Gun Control not a Core Issue for School Shootings

One of my editors just sent me a press release concerning a movement to authorize students to carry concealed firearms on higher education campuses in an effort to help prevent the types of lethal situations that occurred yesterday at Oikos University in Oakland California.

An organization called Students for Concealed Carry asserts that there have been more than 20 multiple victim shooting incidents on college and university campuses that have “gun free zones” and that there has never been this type of incident on any of the more than 200 college and university campuses where students who have a concealed firearms carry permit can carry a gun to class.

When one such law was hotly debated for Utah institutions of higher learning, a number of education leaders and school safety consultants predicted that campus shootings would soar. At that time, I was asked to write a column about the issue for College Planning and Management Magazine to address the issue. I basically wrote a column that I felt would not satisfy anyone on either end of the debate because my opinion was and still is that gun control legislation is largely irrelevant to the homicide rate on K-20 campuses in relation to a variety of other factors. Surprisingly, I did not get a single e-mail or call from anyone who was upset about the article (or who liked it for that matter). There has also not been a single shooting incident involving a student with a gun permit since that time in 2008 pretty well countering the argument that the changes in the law were going to result in a string of school shootings.

I think I laid out a pretty balanced argument concerning the issue then and will try to do so in an even more concise format now. As there have been a number of deadly school shootings and even more deadly attacks with other types of weapons in the People’s Republic of China where the mere possession of a single round of ammunition or a firearm results in a swiftly applied death penalty, it seems that even the most draconian gun control approaches do not eliminate homicide from schools.

Countries like Germany, Japan, Canada, England and France which have very strict gun control legislation also have had fatal school weapons assaults such as the deadly attack in a German elementary school where a man used a flamethrower to kill and maim a classroom full of helpless children. With one attack with a knife in China resulting in 25 victims being stabbed and slashed and another resulting in 28 being victimized, it is clear that gun control efforts can sometimes simply shift the type of weapon being used. Since the two most deadly school attacks in U.S. history involved fire (95 killed in an arson fire in a Chicago Catholic School) and explosives (more than forty killed in an attack on the Bath School in Michigan), it bears mention that alternative weapons can and have been employed in the United States as well.

At the same time, I am not convinced that students carrying concealed firearms to class will have a statistical impact on the homicide rate in our colleges and universities either. I have a concealed weapons permit and do sometimes carry a gun for protection so I am not a person who would be characterized as anti-gun (though a university professor in Arizona once wrote me a scalding e-mail accusing me of being a gun control advocate because I mentioned that our universities needed to address the issue of periodic multiple victim campus shootings more effectively a couple of years prior to the tragic Virginia Tech Shooting).

I try to base my school safety views on data, assessment results and the experiences of my clients and think this provides a more balanced view on such hotly debated topics. Though contrary to popular belief there have been a number of instances of armed citizens interrupting campus shootings at both K-12 and higher education campuses, the overall incident rate may not be dramatically impacted. A more noticeable impact may be on the number of students who are attacked as they try to get to and from their college campuses each day and evening. In my ten years working as a university police officer, most of the more severe incidents such as rape, armed robbery etc. involving our students did not occur on school property but in the neighborhoods around the university. In fact, since that time, the university went to considerable expense to buy up homes around the university and to help clean up the previously high crime areas.

Though this blog will likely not please many people on either side of the gun control and school safety debate, more than thirty years as a full time practitioner in the field has taught me that the gun control debate is probably a lot less relevant than many people think when we look at the big picture of school safety. As violence has never been a leading cause of death on campus, it is important to use a broad brush when it comes to addressing the topic appropriately.  The issue of school shootings is important, however, more students and staff die from other causes every year and these must be addressed as well. 

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.