AUSTIN, TEXAS – On the first day of any college statistics class, students are taught a simple principle: Correlation does not equal causation. The understanding that one event preceding another is not the same as one event causing another is considered sacred by scientists but sometimes forgotten by journalists. When a journalist for The Houston Chronicle reported that there have been three gun discharges on Texas public college campuses during the past six months, she was careful to note, “Just one had a connection to the new campus carry law.” However, when the Associated Press picked up the story, this not insignificant detail was omitted.
This is how the AP story ends: “A Houston Chronicle review of university records plus interviews found three firearm discharges on public college campuses, in the first six months of the law. The incidents were at the University of Houston, Tarleton State and Texas Tech.”
If one of your politically idealistic friends made a Facebook post claiming, “There have been hundreds of hate crimes in America since Trump took office,” or, “There have been dozens of sexual assaults in Austin since the Travis County sheriff instituted a ‘sanctuary city’ policy,” you’d likely stop to ask yourself how many of those crimes actually had any connection to the event cited by your friend. However, if the Associated Press tells you that there have been “three firearm discharges on public college campuses, in the first six months of the [campus carry] law,” you’re not being unreasonable if you assume that all three were related to the campus carry law. However, as noted by The Houston Chronicle, evidence ties only one of those discharges—the most minor of the three—to Texas’ campus carry law.
As previously reported by Students for Concealed Carry, a license to carry (LTC) holder experienced an accidental or negligent discharge on September 24, in his dorm room at Tarleton State University. The incident resulted in minor damage to the room but no injuries. This incident is unfortunate but not damning. When opponents lined up to testify against Texas Senate Bill 11, they didn’t warn state lawmakers and university officials that there would be damage to floor tiles; they warned that people would be injured and killed. That hasn’t happened.
On most college campuses, a dorm room is the only location with even a moderate risk of an accidental or negligent discharge. Such incidents generally occur during the handling of an unholstered handgun, and—with the exception of campuses that require LTC holders to unload their guns before entering buildings—the only place on campus where an LTC holder might have reason to handle an unholstered handgun is in a dorm room*.
The second incident uncovered by the Chronicle has no apparent ties to campus carry. At approximately 1:30 AM onSept. 29, police responded to a report of somebody firing three shots on a public road that runs through Texas Tech University. No injuries or property damage were reported, and no suspects have been arrested. Not only is there no evidence tying this purported crime to Texas’ campus carry law; the incident didn’t occur in an area affected by the law. Even prior to the enactment of SB 11, licensed concealed carry was allowed on the public streets and sidewalks running through Texas college campuses, and unlicensed concealed carry was allowed in cars passing through campus.
As for the third incident—a suicide at a hotel located on the University of Houston campus—you can decide for yourself whether the law allowing licensed concealed carry at Texas colleges is to blame: After months of writing about suicide on social media, a UH alumnus purchased a firearm from a Houston sporting goods store and checked in to an on-campus hotel where he used to work. He then spent a short while making a series of social media posts explaining his decision to take his own life, telling loved ones where to find his body, and instructing that he should be cremated. He also criticized the sporting goods store where he purchased the gun, saying that the purchase was too easy and that the company should stop selling firearms. When he’d said all that he had to say, he shot and killed himself.
For as long as anybody can remember, there have been shootings on and near Texas college campuses. However, before the campus carry law went into effect, there was no boogeyman to point to as the assumed culprit. If the AP’s goal was to examine the impact of the new law, they could have compared the number of shooting incidents during the first semester of campus carry to the numbers in previous semesters. Better still, they could have dug into the facts of the shootings in question (as The Houston Chronicle did), before insinuating that campus carry was involved.
The Associated Press wasn’t the only news outlet to present a misleading perspective on this issue. When Fox 7 News in Austin carried the AP story, they used the “three firearm discharges on public college campuses” line to caption the story on Facebook:
And when Fox 7 aired a short segment on the AP story’s main focus—the University of Texas graduate students who insist on holding office hours in gun-free bars—they trimmed SCC Southwest Regional Director Brian Bensimon’s comments to omit both Bensimon’s mention of a scientific study finding that young people are far more likely to be victimized in or near a bar and his reference to statistics showing that Texas license to carry holders are far less likely than their unlicensed peers to commit aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. This inexplicable omission created the impression that Bensimon was merely stating a personal opinion when he argued that holding office hours in bars places students and faculty at greater risk.
With regard to the misleading nature of the AP and Fox 7 stories, Bensimon commented:
I have a lot of respect for the news media, as does everyone at SCC, but we have a duty to our organization and our cause to set the record straight whenever the issue is covered in a way that is inaccurate or misleading. This isn’t about “fake news” or media bias; it’s about journalists looking for the simplest or sexiest approach to covering a complex, unsexy issue. Narrative-building is an appropriate and necessary part of contemporary journalism, and reporting will always amount to more than just stenography, but it’s crucial that stories not omit important facts, even if including those facts diminishes narrative appeal.
*An LTC holder living in on-campus housing would likely need to unload his or her gun from time to time, either to secure it (e.g., if preparing to place the gun in checked baggage for air travel) or to perform routine maintenance on it.
ABOUT STUDENTS FOR CONCEALED CARRY — Students for Concealed Carry (SCC) is a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization comprising college students, faculty, staff, and concerned citizens who believe that holders of state-issued concealed handgun licenses should be allowed the same measure of personal protection on college campuses that current laws afford them virtually everywhere else. SCC is not affiliated with the NRA or any other organization. For more information on SCC, visit ConcealedCampus.org or Facebook.com/ConcealedCampus. For more information on the debate over campus carry in Texas, visit WhyCampusCarry.com or tweet @CampusCarry.
“A Refresher on the Case for Campus Carry in Texas”: http://concealedcampus.org/2016/05/a-refresher-on-the-case-for-campus-carry-in-texas/
SCC’s Oct. 2, 2015 – Feb. 19, 2017, Texas press releases and op-eds: https://www.scribd.com/document/319141232/Texas-Students-for-Concealed-Carry-Campus-Carry-Press-Releases-Op-Eds-Oct-2-2015-Feb-19-2017
SCC’s 2015 Texas legislative handout (includes Dec. 9 – May 22, 2015, press releases and op-eds): https://www.scribd.com/document/255815743/SCC-s-2015-Texas-Legislative-Handout
All SCC statements regarding the campus carry policies proposed by UT-Austin: https://www.scribd.com/document/317821607/Texas-Students-for-Concealed-Carry-Press-Releases-Regarding-UT-Austin-s-Campus-Carry-Policies
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