In the Media, Opponents of Campus Carry Seek Low-Hanging Fruit

by concealed campus on December 2, 2015

AUSTIN, TX – When opponents of campus carry start a sentence with “Supporters of campus carry claim,” what they typically mean is, “Someone peripherally related to the issue said something easily dismissed as inaccurate, irrational, or offensive.”

In the December 2 edition of the Houston Chronicle, columnist Lisa Falkenberg criticizes the rhetoric of campus carry supporters, writing, “C.J. Grisham, a prominent open carry activist-cum state Senate candidate, accused the private schools [that have opted out of campus carry] of jumping on a ‘bandwagon of ignorance.’ He added in an interview with the Chronicle’s Benjamin Wermund: ‘If they want their students to be victims, they have every right to let their students be victims.'”

If Falkenberg was looking for a quote to illustrate the position of campus carry activists, why did she choose one from the former president of an open carry organization rather than one from the college-based, campus-carry-specific organization responsible for virtually every pro-campus carry op-ed and press release penned during the now eight-and-a-half-year-long battle over licensed concealed carry on Texas college campuses? C.J. Grisham isn’t an elected official or the nominee of a political party; he’s a primary candidate associated with a tangentially related gun-rights issue. So why was his quote chosen to represent the pro-campus carry side of the debate? It was chosen because it fits Lisa Falkenberg’s predetermined narrative.

Although the thesis of Falkenberg’s opinion piece is that students’ measured discourse over campus carry should be an example for politicians, the statement from Grisham is the only time her 1,066-word column quotes anyone on the pro-campus carry side of the debate. Instead, she quickly abandons the pretense that her column is about student discourse and, instead, dedicates the bulk of her word count to making a case against campus carry.

After touting the bona fides of Rice University’s Undergraduate Student Association’s president (her parents were in the military, and she grew up in a home with guns, so we’re expected to accept that she “understands arguments on both sides of the issue”), Falkenberg juxtaposes tired gun-rights platitudes (“the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”) and comically weak criticisms of campus gun bans (“opposition to guns on campus [is] based on…a bias against rural Texans”), against a handful of fact-based arguments supporting such bans.

Not trusting readers to catch the message underlying this intentionally lopsided comparison, Falkenberg explicitly states, “Gun data is extremely complex, but most of it seems to support Rice’s decision to opt out.” Falkenberg then proceeds to ignore the most relevant data (i.e., Texas Department of Public Safety statistics on convictions of concealed handgun license holders for violent crimes, the fact that Texas CHL holders are already allowed to carry concealed handguns in locations that differ very little from college campuses, the dearth of CHL-related crimes on the 150+ U.S. college campuses that currently allow licensed concealed carry in campus buildings, and the fact that licensed concealed carry is already allowed in the parking garages and publicly accessible outdoor areas of Texas college campuses) and, instead, focuses on three studies, one of which offers no evidence that licensed concealed carry poses a danger to the public and one of which she grossly misinterprets.

Falkenberg writes:

“One [study], published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2012, showed concealed handgun license holders are largely law-abiding, but ‘when they do break bad, they’ve got a gun.’ Their convictions are for offenses more likely to be violent, to involve firearms and to result in death.”

Interestingly, the study in question concurred with SCC’s claim that license holders are significantly less likely than nonlicensees to commit violent crimes; however, because the study found that license holders are much, much less likely to commit the more-common crimes of assault, robbery, or burglary but only much less likely to commit a sexual offense, a weapons offense, a crime involving the intentional killing of another person, or the crime of “deadly conduct,” the researchers concluded that the difference must be the result of easy access to guns. That conclusion has two glaring flaws.

The first flaw is that the Texas Department of Public Safety crime data on which the study relied does not list the type of weapon used or, in many cases, whether a weapon was used at all; does not indicate the location where the crime occurred; and does not offer any indication as to whether licensed concealed carry was a factor. If a researcher wishes to consider only crimes in which easy access to a handgun carried under the authority of a concealed handgun license was a factor, the researcher must exclude crimes that did not involve a handgun; premeditated crimes for which a CHL could have offered no legal or strategic advantage and, therefore, could not have been an enabling factor; crimes that took place in the perpetrator’s home, where a license was not needed to possess a handgun; crimes in which the perpetrator retrieved a handgun from his or her private motor vehicle, where the perpetrator did not need a license to possess a handgun; and crimes committed in a statutory “gun-free” zone, where licensed concealed carry was not permitted. Such exclusions were not possible using the data utilized for this study.

The second flaw is that there is a better explanation for why this subset of crimes constitutes a higher percentage of convictions among CHL holders than among the general population: Someone with a clean criminal record and a desire to abide by the law (i.e., someone willing to undergotraining, testing, and extensive background checks to comply with an honor-system based concealed-carry law) is highly unlikely to suddenly turn to the type of criminal activity (e.g., burglary, robbery, or simple assault) indicative of a lifelong criminal. The key factor isn’t that having a concealed handgun license makes CHL holders more likely to commit a sexual offense, a weapons offense, an intentional killing, or “deadly conduct” (note that, although these crimes constituted a higher percentage of the overall convictions among CHL holders, CHL holders were convicted of such crimes at much lower rates than were nonlicensees); the key factor is that being a generally law-abiding citizen makes CHL holders much less likely to commit the type of crime that reflects a casual disregard for the law.

The study notes, “CHL holders’ convictions were much more likely than nonholders’ convictions to be for a sexual offense (ratio = 2.25),” but concedes, “Demography likely lies at the root of this difference. Many of these convictions among CHL holders involved sexual offenses against children, crimes that are almost solely the province of adult men, often those middle-aged or older.” Following this concession, the study focuses on the three remaining categories of crime—weapons offenses, intentional killings, and “deadly conduct.” As previously stated, the researchers had no way of knowing how many of each type of crime actually involved licensed concealed carry, and each of these three categories presents its own unique considerations.

Although the study claims, “Deadly conduct demands possession of a firearm,” the Texas Penal Code actually states, “A person commits [deadly conduct] if he recklessly engages in conduct that places another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury” (there is no requirement that the crime involve a firearm). The penal code does go on to state, “Recklessness and danger are presumed if the actor knowingly pointed a firearm at or in the direction of another whether or not the actor believed the firearm to be loaded,” and the penal code does elevate deadly conduct from a Class A misdemeanor to a third-degree felony if it involves knowingly firing a gun in the direction of a person, habitation, building, or vehicle; however, the crime of deadly conduct does not “demand” possession of a firearm.

Furthermore, under the Texas Penal Code, threatening or assaulting someone with a firearm constitutes aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony that CHL holders commit at less than 16% the rate of the general population. Therefore, it’s unlikely that many if any of the recorded convictions for misdemeanor deadly conduct involved a CHL holder snapping and pointing a handgun at someone, and it’s unlikely that many if any of the convictions for third-degree felony deadly conduct involved a CHL holder snapping and firing a gun at someone. What is likely, given that deadly conduct involves reckless acts, not deliberately harmful acts, is that many of the convictions of CHL holders (who tend to be gun enthusiasts) for deadly conduct involved unsafe behavior while hunting or target shooting (e.g., discharging a firearm in the direction of a neighbor’s house).

During the period of this study (2001-2009), Texas CHL holders were convicted of any form of murder (aka intentional killing) at less than 33% the rate of the general population. That is consistent with the overall rate at which CHL holders are convicted of any form of murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide. As explained earlier, the fact that murder accounts for a higher percentage of total criminal convictions of CHL holders is likely attributable to the fact that someone with a clean history and a desire to follow the law is unlikely to have motive to commit a crime like burglary, robbery, or simple assault (crimes indicative of a lifelong or career criminal) but might, under extreme circumstances, have motive to commit murder. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that CHL holders still commit murder at only 1/3 the rate of the general population. Statistically, you’d be much safer locked in a room filled with randomly selected CHL holders than in a room filled with people (including children) chosen at random from the general population. To look at the risk another way, consider that a Texan is significantly more likely to be struck by lightning (odds:1/1,190,000) than to be murdered or negligently killed by a CHL holder (odds: 1/9,759,726).

The study in question accurately points out that weapons offenses often involve carrying a concealed handgun into a location where doing so is illegal. This is a nonviolent crime that contributes little to the debate over whether licensed concealed carry presents a clear and present danger to public safety. More significantly, individuals willing to disregard laws dictating where they’re allowed to carry concealed handguns are unlikely to be deterred by a state law or school policy prohibiting guns on college campuses (or anywhere else not equipped with screening measures such as metal detectors). Therefore, there is no practical way for such convictions to inform the debate over campus carry.

Falkenberg goes on to point out:

“Earlier this year, another study by the A&M researcher [who conducted the aforementioned study], published in the Journal of Criminology, found that more CHLs do not reduce crime, nor do they increase crime.”

Like most journalists and editorialists who mention this study, Falkenberg skims over the part about licensed concealed carry not increasing crime. This study, like the preponderance of peer-reviewed studies on the subject, concluded that licensed concealed carry cannot be shown to lead to an increase in crime, yet Falkenberg—like so many opponents of campus carry—somehow believes that it bolsters her case.

Falkenberg then misstates the findings of a study by the gun-control conglomerate Everytown for Gun Safety. Citing the study, Falkenberg claims, “No more than 13 percent of the 133 mass shootings in public spaces over the past nearly seven years took place in so-called gun-free zones.” However, the study actually found that only 37 of the 133 recorded mass shootings took place in public spaces (the rest took place entirely in private residences) and that 17 (46%) of those mass shootings “took place entirely in public spaces that were so-called ‘gun-free zones.'”

Not only does Falkenberg misstate the findings of this study (which was conducted by an activist group and was not peer reviewed); she misinterprets the nature of the study itself. She cites the study in response to “the claim that Rice and other gun-free campuses are sitting ducks for a deranged gunman,” yet the study she cites isn’t about incidents involving deranged gunmen (aka active-shooter incidents); it’s about incidents (including domestic disputes, botched robberies, drug deals gone wrong, etc.) in which three or more people were shot and killed. Of the 37 mass shootings that, according to Everytown, occurred in whole or in part in public places, only four were active-shooter incidents occurring in locations where CHL holders are generally allowed to carry concealed handguns, in states with shall-issue licensing laws. In one of those four incidents, the public portion of the shooting involved the gunman shooting from his car, and with regard to another of the four, there is conflicting information as to whether concealed carry was actually allowed at the location where the shooting occurred.

It is unclear whether active shooters hoping to rack up high body counts actually seek out “gun-free” zones, but it is disingenuous to point to the aforementioned Everytown study as evidence that such shootings typically occur in locations where CHL holders are allowed to carry concealed handguns.

Whether regurgitating tired red herrings about binge drinking and the maturity of college students or suggesting that an individual’s ability to defend himself or herself should be decided by the same type of uninformed popular vote used to pick the winner of American Idol, Falkenberg brings nothing new to this debate. Her column isn’t about praising the intellectual discourse demonstrated by the “Lone Star leaders of tomorrow“; it’s about reiterating the same unsubstantiated, anti-campus carry talking points we have all heard a thousand times before.

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