Evaluating Bloomberg’s School of Public Health’s “Firearms on College Campuses”

25 Oct , 2016  

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This paper by the Bloomberg School of Public Health (copy available here, henceforth referred to as the Bloomberg Report) doesn’t even try to address the existing arguments that have been made on campus carry.  Below is a very rough, very quick response to their claims.  For those who are interested, here is a video of recently invited testimony that Dr. John Lott gave before the Tennessee state Senate on the issue of allowing permitted concealed handguns on campus.

Let’s address a few of the claims made in the Bloomberg Report.

Why the College Campus Environment is Ill-Suited for the Civilian Gun Possession; Brain and Cognitive Development in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood; Onset of Mental Illness, Youth Suicide and Access to Firearms; Alcohol Abuse and Violence on College Campuses

This is the one point that we will take out of order because it is so straightforward and the authors of the Bloomberg Report spend so much time on it.

The U.S. has over 14.5 million concealed handgun permit holders, and they are extremely law-abiding, even when compared to the police.  Here are the numbers for Texas.

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Lott’s book More Guns, Less Crime (chapter 10) shows the numbers for 25 different states.

–Across states, we find that permits are revoked occur at rates of tenths or hundredths of one percent

–Revocations only for firearms-related violations occur at rates of thousandths or tens of thousandths of one percent.

But the question here is how college-age students behave.  While the Bloomberg Report focuses a great deal of attention on the behavior of young people, it doesn’t spend any time examining existing research on the behavior of college-age permit holders. The CPRC has actually done such a study on just that subject and found that college-age permit holders are at least as law-abiding as all other permit holders.  For three states, we have data on revocations by age of the permit holder.  Generally, those under age 23 are at least as law-abiding as those who are 23 and older.

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Right-to-Carry Firearm Laws Do Not Reduce Mass Shootings or Casualties from Such Shootings

They claim that there is: “no evidence that RTC laws – which, it is argued, lead to more armed citizens ready to defend against a mass shooting – reduce mass shootings or the number of people shot in those incidents”

But here is some of the research on this:

Research by William Landes and John Lott is available here on concealed handgun laws and mass public shootings.

A somewhat more in-depth discussion is available in The Bias Against Guns and More Guns, Less Crime (this last book was published by the University of Chicago Press, 2010).

— There is a long list of explicit statements by killers about why they picked their targets. Time and again, they aimed to attack places where concealed handguns are prohibited.  For a longer and more detailed discussion, see Lott’s new book, The War on Guns.

There is No Evidence that “Gun-Free Zones” Facilitate Mass Shootings

This Bloomberg Report cites a Bloomberg-funded study by his Everytown for Gun Safety.  A detailed discussion of Everytown’s claims is available here.  Too often, Everytown relies on media reports to determine whether posted signs had declared the mass shooting scene to be a gun-free zone. But the media simply ignores the issue of gun-free zones, so of course reports will fail to mention whether signs were posted.

From the Bloomberg Report:

“In addition to the July 7, 2016, mass shooting in Dallas, since January 1, 2015, there have been at least four mass public shootings (as defined by Lott) that occurred in gun-allowing zones: Christopher Harper-Mercer’s shooting spree that claimed nine lives at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon; William Hudson’s rampage that claimed six lives at the Tennessee Colony campsite near Palestine, Texas; Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s attack that claimed fourteen lives at a holiday party being held at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California; and Jason Dalton’s murder spree that left six dead in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At two of the four locations (Umpqua and Inland)—and possibly at the other two locations—there were armed civilians present at the time of the shootings.”

The CPRC website had already listed two of these five cases.  But the other three show the sloppiness of the various Bloomberg-funded organizations.

– William Hudson’s rampage that claimed six lives at the Tennessee Colony campsite — This attack occurred while people were on their own private property (see here for a discussion). Hence it was not a mass public shooting.

– Christopher Harper-Mercer’s shooting spree that claimed nine lives at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon — See here for a discussion.

– Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s attack that claimed fourteen lives at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California — this occurred at a government workplace in California, so there is little question that we are dealing with another gun-free zone.

“Effective Neutralization of Active Shooters Requires Skills” and “Experience that Most Civilians Lack and Legally Armed Citizens Very Rarely Successfully Intervene to Prevent or Interrupt Mass Shootings”

Klarevas found that:  “Over a 26- year period, only four incidents that were actual rampage shootings in progress were terminated by the actions of an armed civilian.”

“An FBI study that examined 160 active shootings in the United States during 2000-2013 also provides reason to be suspect of claims that civilian defensive gun uses figure prominently in terminating ongoing gun rampages. FBI researchers found only one incident that involved an armed civilian intervening to end an attack in progress.”

Here is a list of 16 U.S. mass public shootings that have been stopped since 2012 (see here).  These cases are not comprehensive, as even highly dramatic incidents usually receive only local news coverage.

The FBI study claims that there were 160 active shooter cases in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013.  These cases include a number of instances where shots were fired but no one was hurt.  The list is also missing 20 public shootings in which 2 or more people were killed.

“Another problem with the term ‘gun-free zone’ relates to how proponents of unrestricted gun carrying define areas as gun free when there are law enforcement officers and armed security guards on the premises, though civilians are prohibited from carrying their personal firearms on site. Lott characterized military installations like Fort Hood and the Washington Navy Yard, which have been attacked by rampage gunmen, as gun free despite the presence of significant armed security personnel. The implication of this notion of “gun free” is that rampage shooters are only deterred by armed civilians, not by armed guards and law enforcement.”

Police and other law enforcement have an extremely difficult job in stopping mass public shootings.  Putting someone in uniform in front of a target makes them a target.  In such situations, the first person killed is the person in uniform.  The terrorists in these situations have a huge strategic advantage in being able to choose the time and place for an attack.  They can either killed the officer first, wait for them to leave, or chose some other target.  What you learn is that if the terrorists are willing to be patient long enough some opening will be found.

The advantage of someone with a concealed handgun permit is that they take away some of this strategic advantage to the killer.  Suppose that you have two police officers on a bus and a terrorist.  Normally the terrorist could kill the officers or wait for them to leave.  But when you start allowing permitted concealed handguns it starts to make the officer’s jobs safer because if the terrorist starts to attack them first, he has to worry that there might be someone behind him or to the side or in front.  Yet, with concealed handguns, even when the police leave the scene, the terrorist still doesn’t know if it safe to attack.

Possibly the authors connected with the Bloomberg Report have never been to Fort Hood or other military bases, but they are essentially cities and the military police who ride around in their cars are no different in their ability to protect everyone than are police in a typical city.  It is no more likely that the military police will be on the scene of an attack than it is that regular police would be.

“Lott’s claims pertaining to mass shootings and RTC laws are also inconsistent with evidence about mass shootings assembled in Louis Klarevas’s forthcoming book on the topic.21 Klarevas collected data on 111 high-fatality mass shootings (6 or more people murdered with a gun) from 1966 through 2015. He found that in the 41 states that currently have RTC laws or no regulation of concealed carrying of firearms for legal gun owners, the average death toll in high-fatality mass shootings increased following the implementation of a RTC law from a mean of 7.5 before to 8.4 after the law.”

As Klarevas notes on page 158 of his book:

In all fairness to Lott, when he conducted his study, he employed a definition of mass shootings that was different from the ones used by Duwe’s team and myself. . . . he disqualified all shooting incidents that were part of a broader crime: ‘gang activity; drug dealing; a holdup or robbery; drive-by shootings that explicitly or implicitly involved gang activity; organized crime, or professional hits; and serial killings, or killings that took place over the span of more than one day.'”

As Lott discusses in his book The War on Guns, the definition that he picked wasn’t just his definition.  It was the same as the FBI’s.  If Klarevas wants to use a different definition of mass shootings than the FBI, he should at least try to justify why he has done so, but he ignores the reasons that both the FBI and Lott have defined cases the way that they have.  In addition, Klarevas wants to look at “mass shootings” and not “mass public shootings.”  Here is Lott’s discussion of these issues from pages 167-68 in The War on Guns.

The FBI definition of mass public shootings excludes “shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence” or that were part of some other crime.33 The FBI also defines “public” places as “includ[ing] commercial areas (divided into malls, businesses open to pedestrian traffic, and busi- nesses closed to pedestrian traffic), educational environments (divided into schools [pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade] and IHEs), open spaces, government properties (divided into military and other govern- ment properties), houses of worship, and healthcare facilities.”34

Mass public shootings rivet our attention on the news. In most cases, they are carried out for the purpose of attracting media attention. They occur in areas where it is relatively easy to kill a lot of people—places like schools, malls, and movie theaters.

Gang-related shootings, by contrast, are not designed to attract media attention. They are, of course, intertwined with the issue of illegal drugs. Absent legalization, drug gangs will keep fighting over turf. Gun laws, or a lack thereof, cannot be blamed for these shootings.

There is another reason that the FBI definition excludes gang fights. Unlike mass public shooters who attack defenseless crowds of people, gang members often intentionally go up against armed opponents. There is a lot at stake fighting over valuable drugs.

Drug gang shootings make up a large share of Klarevas’ cases.  The fact that the FBI and Lott excluded them doesn’t mean that these cases aren’t important, just that the causes and solutions to drug gang shootings are a lot different than mass public shootings at a movie theater or a school.

Defensive and Hostile Gun Use by Civilians

“During the study period, there were 62 cases in which a NCVS respondent reported being a victim of a violent crime and used a gun in self-defense and an additional 65 who used a gun in property crimes or situations involving only verbal threat to the victim.”

The big problem with this claim is that they fail to acknowledge the screening question used in the survey.  Before people are asked any questions about how they defended themselves, they are asked whether they have been a victim of a violent crime.  The problem is that if a woman brandishes a gun and the criminal flees, she might not consider herself to be a victim of a violent crime and thus will never be asked how she defended herself.

“A major obstacle to generating a valid estimate of this impact was that most of the studies looking at this question included data for the period from 1985 through the early 1990s when violent crime rose sharply in certain areas, such as California, New York, and the District of Columbia, owing principally to the introduction of crack cocaine.”

Lott and Mustard did not ignore the impact of crack cocaine on crime rates, nor has subsequent work.  See footnote 50 on page 24 of the original Lott and Mustard paper.  In a 2003 Stanford Law Review article, Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley provide an overview of the research that Lott and his co-authors had done on this subject.

One of Ayres and Donohue’s greatest concerns is the apparent failure of previous research to account for the differential geographic impact of cocaine on crime. Lott’s book (and the Lott and Mustard paper) reported that including price data for cocaine did not alter the results. Using yearly county-level pricing data (as opposed to short-run changes in prices) has the advantage of picking up cost but not demand differences between coun- ties, thus measuring the differences in availability across counties. Research conducted by Steve Bronars and John Lott examined the crime rates for neighboring counties . . . on either side of a state border. When the counties adopting the law experienced a drop in violent crime, neighboring counties directly on the other side of the border without right-to-carry laws experienced an increase. . . . Ayres and Donohue argue that different parts of the country may have experienced differential impacts from the crack epidemic. Yet, if there are two urban counties next to each other, how can the crack cocaine hypoth- esis explain why one urban county faces a crime increase from drugs, when the neighbor- ing urban county is experiencing a drop? Such isolation would be particularly surprising as criminals can easily move between these counties. . . . Even though Lott gave Ayres and Donohue the cocaine price data from 1977 to 1992, they have never reported using it.

“Opponents of gun-free zones do not just argue that civilians carrying firearms can prevent mass shootings from occurring in the first place. They also maintain that, should deterrence fail, armed people will help reduce the bloodshed by neutralizing perpetrators before they can complete their rampages. In theory, this too sounds logical. Again, Lott is the source of this thesis. In particular, his central contribution to this debate is his effort to assemble an anecdotal compilation of thirty-one shootings since 1990 that involved armed civilians intervening and halting rampage gunmen from completing their objective of killing as many people as possible. Others have seized on his initiative, and the list of incidents now numbers 39. fn 19

But there is one substantial problem with this list. . . . in reality, rarely did private citizens with personal guns stop rampages. Of the 39 incidents, the majority—22 incidents—did not involve mass-shooting scenarios. Instead, they were knife attacks, gun-brandishing episodes where the weapon was never fired, armed robberies where the criminals never tried to execute the customers present, and shootings that did not involve enough targeted victims to constitute a mass shooting.”

Their footnote 19 points to “Lott J. More Guns, Less Crime. Vol 340: Mass Medical Soc; 1999:1599-1600.”  Presumably reference was to the note that Lott had in the New England Journal of Medicine under the same title, date and page numbers.  But no matter how many times one reads the piece there is no reference to mass public shootings that have been stopped by civilians.  Possibly they are referring to other research that the Crime Prevention Research Center has done on mass public shootings being stopped (available here).

The description of what we compiled is completely misleading.  The title of our list is: “Compiling Cases where concealed handgun permit holders have stopped mass public shootings and other mass attacks.” So objection to including a couple knife attacks involving civilians is not obvious.  We included five cases where off-duty police have stopped attacks, but those cases are put at the end of our list and are again clearly labeled.  All the attacks included involved murders or severe injuries to victims.  There is one case that started out with a gun being “brandished,” but the attacker quickly escalated what he was doing: “The [bad guy] yelled for everyone to get down and before anybody could react, immediately walked over to the store owner and in a cold-blooded fashion shot him twice.”

References Zimmerman paper and the unpublished paper by Donohue, Aneja, and Webber

“Zimmerman (2015) examined the impact of various crime prevention measures on crime using a state panel data set from 1999-2010.”

The Zimmerman paper actually was unable to draw and conclusions, but its results were biased against finding a benefit from concealed handgun laws.  Here is an abstract from a paper that Lott wrote: “Unfortunately, many who have examined the impact of so-called “shall-issue” or “right-to-carry” laws assume that the adoption of such laws causes a large, immediate increase in the number of permits. But that is often not the case, for states differ widely as to how easily permits can be obtained. This problem is particularly problematic for studies that have looked at the period after 2000. In fact, the share of the adult population with permits increased less during the 1999-2010 period in the states that adopted right-to-carry laws than the states that they are being compared against.”

“outlier results generated using the Lott’s model specifications.”
Lott’s results aren’t “outliers.”  Here is a list of published peer-reviewed papers.  An in-depth literature survey is provided in Chapter 10 of More Guns, Less Crime.

Relevant Law Governing Guns on College Campuses

The Bloomberg Report, saying that they are relying on National Conference of State Legislatures, claims that only eight states mandate that permitted concealed handguns to be allowed at public universities and colleges. But the National Conference of State Legislatures also notesTennessee passed a similar bill to Arkansas’ in 2016, which also permits higher education faculty to carry handguns after notifying local law enforcement.”  If one actually checks the Tennessee and Arkansas laws, you will see that it covers all “employees,” so that would also include a large number of graduate students.  There are other problems with the National Conference of State Legislatures list.  For example, despite their classification, Michigan clearly allows people with a permit to carry guns on college campuses as long as they carry openly.

Others also have different numbers. According to even the New York Times on February 18, 2015, 9 states had this requirement.  Since then, Tennessee, Texas, and Kansas have passed this law, so the total would be 12 states.  My list is a little different: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas (next year), Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, and public universities in Pennsylvania outside of the Penn State system.  Other states such as Florida and Kentucky allow people to keep their permitted concealed handguns in their cars while on campus (this is important because completely banning permitted concealed handguns on campus leave people vulnerable as they go to or from school).

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A letter that we had in the Washington Post to respond to these claims is available here.

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2 Responses

  1. Mark N. says:

    Let’s make it even simpler: the demographic most likely to engage in excessive drinking and rowdyism are under age 21, a very few of whom are legally allowed to possess concealed weapons.

  2. North Carolina now permits firearms on school property if kept in a locked car in a closed container or if kept holstered while the occupant is inside the car. H562 recently clarified an affirmative defense if the handgun has to be retrieved for self defense against a lethal force attack.

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