When we heard about the tragedy at Umpqua Community College, we were all horrified. As a professor here at Purdue for the past eleven years, I had a second reaction. I realized that, in a similar situation, I’d be helpless to defend my students. This is because although I am licensed to carry a handgun in the state of Indiana, I am forbidden by the University to do so on campus.
I grew up in West Lafayette. I teach at Krannert; my father spent his entire career as a professor in the History Department. I understand people in this community, and I understand the emotional reactions some people experience when discussing guns. But we need to find common sense solutions to gun violence. And it makes sense to change the Purdue policy that forbids licensed permit holders from having guns on campus.
This isn’t a plea for less or more gun control. Those arguments go on all the time, with a lot of heat but not much light. The fact is, concealed carry is the law of the land in all fifty states, including Indiana. But our University has chosen by policy to forbid normal, legal firearm possession by licensed permit holders. The question for our community right now shouldn’t be “do we want more or less gun control?” It should be “does it make sense to forbid legal licensed concealed carry on campus?” I think the common sense answer is “No.”
Let’s break through the myths and emotions, and focus on the facts. What’s the problem Purdue’s policy is designed to solve? What are the benefits of the policy? What are the costs?
As to the benefits of banning concealed carry, I think we can all agree that the University policy banning guns will never stop premeditated murders, whether small or mass. We saw that ourselves on campus in 2014. So the University policy can only be justified if it stops other dangers that exist with guns. Primarily, this means the possibility of arguments escalating to lethal violence because of the presence of a gun. That’s apparently the problem Purdue’s policy is meant to solve.
It seems a reasonable fear that more concealed carry would lead to more violence. And crimes by concealed carry permit holders do occur. But they’re unbelievably rare because concealed carry permit holders are extremely law-abiding. According to a 2015 report by the Crime Prevention Research Center, permit holders commit crimes at a rate of 22.3 crimes of any type per 100,000 people—compared to a rate of 3,813 per 100,000 people in the general population.
Concealed carry permit holders by definition must be 18 or older, be fingerprinted and pass a background check. More than 5% of all Americans now are permit holders, an amount that has tripled in the past eight years. In Indiana, it’s more than 10% of adults. And in every state that’s adopted concealed carry in the past 20 years, most recently Illinois, there have been predictions of “blood in the streets” resulting from concealed carry—all of which have proven totally wrong, including in the states that already allow campus carry. As the chief of police of the Champaign police department said last year after hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois were issued concealed carry permits, “It’s a non-event.” The simple fact is that it’s not true in practice that concealed carry, whether on campus or otherwise, leads to people in arguments pulling out a gun.
As to costs of banning concealed carry, on a normal day there are minimal costs. It’s on the not-normal days that the costs become incalculable. A nearby concealed carry holder at Umpqua, a college that formally banned all guns, could have ended the shooting. If Chris Mintz, who charged the gunman and got shot seven times, had instead had a gun, the Umpqua story would have ended differently. And some day we may face a shooting like Umpqua, or even worse, an organized terrorist incident, tragically common around the world, where shooters choose a soft, gun-free target (like Westgate Mall in Kenya in 2013), and take their time to kill massive numbers of unarmed civilians. It’s on that extraordinary day, if it came to Purdue, that the costs of the University policy would become both obvious and quantifiable. And it would be too late for us to do anything. The cost reduction device we can choose now is allowing concealed carry. Concealed carry holders have stopped and deterred shootings numerous times around the country—just never in “gun free” zones like Purdue, where no law-abiding person has a gun.
On balance, I think objectively the costs of the policy banning licensed concealed carry on campus exceed the benefits, so it’s a bad policy. But there are legitimate arguments on both sides. Recognizing this, I think a compromise gun safety solution is probably the best revised policy. I propose that the University change the policy to permit faculty and staff, but not students, who hold concealed carry permits to exercise their rights on campus. If the experience of the Purdue community with such a new policy is the same as every other community in the country that has adopted concealed carry, the new policy could later be extended to licensed students by general agreement. I’m sure that my limited, focused proposal won’t be popular with students focused on exercising their gun rights, but I think it’s a reasonable compromise to both make our community safer and bring our community together.
– Charles Haywood is a clinical assistant professor of business law.