This is an opinion piece from Sarah Needle, a young person working on preventing gun violence and an intern with Center for American Progress’ Guns and Crime team.
In his now infamous “good guys with guns” address, in the wake of the shooting of 20 school children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA), advocated for more guns in schools. Not only did his stance trivialize the pain felt by the families of these victims, but it exposed a dramatic policy change for the NRA. In a 1999 address LaPierre gave at the NRA Convention following the shooting at Columbine High School, he instead preached that schools should be “absolutely gun-free.”
The new NRA agenda to put guns in schools is at best a thinly-veiled business pitch for the gun industry and at worst, the financial exploitation of a mass shooting. Ties between the NRA and the gun industry are long-documented; understanding these ties is critical to contextualizing recent efforts to allow guns on college and K-12 campuses.
Campus carry is the proposition that individuals with concealed carry permits should be able to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Currently, most campuses are gun-free zones regardless of what permits an individual may or may not have. There are three key actors in the campaign for campus carry: the gun industry, the gun lobby (dominated by the NRA), and John Lott.
Guns are a durable good, meaning that once you buy one, you don’t need to replace it. However, the gun industry remains dependent on consumers. They therefore rely on fear-mongering, often through campaigns sponsored by the NRA, to drive demand. The NRA, as the political arm of the gun industry, creates the need for increasing lethality through the equation “more guns, less crime.” By championing this myth that having more armed private citizens will reduce crime, they create a constant demand for guns, effectively putting an expiration date on firearms as they are rendered obsolete by new developments in firearm technology.
The NRA is largely funded by the gun industry. The NRA has received approximately $39 million since 2005. There is also overlap in leadership—individuals on the NRA’s board also sit on the board of Brownells, an online arms superstore, and Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, who pride themselves on manufacturing .50-caliber rifles.
These are the stakeholders promoting campus carry through the NRA. The NRA advocates for campus carry primarily through supporting Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCC) on their lobbying website, in addition to lobbying for campus carry bills at the state level. The NRA and SCC are linked by both an argument and an individual. John Lott is an economist who first provided the “scientific research” that more guns lead to less crime. However, his research has been discredited as lacking credible statistical support, and his data has been found to contain many coding errors.
Lott was cited as a leader associated with the 2014 SCC National Conference. It is his equation (“more guns, less crimes”) around which support for campus carry revolves. This is despite economist Mark Duggan finding homicide and gun ownership to be positively linked, meaning that more guns in fact leads to more murder.
The idea to allow concealed guns on college campuses gained traction following the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, when a student opened fire, killing 32 students and wounding 17 others before turning the gun on himself. Recently, the introduction of these campus carry bills to state legislatures has increased. But the majority of Americans do not agree that guns should be allowed on college campuses. MSNBC reported that 78 percent of students, 95 percent of college presidents, and 89 percent of police chiefs do not believe that more guns lead to safer campuses.
So then why are these bills being introduced in state legislatures?
Campus carry at public universities is currently legal in eight states: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, and Iowa. This year, bills to allow campus carry have been introduced in 16 additional states. This shift means that decisions regarding campus carry are being made by the gun industry through the pipeline already described (gun industry funds the NRA, the NRA funds campaigns, politicians rule in favor of NRA advocacy). When control of legislation shifts in favor of big business—in this case the gun industry, the basic values of democracy are undermined.
Students often move out of state to attend college, but frequently continue to vote in the state they are from. Consequently, state legislatures do not inherently represent student populations. For example, at the University of Wisconsin 28 percent of enrolled students are from out of state. This means that for 28 percent of the students at UW, state legislators for whom they did not vote are exercising controversial control over their campus and personal safety.
These laws have financial repercussions for both schools and students. Insurance companies have expressed concern over campus carry laws, quoting the Texas university system with insurance cost increases of up to $47 million dollars over the first six years following implementation of campus carry. Most likely, incurred costs would trickle down into student cost through tuition. Students would literally be paying for the “privilege” of having their rights determined by individuals who do not represent them. These legislators are voting backed by $27 million in campaign contributions from the NRA—not by students or other constituents.
In addition to this shift in control from universities to elected officials, backtracking on tenets of the U.S. Constitution (“Taxation without Representation” being the rallying call at the Boston Tea Party) this pro-campus carry stance is hypocritical when put in context of the larger ideology of the NRA. Since 1989, the gun lobby has given more than $30 million in PAC donations, soft money and individual contributions with 87 percent ($27 million) going to Republicans. Should the ideology of those Republicans (a preference for “small government”) be applied to the issue of campus carry, it would stand to reason that these decisions would be left to schools.
Proposed campus concealed carry isn’t actually about the safety of students, it is about opening up another market for the gun industry.