Gun Violence on College Campuses: Does Concealed Carry Help or Harm?

While particularly devastating mass shootings – like those at Virginia Tech and UC Santa Barbara – gather a lot of media attention, shootings on college campuses occur all too often, so much that they don’t always make big headlines. Even just the past three years have seen some staggering statistics:

  • October 2017: 2 shot and killed at Grambling State University in Louisiana

  • October 2017: 1 shot and killed at Texas Tech

  • May 2017: 1 shot and killed at North Lake College in Texas

  • May 2017: 1 shot and killed at Lincoln Tech in Tennessee

  • April 2017: 1 shot and killed at North Carolina A&T

  • June 2016: 1 shot and killed at UCLA

  • May 2016: 1 shot and killed at the New Jersey Institute of Technology

  • November 2015: 1 shot and killed, 1 injured at Winston Salem State in North Carolina

  • October 2015: 1 shot and killed, 3 injured at Northern Arizona University

  • October 2015: 1 shot and killed, 1 injured at Texas Southern University

  • October 2015: 9 shot and killed, 9 injured at Umpqua Community College in Oregon

  • September 2015: 1 shot and killed, 4 injured at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign

  • September 2015: 1 shot and killed at Delta State University in Mississippi

  • August 2015: 1 shot and killed at Wichita State University in Kansas

  • August 2015: 1 shot and killed at Savannah State University in Georgia

  • April 2015: 1 shot and killed at Wayne Community College in North Carolina

  • February 2015: 1 shot and killed at the University of South Carolina

It has been said that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But is this true? Could students and staff with concealed weapons have prevented these shootings? According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 20% of undergraduate women have been sexually assaulted. Could concealed carry weapons lower this statistic?

“I do believe that women on college campuses could be safer if they were prepared and trained with a firearm,” says Maria Lampley, MA, MBA, the Executive Director of Pathways, Inc., an organization that helps women to overcome homelessness. While Lampley didn’t have a gun when she was a college student, she recently obtained one and is learning how to use it. “However, before [women] ever have to use their gun, other precautions may also be helpful,” she explains. “For example, travel in a group, never walk alone after dark, don’t leave beverages unattended at parties, always lock your car doors, and look inside the car before entering.”

While Lampley is training to properly handle a gun and strives to be a cautious, responsible gun owner, having a firearm may not always produce a safer environment. In fact, a study by the University of Pennsylvania reveals a high link between gun possession and gun assault. The study revealed that individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot during an assault than those who didn’t have a gun. They were also 4.23 times more likely to be fatally shot.

The researchers noted that there could be several reasons for these findings. For example, a person with a gun might be falsely empowered to overreact, or be more likely to enter a dangerous environment that they might avoid if they didn’t have a firearm. Also, a gun owner might have the firearm taken away and used against them.

Currently, 16 states ban concealed weapons on college campuses: California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and Wyoming. Ten states allow them: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Tennessee allows faculty members (but not students) to carry weapons on campus.

Finally, 24 states allow each college or university to decide for itself whether or not to ban concealed carry weapons: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Julie Gavran, southwestern director of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus, believes concealed carry on college campuses is a bad idea for several reasons, two in particular. “First, the current argument that guns make a person, especially a woman, safer and reduce crime has been debunked on multiple levels – women are 500 times more likely to be murdered by their domestic partner when there is a gun.”

Also, Gavran says the majority of these acts are not committed by strangers but by acquaintances. “Over 90% of sexual assaults that occur on campus are caused by people that the victim knows,” Gavran says.

Another issue is suicide, the second most common cause of death among college students. “Firearms are the most lethal form of completed suicides,” she explains. “Having access to guns on campus increases the lethality of suicide attempts among college students.”

Regarding the saying, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Gavran says this point of view lacks evidence. “If there was even some truth to this statement, the U.S. would be the safest place in the world, yet every year, the rate of individuals who die or are injured by gun violence rises.”

She believes the key to reducing gun violence is not to arm more individuals, but instead to educate people to look for warning signs – and make sure gun owners are trained.

“In the past few months, many unarmed teachers have been credited with stopping a shooting on high school grounds,” Gavran says. “The gun lobby refuses to acknowledge this heroism because it does not further their agenda of selling more guns.” In fact, a report by the FBI reveals that active shooters were more likely to be stopped by unarmed civilians than those with firearms: in 13.1% of active shooter incidents, unarmed civilians restrained the shooter, compared to 3.8% of the incidents in which an armed civilian stopped the shooter.

Regardless of which side of this issue students are on, there are organizations that can provide guidance. “If students would like to get involved to keep concealed weapons off campus, we encourage them to contact us or their state gun violence prevention group to get ideas for starting a movement on campus,” Gavran says. “We also encourage hosting information sessions to educate students, faculty and staff on the dangers of campus carry.”

On the other hand, students who support concealed carry on college campuses can contact Students for Concealed Carry for more information and ways to get involved.

So, does a good guy (or girl) on campus with a gun stop a bad guy (or girl) with a gun? While there have been a few cases of hero intervention, overall, this practice seems to be largely ineffective. However, if you’re the college student or staff member saved by a quick-acting, gun-toting classmate or colleague, you might see things differently.

It’s no secret that gun violence on college campuses is a danger that must be addressed. But increasing the number of firearms in a college or university setting might create more problems than it solves.

Terri has B.A. in English, and bylines at Yahoo, USA Today, The Economist Careers Network, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle,,, and Investopedia. She also contributed three chapters to the book “A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics,” which was published by Loyola University Chicago in 2014. Follow her @territoryone.