will consider — is that campus-carry laws will invite tragedies on college campuses, not end them.”

Dr. John Lott, economist and author of “The War on Guns,” said Monday the report is political and not “a serious attempt to deal with existing arguments.”

“I can’t find one single case where a concealed carry permit holder on college property has committed a crime. It just doesn’t happen,” he said. “I can find five cases of accidental discharge, but nobody was killed in those and they were pretty trivial. You could argue they are overly cautious. They are extremely cautious in how they use their weapon.”

Lott founded the Crime Prevention Research Center and is a favorite among gun rights groups for his research linking lower crime rates to concealed carry laws. Gun control advocates pan his expertise and remain critical of his research methodology.

Webster, too, attacks Lott’s research in his report and writes that, in fact, access to weapons during the turbulent adolescent and early adulthood years increases the risk of violence.

“Risky decision-making in adolescence and early adulthood is due, in part, to on-going brain development during that stage of life that can compromise emotional and behavioral regulation, impulse control, and judgment — all of which are essential for avoiding the circumstances in which firearm access leads to tragedy,” Webster said. “Age-specific homicide offending peaks around the age when youth reach the minimum legal age for purchasing, possessing, and carrying handguns (19-21 years).”

Lott argues research regarding “whether these people actually get into trouble” doesn’t support Webster’s claims.

“The CPRC has actually done such a study on just that subject, and found that college-age permit holders are at least as law-abiding as all other permit holders,” Lott said. “For three states, we have data on revocations by age of the permit holder. Generally, those under age 23 are at least as law-abiding as those who are 23 and older.”

Lott’s research shows of the 14.5 million concealed carry permit holders across the United States, revocation rates for those permits are rare — occurring at “rates of tenths or hundredths of one percent.”

Losing a permit over a firearm-related incident is rarer still, Lott said, occurring at “rates of thousandths or tens of thousandths of one percent.”

Newbern, too, finds fault with the studies cited in Webster’s report, arguing it “ignores the preponderance of research on the subject, including a 2015 study by Charles D. Phillips, Regents Professor of health and policy management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health,” which found no connection between concealed handgun licensing and crime rates.

“The results of this research indicate that no such relationships exist,” Phillips writes in his study. “For our study states, during the time period covered by our data, changes in crime rates did not affect subsequent CHL licensing rates. In addition, CHL licensing rates did not have a significant, negative or positive, effect on subsequent crime rates.”

“The problem is that the addition or subtraction of different variables from statistical models can make a big difference in the final outcome, which is why we see examples of research supporting both sides of the argument, similar to the background check research,” said Dr. William Sousa, director of the Center for Crime and Justice Policy at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Sousa examines studies connecting reduced levels of gun violence to stricter regulation of firearms — a research angle he says is thwart with inconclusive results that suggest links, but not causation between the two — but admits he hasn’t studied the impact of right-to-carry laws as closely.

“My sense, however, is that, like with the background check issue, there is more research that supports the ‘right to carry equals higher crime’ argument,” he said Tuesday. “But just because there is more of it does not necessarily mean that it is of higher quality than the research that supports the ‘right-to-carry equals lower crime’ argument.”

Webster also serves as a professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University. In his Washington Post editorial, Webster notes the university’s connection to former New York City Mayor, staunch gun control advocate and “major donor” Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg funds high-profile gun control groups including Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He also bankrolls ballot initiatives strengthening background checks laws and other firearms regulations in states like Nevada and Maine.

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