At the Billings Gazette and Montana Standard: Opponents’ claims about guns on campus don’t hold up

Nov 13, 2021 | op-ed

Dr. John Lott has a new opinion piece at the Billings Gazette and the Montana Standard (Butte, Montana).

Montana’s Board of Regents claimed “serious harm” would occur without an injunction blocking the state’s new campus carry law. They claimed, “no harm comes from staying implementation.” A Helena-based judge granted them a temporary injunction, and any week now he is likely to make a ruling on the case.


One wonders how professors and students ever find it safe to go off campus. After all, 7.2% of Montanans have a concealed handgun permit.Now that Montana has joined the 19 other Constitutional Carry states, even more people can legally carry. Professors and students must think it is dangerous to go to restaurants, movie theaters, and grocery stores as it is very likely that someone next to them is legally carrying a gun.


Yet, somehow students and faculty manage to leave campus.


Gun control advocates don’t understand that criminals seek out targets where victims can’t defend themselves, that gun-free zones make targets more attractive to criminals.


Starting June 1st, Montanans were supposed to be able to carry concealed handguns on college campuses. Faculty and staff worry that students who are angry about grades would shoot professors. People would be afraid to openly discuss issues for fear of harm, so it will be difficult to hire faculty, and students will be scared away.


The new law “targets our Montana University System students, and public education itself, for death . . . This will not only kill students, but also the future of public education in Montana,” wrote University of Montana professor Doug Coffin.


Eleven states mandate that student concealed handgun permit holders be allowed to carry on public college campuses. Tennessee mandates it for faculty and staff. Twenty-three other states let individual colleges decide. Unfortunately, professors and others associated with Montana universities aren’t noticing the experience in these states.


Professors predicted disaster in state after state with these laws, that they would be “driving off faculty members” and it would be hard to attract students. In 2015, Dan Hamermesh, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas, made international news when he worried that the chance that “a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law.”


But no permit holder has ever shot or shot at a faculty member. In none of the states that have allowed people to carry guns on campus as someone who has legally carried committed a crime. Permit holders have been extremely law-abiding, with permits revoked for firearms-related violations at rates of thousandths or tens-of-thousandths of one percentage point. Civilian permit holders are convicted of a firearms violations at one-seventh the rate of police officers.


Over the decades that states have allowed people to carry guns on campuses, there have been a few accidental discharges, but none were life-threatening. No permit holder on campus has used a gun to commit suicide.


As Kathleen Smithgall, the Montana assistant solicitor general, points out that the Regents do not provide a single example at other schools of the behavior (suicides or crimes) they fear will occur ever taking place if guns are allowed. Of course, so much of the gun control debate is about what might go wrong, but we don’t have to guess with so many other states already having these laws.


As to scaring off students, student enrollments have gone up at Texas’ four-year public universities every year from the fall of 2015 to the fall of 2019, with enrollment up 6% and SAT scores up 7%. Nor is there evidence of faculty leaving because of these policies.


If liberal academics really believed their claims about guns, they would have left Montana long ago.


John R. Lott, Jr., “Opponents’ claims about guns on campus don’t hold up,” Billings Gazette, November 12, 2021.

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