Mass shootings rightly make us concerned and afraid. Recently, however, politicians and ideologues hoping to score points have used these incidents to change the way we live, teach and learn. A bill — LD 1370 — being considered by the Maine Legislature would allow “campus carry,” adding Maine to the list of nine other states that permit carrying concealed guns on campuses. As criminologists at two of Maine’s institutions of higher education, we oppose campus carry for several reasons.
The classroom is often the scene of lively debate in the humanities and social sciences. This is as it should be: these disciplines deal with controversial issues and hard truths that may bring out passions on the many sides of a particular issue. Classroom debate may generate anger and other emotions, something both of us have seen in our classrooms over the years. Gun violence typically occurs when someone carrying a weapon becomes angry or frustrated over a perceived insult, other comment or action. Without really thinking, the gun carrier draws his weapon (it’s almost always a “ he”) and fires it. If students were packing heat in a classroom, it is too easy to imagine someone firing a weapon out of anger or frustration over what someone in the room had just said.
Relatedly, with campus carry, faculty may feel pressured to avoid controversial topics that might arouse passionate feelings. To the extent this happens — and faculty in Texas have been advised to avoid discussing certain topics in class after campus carry was enacted there — campus carry undermines the academic mission of the liberal arts, and higher education in general.
The issue of campus carry also comes down to the evidence. At present, we have two opposing strategies offered to prevent mass shootings: 1) a ban on guns (“gun free zones”) or 2) a push to allow more guns in vulnerable areas. Proponents of campus carry claim that it deters mass shootings. But this is a false hope. Mass shooters act out of intense anger, hate, or other emotions. They typically plan their shootings very carefully, knowing full well they may die at the hands of police, and some even take their own lives. It is highly unlikely that campus carry would deter the typical mass shooter.
Campus carry proponents might reply that once a mass shooter starts shooting, people on campus with concealed weapons may be able to take down the perpetrator. But this is a highly unlikely scenario. The typical student or other person with a concealed weapon would instead freeze if someone started randomly firing at people in a classroom or elsewhere on campus. If people with concealed weapons were able to fire them, keep in mind that most people with weapons are simply not well trained in their use. Amid the chaos of a mass shooting, they may miss the shooter and perhaps hit other people, and a firefight would ensue. Police coming to the scene would have no idea who was the mass shooter if other people also were firing their weapons. The cure of campus carry would be far worse than the disease. In the end, with no evidence in support of such a policy coupled with the potential disastrous consequences, campus carry is not a wise approach.
Our final reason for opposing campus carry rests on the statistical fact that mass shootings are, thankfully, very rare despite how much attention they get when they occur. Only 0.2 percent of all homicides in the U.S. result from a mass killing; of all gun deaths, only around 1 percent are attributable to mass shootings. Almost all firearm homicides result from a spontaneous and emotional response, not from mass shootings. If campus carry were allowed, it would be far more likely that people on campus would die or be wounded from this typical firearm violence than to be saved from dying or being wounded in a mass shooting.
The views of those in our profession, not the politicians who are seeking to impose potentially dangerous policies, should matter. What do academics think about campus carry? We oppose it. For all these reasons, campus carry is definitely not an idea whose time has come. It would make campus a more dangerous setting, not a safer one, and it would stifle the academic discussion and debate so important to the campus experience.
Steven E. Barkan is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine in Orono and the author of “Criminology: A Sociological Understanding.” Michael Rocque is an assistant professor of sociology at Bates College in Lewiston and the author of “Desistance from Crime: New Advances in Theory and Research.” They are both members of the Scholars Strategy Network.