American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 551–569

Packing Heat: Attitudes Regarding Concealed Weapons on College Campuses

Authors

  • Ryan Patten
    • Criminal Justice ProgramCalifornia State University, Chico
    • Political Science DepartmentCalifornia State University, Chico
  • James C. Wada
    • Justice Studies DepartmentChadron State College
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12103-012-9191-1

Cite this article as:
Patten, R., Thomas, M.O. & Wada, J.C. Am J Crim Just (2013) 38: 551. doi:10.1007/s12103-012-9191-1

Abstract

Gun violence at American colleges and universities has rekindled the debate surrounding concealed weapons on campus. This study examined college student and faculty opinions on two college campuses, focusing on their attitudes towards private citizens carrying concealed guns on campus. Data were collected during the fall 2008 and spring 2009, and over 2,100 students, staff, faculty, and administrators on the two campuses participated in the research. The results indicate over 70 % of respondents oppose the option of carrying concealed guns on campus. In addition, the idea of more guns on campus makes the majority of students and faculty feel less safe, and allowing concealed weapons serves to decrease the sense of campus safety. This study continues to empirically advance the argument that those who live, work, and study do not want more guns on campus. Further research in this area, including an expanded range of the nation’s college campuses, should be explored.

Keywords

GunsCampusConcealed carry

Introduction

Nationwide, the conversation and debate on concealed guns has been fierce and divisive. On college campuses, concealed weapons policy elicits similarly polarizing discussions. In the wake of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, many states reconsidered their stance concerning the acceptance, or lack thereof, of concealed handguns on campus for students, staff, and faculty. According to Harish (2008), 49 states had general prohibitions against concealed handguns on college grounds, with a few exceptions for shooting clubs. While there are general prohibitions in place, 23 states allow campus administration to draft specific policies regarding concealed handguns on campus. Utah is the only state that has a statute proscribing campus administration from excluding concealed guns on campus.1

In a 1999 survey of over 2,500 U.S., adult residents, 94 % did not think regular citizens should be allowed to carry guns on college campuses (Hemenway, Azrael, & Miller, 2001). In another study, conducted by Brinker (2008), 318 students were randomly-sampled at Missouri State University. The majority of students did not want concealed guns on campus for faculty (66 %), staff (72 %), or fellow students (76 %). Approximately 80 % of female students and 65 % of male students opposed concealed guns on campus. While the study was small, and not meant to be generalizeable, the survey provided the first empirical results concerning student opinions on this issue.

This study contributes to the growing literature on this heated and very controversial issue. While pro- and anti-concealed weapons advocates claim that a majority favor their opinion in this debate, to the authors’ knowledge, there is no empirical research, other than Brinker (2008), where actual college students, faculty, staff, and administrators are together asked whether or not they favor concealed firearms on campus. Separate studies reporting on faculty attitudes (Bennett, Kraft, & Grubb, 2012) and on student attitudes (Cavanaugh, Bouffard, Wells, Nobles, 2012), have recently been published, and while both studies provide significant contributions to understanding attitudes toward concealed weapons on college campuses, neither study examines the total spectrum of the campus community. By reporting on surveys of all interested parties on two college campuses, in two different regions of the nation, this study’s results are more generalizeable than past studies.

Crime on Campus

Over the past several decades, university professors have reported a surge of incivility and behavioral problems with students (Amada, 1994; Clark & Springer, 2007). Incivility has been defined in the literature as either inattentive (e.g., sleeping, arriving late, leaving early) or hostile (e.g., complaining, arguing) forms of conflict (Appleby, 1990; Meyers, Bender, Hill, & Thomas, 2006). The increase of perceived incivility felt by some college students and professors can sometimes, although very rarely, lead to violent actions.

In the recent past, crime on college campuses, both violent and non-violent, has received greater scrutiny from scholars, politicians, and the media. During the 1980s in particular, common perceptions of college campuses began to change (Nichols, 1986). In 1986, the high profile murder of college student Jeanne Cleary altered opinions about college safety. Instead of being places fraught with civil unrest, as they were in the 1960’s and 1970’s, universities began to gain reputations as places experiencing an increase in felonious behaviors (Richards, 1996; Sloan, 1992). Until 1990, colleges and universities were not required to release crime statistics to the public. The Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act (SCSA) mandated that federally- funded colleges and universities publish their crime data on a yearly basis (Bromley, 1995). The main goals of the SCSA included raising awareness of crimes on college grounds and improving student security.

Although colleges and universities have been described as “dangerous places” (Smith & Fossey, 1995), violent crime is exceedingly rare. Sloan (1992) and Bromley (1995), both found violent crime rates on college grounds to be 2 %. A Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005) report revealed college students were victims of violent crimes at rates lower than non-students in the same 18-to-24 age range. Furthermore, in a comparison of crime rates between universities, and the counties where they are located, Stormer and Senarath (1992) discovered universities had significantly lower crime rates than the surrounding area.

In a study of homicide rates on college campuses, Hummer (2004) discovered enrolled students, and those living in resident housing, had an almost zero risk of homicide while on campus. According to Fox and Savage (2009), between 2001 and 2005 there were 76 reported homicides on college grounds nationwide. Of the 76 victims, 51 were students, meaning on average, there were ten homicides per year throughout the country on college campuses. The majority of these murders involved acquaintances or drug deals, not rampage or random shootings.

While violent crime is sporadic, university grounds suffer through other types of crime and criminal activity; theft and larceny being two most common types of crime (Henson & Stone, 1999; Fisher, Sloan, Cullen, & Lu, 1998). Theft and larceny rates are elevated because students frequently fail to adequately protect their property (Fisher, Sloan, Cullen, & Lu, 1997) and the typical “young adult” age of college students is indicative of higher rates of criminal activity.

But, the potential for extreme violence on campus is a reality. Since the tragedy at Columbine, the term “active shooter” has entered the lexicon of our schools. And the 2007 killing spree at Virginia Tech showed how such an event could occur in a university setting. Table 1 represents a partial list of firearm related homicides on American college campuses since 2002. These well publicized acts of atypical brutality reopened the debate over concealed weapons on campus. One of the basic rationales behind this desire to arm people on college campuses, beyond simple self-defense, is deterrence; armed campuses will be a less attractive target to those wanting to commit acts of violence.
Table 1

Firearm-related homicides on college campuses, 2002–present

Month and year of incident

College/university

Perpetrator(s)

Number of victims

January 2002

Appalachian School of Law

Former Student

Three killed

October 2002

University of Arizona Nursing College

Current student

Three killed

September 2006

Shepherd University

Non-student

Two killed

April 2007

Virginia Tech University

Current student

32 killed

April 2007

University of Washington

Non-student

One killed

February 2008

Northern Illinois University

Non-student

Five killed

February 2008

Louisiana Technical College

Current student

Two killed

October 2008

Central Arkansas University

Non-students

Two killed

September 2009

Clark Atlanta University

Non-student

One killed

February 2010

University of Alabama-Huntsville

Current faculty

Three killed

May 2011

San Jose State University

Non-student

Two killed

March 2012

Mississippi State University

Non-student(s)

One killed

Gun Ownership

In the United States, the trend for household gun ownership is on the decline, especially when compared to last few decades (Hepburn, Miller, Azrael, Hemenway, 2007; True & Utter, 2002). Even though gun ownership is decreasing, over time the demographic profile of the typical gun owner has remained the same. The literature has consistently found that those who are older, White men, living in the South, in rural areas, or persons holding conservative political views are the people most likely to own guns (Wright & Marston, 1975; Dixon & Lizotte, 1987; Smith, 2001; True & Utter, 2002; Azrael, Cook, & Miller, 2004; Hepburn et al., 2007). Additionally, while the overall numbers of Americans owning guns is diminishing, the number of guns per owner is increasing (True & Utter, 2002). Two relatively recent 5-4 United States Supreme Court decisions in handgun possession cases District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) highlight some of the issues surrounding gun ownership.

Primm, Regoli, and Hewitt (2009) argued the gun culture of rural and conservative areas can be explained through their “closeness to the land,” and family traditions, which engender a support of guns. Individuals raised in rural areas are more likely to have a positive, first-hand experience with guns as opposed to their urban counterparts. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the death rate due to firearms is relatively the same in urban and rural areas (Branas, Nance, Elliott, Richmond, & Schwab, 2004). The main difference in these firearms deaths is the intent. In urban locales, the firearm homicide rate is similar to rural rates of suicides by guns.

In general, those who own guns are less supportive of gun control (True & Utter, 2002). According to Kleck (1996), gun ownership is the strongest predictor of attitudes against gun control. Conservative men from rural areas and people that already own guns are more likely to oppose gun regulations. In contrast, women, urban residents, and those identified with liberal political views are more likely to support gun control policies (Smith, 1980; Kleck, 1996).

Past studies have shown that a small percentage of college students carry weapons on campus even though it is almost always illegal (Presley, Meilman, & Cashin, 1997). Eleven percent of men and 4 % of women have admitted to carrying a gun, knife, or other weapon on campus. Miller, Hemenway, and Wechsler (1999) reported 6 % of male students and one-and-a-half percent of female students had a working firearm at college. Miller, Hemenway, and Wechsler (2002) also found that students possessing a working firearm at college were more likely to be White, male, live off campus, and attend school in a rural location.

Gun Ownership and Criminality

A vigorous debate on the deterrent effect of right-to-carry gun laws on levels of violent crime continues today. An exhaustive discussion on this issue is beyond the scope of this research, but a basic understanding of the topic is helpful. On the one hand, Kleck and Gertz (1995) argued there is no consistent correlation between gun ownership and violent crime. However, Lott and Mustard (1997), Bronars and Lott (1998), and Lott (2000) concluded that states which adopt right-to-carry laws have witnessed a reduction in violent crime. The methodology or statistical interpretation of these studies, however, has been sharply criticized.

In regards to Lott and Mustard’s (1997) study, Black and Nagin (1998) initially questioned the model specification, noticing extreme sensitivity to subtle changes. Ayres and Donohue (2003) completely contradicted Lott and Mustard’s (1997) findings, noting more guns equated to more criminal activity. In 2004, the National Research Council (NRC) released their conclusions. The NRC supported Black and Nagin’s (1998) model specification concerns documenting drastic changes to the estimated effects with seemingly innocuous modifications to the control variables. Ultimately, the NRC stated there was not enough evidence to support a causal link between the right-to-carry laws and a decrease in crime.

Further research on the topic has concurred with the NRC. Kwon and Baack (2005) emphasized the inappropriateness of a simple “yes or no” dichotomy regarding gun ownership and crime rates. The authors also focused on socioeconomic issues and law enforcement variables in their analysis. Their findings demonstrate, along with other factors, that states with the most comprehensive gun control legislation realized fewer gun related deaths than states with more lenient gun laws. As noted previously, however, research on this topic continues, with no final answer.

Concealed Guns on College Campuses

Harisch (2008) found that since January 2007, 18 states have brought legislation attempting to alter their campus handgun laws. The legislation has failed in every single state, except Texas (Lipka, 2008). On May 20, 2009, the Texas State Senate passed a bill allowing students and employees to carry concealed weapons on campus (Elliott, 2009). Earlier in 2009, a similar bill was defeated in the Texas State House of Representatives.

This type of legislation has been buoyed by several groups; chiefly by the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC). Started the day after the Virginia Tech shootings, the group seeks the right to carry a concealed weapon on college campuses for those already qualified under their respective state laws (National Public Radio, 2008). On their official website, the SCCC states, in part, “holders of state-issued concealed handgun licenses should be allowed the same measure of personal protection on college campuses that they enjoy virtually everywhere else” (Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, 2009). There have been continuing intense debates on many college campuses regarding this issue.

In January 2009, the student government at the University of Texas, Austin supported a resolution banning guns on campus (Ludwig, 2009). In June 2009, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees voted seven-to-one to allow those with a concealed weapon permit to carry a handgun through campus, although guns are still prohibited from all campus buildings (Shammas, 2009).

In December 2009, 21 of the 29 members of the student leadership at Colorado State University (CSU) decidedly passed a resolution to continue to allow individuals with a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on campus (Bunch, 2009). A few days later, however, the CSU Board of Governors voted nine-to-zero to create a policy which will ban concealed weapons on campus (Whaley, 2009). The vote appears to demonstrate a clear demarcation between the students’ and administrations’ desires regarding concealed guns on campus.

During the administration of this survey, Brinker (2008) was the primary study regarding attitudes toward concealed weapons on college campuses. But since the administration of this survey, new research has emerged in this area, adding to our previously limited knowledge regarding this issue. Bennett et al. (2012) surveyed students and faculty at a Georgia university, but their reported results were limited to faculty-only, determining that most faculty oppose concealed weapons on campus, although (and in keeping with prior research), gun ownership and political affiliation influence these opinions. Cavanaugh et al. (2012), in a survey administered at two campuses (in Texas and Washington), examined student attitudes, finding higher support for concealed weapons off campus, with higher rates of disapproving concealed weapons on campus. College students’ major may influence their attitudes, with Criminal Justice majors indicating a greater willingness to carry concealed weapons on campus than other majors on the Texas and Washington campuses surveyed (Bouffard, Nobles, & Wells, 2012). If concealed weapons were allowed on campus and in classrooms, Bouffard, Nobles, Wells, and Cavanaugh (2012) determined that the actual number of concealed weapons in any given classroom would vary depending on the building, and the types of classes held in the building and classroom, making it difficult to predict the impact of such a change in concealed weapon policy.

This study employed a more comprehensive approach to, and expanded on, Brinker’s (2008) work regarding whether or not college students and faculty want their peers and counterparts to have the option to come to class and work armed with a concealed gun. As countless states and college campuses consider and reconsider whether or not private citizens should be allowed to carry concealed guns on campus, this study will help provide a small, yet crucial step in creating an empirical base for the argument. This research answers three main questions: do students, faculty, and staff want others to have the right to carry concealed guns on campus?; what, if any, are the similarities and differences between survey respondents at the two campuses studied?, and; how do the results of those who favor guns on campus in this study compare to those who own guns in the general population?

Methods

The data analyzed came from surveys collected on the California State University, Chico campus (Chico State), in Chico, California and the Chadron State College campus (Chadron College) in Chadron, Nebraska during the fall 2008 and spring 2009. These two campuses were selected based on researcher access.

The first section of the survey instrument asked for personal background characteristics. The last portion of the survey consisted of a three or five point Likert scale to ascertain the opinions about faculty, staff, and students carrying concealed firearms on campus (See Table 2). The total number of survey responses for both campuses was 2,064: 1,548 students and 516 faculty, staff, and administrators. Due to prohibitive time and cost impediments, as well as accessibility, it was infeasible to survey every individual on each campus.
Table 2

Attitude questions from the survey

Question

Response choices

Qualified faculty, students, and staff should be able to carry concealed firearms on campus

Yes, No, Uncertain

I would feel safe on campus with qualified faculty, students, and staff carrying concealed firearms.

Strong Agree, Agree, Uncertain, Disagree, Strongly Disagree

Armed faculty, students, and staff would promote a greater sense of general campus safety

Strong Agree, Agree, Uncertain, Disagree, Strongly Disagree

At Chico State, 1,484 students, faculty, staff, and administrators participated in the research. In regards to students, 1,090 were surveyed of a total enrollment of 15,692 (7 %).2 All of the students participating in the project completed the surveys during scheduled class time. Additionally, 394 of the 2,003 Chico State faculty, staff, and administrators contributed to the survey data (20 %). Due to the desire to include staff that may not have physical mailboxes on campus and prohibitive cost of printing additional copies of the survey, faculty, staff, and administrators were contacted via email to visit an established internet link to complete the survey.3

At Chadron College, 580 students, faculty, staff, and administrators participated in this study. Of a total enrollment of 2,137 students, 458 were surveyed (21 %). In attempts to reach a broad cross-section of students on campus, research participants were selected from different academic disciplines, such as History, Anthropology, Sociology, Biology, and Health and Recreation. Utilizing a mix of Social and Natural Sciences, as well as Humanities courses helped reach a wide variety of students on campus.4 Lastly, 122 of the 349 Chadron College faculty, staff, and administrators participated in this research project (35 %). Due to the relatively small number of faculty, staff, and administrators on campus, all potential participants received a paper copy of the survey in their mailbox.

Study Populations

Chico is located in Butte County, California in the northern section of the Sacramento Valley, which is significantly more rural than the majority of the state’s counties. Chico, however, is classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and MSAs are defined as having “at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties” (United States Census Bureau, 2009). The population of Butte County tends to be conservative, while the city of Chico itself, which includes the Chico State campus, is more politically liberal; e.g., in 2008, Democratic Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama, received 62 % of the vote in Chico, whereas 41 % of voters in unincorporated areas of Butte County supported Obama (Grubbs, 2008). At the time of the study, approximately 33 % of Chico State’s students came from its service area, which are largely rural and conservative areas in the northeastern part of state. An additional 49 % of the student body was from the largely rural and conservative, central California valley and Northern California areas. Approximately 66 % of Chico State students and 81 % of the faculty and staff were White.

During 2008, reported crime on the Chico State campus and the city of Chico was consistent with the expected norms, except for the city of Chico which, like much of the nation, experienced a decrease in Part I Crimes. The Clery Report issued by Chico State demonstrated relative consistency with previous years reports, except for a noticeable decrease in burglaries (University Police, 2010).5 The city of Chico witnessed a decrease in the overall number of homicides, rapes, robberies, and assaults, but experienced an increase in burglaries (auto thefts remained the same) (Woodward, 2008).

Chadron is located in Dawes County, Nebraska in the northwest portion of the state. In 2008, the population estimate for Chadron was 5,429. While the definition of a “rural” area has been in an endless state of fluctuation, Chadron does not qualify as a metropolitan, micropolitan, or an urbanized area. The debate of what is “rural” greatly exceeds the scope of this research, but by every conceivable definition, Chadron and Dawes County are rural. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the population of both Chadron and Dawes County tends be politically conservative, though Dawes County is more conservative than Chadron, e.g., 62 % of registered voters in Dawes County are Republican compared to 54 % in Chadron. Also, in the 2008 presidential election, John McCain carried Dawes County at 63 %, while Barack Obama only received 34 % of the vote. At the time of the study, approximately 44 % of the student body came from the Chadron State service area, which includes northwest Nebraska, southwest South Dakota, and eastern Wyoming. The majority of the rest of the student body came from other similar conservative areas across Nebraska. Approximately 80 % of the students were White and over 85 % of the faculty and staff were White.

Much like Chico State, according to its own Cleary Report, during 2008 Chadron State experienced a crime rate that was consistent to previous years (Chadron State College, 2010). Similarly, the city of Chadron had a very low crime rate that was stable compared to previous years (Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice, 2008). There was one reported homicide (it was the first homicide in more than 6 years), a slight increase in aggravated assaults (from one in 2007 to five in 2008), only one automobile theft, no burglaries, and no forcible rapes.

Overall, the sample populations are representative of their respective campuses, and during the sampling timeframe, crime was relatively consistent with historical averages. The racial, sex, and political characteristics of the sample are consistent with what one would expect to find in the larger campus populations. For Chico State: more female participants, predominately White, and political in the middle of the road, but leaning slightly liberal. For Chadron State: more female participants, overwhelmingly White, and politically in the middle of the road, but leaning more conservative.

Results

Overall, the survey indicated a majority of faculty, students, and staff (73 %) did not want qualified individuals to be able to carry a gun on campus, 70 % did not feel safer with more concealed guns on campus, and 72 % did not think armed faculty, students, and staff would promote a greater sense of campus safety (See Table 3). In light of past research (Dixon & Lizotte, 1987; Hepburn et al., 2007; Thompson, Price, Mrdjenovich, & Khubchandani, 2009; True & Utter, 2002; Wright & Marston, 1975), which has consistently demonstrated White males, with conservative political foundations were most likely to own guns and dislike gun control policy, these results are not surprising. However, important differences emerge upon closer examination of subsets of the survey population, including race/ethnicity, sex, political orientation, firearm(s) ownership, and campus location.
Table 3

Frequencies for entire sample, Chico State, and Chadron College

Variables

Entire sample N = 2,064

Chico sample only N = 1,484

Chadron sample only N = 580

F

%

F

%

F

%

Sex

 Male

942

46

674

45

268

46

 Female

1,121

54

809

55

312

54

Race

 White

1,659

80

1,150

78

509

88

 Non-white

379

18

311

21

68

12

Political orientation

 Liberal

621

30

524

35

97

17

 Middle of the road

946

46

683

46

263

46

 Conservative

464

23

256

17

208

37

Own firearms?

 No

1,424

69

1,175

80

249

43

 Yes

630

31

301

20

329

57

Qualified faculty/students/staff should be able to carry concealed firearms on campus

 Yes

338

16

223

15

115

20

 Uncertain

214

10

132

9

82

14

 No

1,476

72

1,101

74

375

65

I would feel safe on campus with qualified faculty/students/staff carrying concealed firearms

 Yes

415

20

252

17

163

28

 Uncertain

193

9

118

8

75

13

 No

1,419

69

1,086

73

333

58

Armed faculty/staff/students would promote a greater sense of campus safety

 Yes

358

17

210

14

148

26

 Uncertain

209

10

140

9

69

12

 No

1,463

70

1,107

74

356

61

While the survey provided the option for respondents to indicate their race or ethnicity, due to the homogeneity of the sample, the categories were collapsed into White or non-White for analysis. According to official records, at Chico State the student population is 65 % White, 35 % non-White, while at Chadron state the student population is 76 % White, 24 % non-White. In this study, the total White respondents comprised 80 % and non-White 18 % of the sample. The research revealed consistency from the two broad racial categories. Over 80 % of both groups did not support concealed guns on campus and believed guns would not promote a greater sense of campus safety. Approximately 77 % of Whites would not feel safe with guns on campus, as opposed to 85 % of non-White respondents (See Tables 3 and 4).
Table 4

Frequencies for the entire sample across the three key survey statements

 

Statement 1: qualified faculty, students, and staff should be able to carry concealed firearms on campus N = 1,749

Statement 2: I would feel safe on campus with qualified faculty, students, and staff carrying concealed firearms N = 1,788

Statement 3: armed faculty, students, and staff would promote a greater sense of campus safety N = 1,824

Independent variable

No

No

No

F

%

F

%

F

%

Race

 White

1,180

77

1,143

77

1,299

85

 Non-white

280

85

267

81

281

85

Sex

 Male

580

77

568

68

663

78

 Female

898

85

858

86

933

91

Politics

 Moderate

719

77

695

78

802

88

 Conservative

226

85

206

59

220

63

 Liberal

514

72

510

89

558

94

Firearm(s) ownership

 Yes

488

77

482

67

627

82

 No

989

85

943

85

958

87

Campus location

 Chadron

376

77

333

67

387

75

 Chico

1,103

85

1,094

82

1,210

89

The Chico State campus population is 47 % male and 53 % female and the Chadron State College campus population is 44 % male and 56 % female. In regards to the survey, approximately 46 % of the participants were men and 54 % were women (the percentages on each campus were the same as the entire sample). Some of the largest disparities in responses were found between men and women. Eighty-five percent of women replied they did not want concealed guns on campus and that armed individuals on campus would not promote a greater sense of campus safety. Unsurprisingly, men were comparatively more inclined to see the benefits of guns on campus, but almost 80 % of male respondents would not feel safe with more concealed guns on university grounds (See Tables 3 and 4).

The political orientation for the total sample was reasonably moderate with 47 % self-defined as middle of the road, with a slight skew towards a more liberal grounding 30 %, and 23 % conservative. The respondent’s political ideology accounted for wide differences in perceptions related to the survey instrument. As predicted, conservatives were most likely to support qualified individuals option to carry concealed guns and were more apt to feel safe and think concealed guns promoted a safe campus. Middle of the road and liberal respondents were both more critical of the idea about guns on campus and their ability to make individuals feel safe or promote a secure campus (See Tables 3 and 4).

Approximately 30 % of the sample reported owning at least one firearm. A majority of firearm owners were opposed to concealed guns on campus, feeling safe with additional guns on campus, or thinking more firearms would promote a safer campus (71, 67, and 82 % respectively). It is important to note that a super-majority of gun owners rejected the idea of more concealed guns on campus (See Tables 3 and 4).

Compared to the more conservative Chadron College campus, the participants from the moderate Chico State campus were disinclined to agree across all three statements (85 %, 82 %, and 89 % respectively). Even self-identified more conservative respondents from Chadron College did not respond favorably to any of the proposed statements (77 %, 67 %, and 75 %, respectively; See Tables 3 and 4).

Analysis

Three logistic regression models were created to test the hypotheses.6 The first logistic regression model tested the relationship between the independent variables (race, sex, politics, gun ownership, and campus location) and whether private citizens should be allowed to carry concealed guns on campus. The model demonstrated modest strength (R2 = .22) and was statistically significant p < .001 (See Table 5).
Table 5

Logistic regression models

 

Model A:

Model B:

Model C:

Qualified faculty, students, and staff should be able to carry concealed firearms on campus

I would feel safe on campus with qualified faculty, students, and staff carrying concealed firearms

Armed faculty, students, and staff would promote a greater sense of campus safety

Independent variable

B

SE(B)

Wald

Exp(B)

B

SE(B)

Wald

Exp(B)

B

SE(B)

Wald

Exp(B)

Race

 Non-white = 2

−0.07

0.187

0.129

0.921

0.02

0.169

0.018

0.823

0.27

0.191

1.926

0.705

Sex

 Female = 2

−1.21

0.145

70.165

0.368*

−0.88

0.127

47.810

0.406*

−0.99

0.151

42.513

0.395*

Politics

 Conservative = 1

0.82

0.164

13.241

1.998*

0.83

0.147

31.765

2.277*

1.28

0.159

60.359

1.965*

 Liberal = 1

−0.64

0.177

24.774

0.546*

−0.82

0.165

24.585

0.486*

−0.85

0.211

16.049

0.619*

Firearm(s) ownership

 No = 0

1.12

0.141

62.48

0.290*

−0.87

0.127

46.401

0.383*

−0.76

0.149

24.348

0.336*

Campus location

 Chico = 1

0.08

0.151

0.296

0.842

−0.52

0.133

15.333

.626*

0.42

0.15

0.396

0.876

x2

243.41

250.61

224.81

df

6

6

6

p

0.001

0.001

0.001

Model prediction rate

22 %

20 %

21 %

* p < .001, one-tailed

The logistic regression revealed statistically significant relationships between sex, conservative and liberal respondents, and non-firearm owners p < .001 (both race and campus location were statistically indifferent). Women were 2.7 times less likely to want guns on campus compared to their male counterparts. When contrasted against those self-identified as politically moderate, conservatives were 1.9 times more likely to prefer the option to carry guns, whereas liberals were 1.8 times less likely to support this alternative. Those not owning firearms were 3.4 times less likely to support concealed guns on campus.

The second logistic regression model tested the relationship between the independent variables and whether the respondents would feel safe with qualified individuals carrying concealed firearms on campus. The model demonstrated modest strength (R2 = .20) and was statistically significant p < .001 (See Table 5). The logistic regression revealed statistically significant relationships between sex, conservative and liberal respondents, firearm owners and campus location p < .001. Women were 2.5 times less likely to want guns on campus compared to their male counterparts. Similarly, those not owning firearms were 2.6 times less likely to support concealed guns on campus. When contrasted against those self-identified as politically moderate, conservatives were 2.2 times more likely to prefer the option to carry guns, whereas liberals were 2.1 times less likely to support this alternative.

The third and final logistic regression model tested the relationship between the independent variables and whether armed individuals would promote a greater sense of campus safety. Similar to the other two models, this model demonstrated modest strength (R2 = .21) and was statistically significant p < .001 (See Table 5). Analogous to the other two models, the logistic regression revealed statistically significant relationships between sex, conservative and liberal respondents, and non-firearm owners p < .001. Women were 2.5 times less likely and non-firearm owners were 3.0 times less inclined to want guns on campus compared to their male and firearm owning counterparts. When contrasted against those self-identified as politically moderate, conservatives were 1.9 times more likely to prefer the option to carry guns, whereas liberals were 1.6 times less likely to support this alternative.

Discussion

This research rejects the hypothesis that Whites were more likely to support the idea of private citizens carrying concealed guns on campus. Whites were slightly more inclined to support the three key survey statements, but not to any statistically significant degree. This research, however, fails to reject the remaining five proposed hypotheses. Overall, respondents from both campuses were disinclined to want private citizens to carry concealed guns on campus, feel safe with others carrying concealed guns, and feel armed individuals promote a safe campus. Female participants were much less likely to support these issues. Since women are frequently the victims of sexual assault by men, it has been argued that women should likely support the opportunity to carry concealed guns for self-defense (Funk, 1995; Kopel, 1988). This research rejects that idea. Self-identified conservatives were more likely to support the concealed carry issues compared to their liberal counterparts, however, a majority of conservatives did not support more concealed guns on campus. The more conservative Chadron College campus was more likely to endorse these issues compared to the more moderate Chico State campus, but again, a majority of Chadron College participants did not support more concealed guns on campus. On a related note, gun owners were more likely to support these issues compared to non-gun owners, but a majority of gun owners were still reluctant to champion additional guns on campus.

Limitations and Conclusions

The current findings are consistent with other research demonstrating the majority of people, more specifically, college students, faculty, staff, and administrators surveyed do not want private citizens carrying concealed firearms on campus (Bennett et al., 2012; Brinker, 2008; Cavanaugh et al., 2012; Hemenway et al., 2001). Over 70 % of the entire sample from both politically moderate Chico State and conservative Chadron College did not think qualified individuals should be allowed to carry a concealed firearm on campus.

While both Chico State and Chadron State were picked due to the ease of access for the researchers, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about either of these schools. Both campuses are representative of their “sister schools,”7 and these findings demonstrate how gun policy could be received on a larger level. For example, Chico State is part of the 23 institution California State University (CSU) system. According to the CSU website, “[t]he CSU is a leader in high-quality, accessible, student-focused higher education. With 23 campuses, almost 427,000 students, and 44,000 faculty and staff, we are the largest, most diverse, and one of the most affordable university systems in the country” (California State University, 2012).

In fall 2008, the average percentage of White students on the CSU campuses system wide was 36 %. Chico State, however, had the second highest number of White students at 66 %, a full 30 % more than the average for the CSU system. Additionally, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Chico State’s campus is characterized as being in a small, city setting. Of the 22 other CSU campuses, 14 are classified as either being in a midsize or large, city setting (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). What makes Chico State’s substantially higher percentage of White students and less urban setting intriguing, especially in comparison to the other CSU campuses, is the fact that two of the strongest correlations of gun support are areas with high percentages of White populations and more rural areas. Based on Chico State’s comparatively high percentage of White students, a less urban setting, with such a large percentage of its students being drawn from its service area and other more rural and conservative areas of the state, one would expect to find some of the strongest support for gun advocacy on the Chico State campus. The fact that over 70 % of respondents did not think qualified individuals should be allowed to carry a concealed firearm on campus implies more diverse and urban CSU campuses, such as Bakersfield, Dominguez Hills, East Bay, Fresno, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose would be even more strongly opposed to this type of gun policy.

Similar to Chico State being part of a larger CSU system, Chadron State is aligned with the Nebraska Sate College System (NSCS), which, while substantially smaller than the CSU, it does provide the researchers with the ability to extrapolate their findings. According to the NSCS website, “[t]he [NSCS] serves close to 9,000 students from Nebraska and surrounding states … [and] offer[s] more than 200°, certificate, and pre-professional programs that are accessible on three campuses [Chadron State, Wayne State College, and Peru State College]” (Wayne State and Peru State) (Nebraska State College System, 2012).

In spring 2009, the percentage of White students at Chadron State was approximately 80 %, compared to 91 % at Wayne State and 78 % at Peru State. Additionally, all three campuses are substantially more rural than the CSU system with all three being classified as either rural fringe or rural distant (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). Again, with such a pre-dominantly White campus in a rural and conservative area, one would expect the strongest support related to carrying concealed guns on campus from a college like Chadron State. While there was more support for carrying concealed weapons on campus from the sample at Chadron State, still, 66 % of respondents were disinclined to support this type of policy. Based on the similarities between the Chadron State, Wayne State, and Peru State campuses, one would expect to encounter similar findings across the NSCS system. It is important to note while the two campuses surveyed are reasonably representative of other campuses in their respective university systems, the sample size of this exploratory study was limited and the results may not be generalizeable to the rest of the nation’s university campuses. This research, however, continues to empirically advance the argument that those who live, work, and study do not want more guns on campus.

Counter to the established literature, even White men, gun owners, and those with a conservative political affiliation–those most likely to support concealed guns on campus–were disinclined to support the idea of more concealed weapons on campus (Smith, 2001; Wright & Marston, 1975; Hepburn et al., 2007). Women were also much less likely to support these issues than men and considering they are the most likely to be sexually assaulted, and, perhaps have the most to gain from being armed, these findings are particular telling. Additional research into why women on are so strongly opposed to guns on campus requires additional research. Future research should consider greatly expanded surveys that include variables related to media exposure, campus services, and a wide variety of other potential factors. While the sample size of this exploratory study was limited and the results may not be generalizeable to the rest of the nation’s university campuses, this research continues to empirically advance the argument that those who live, work, and study do not want more guns on campus.

Another factor to consider in this debate is the recently changed police response to active shooter scenarios. In the past, police departments treated events like Columbine as emerging hostage situations, and their first response was containment and negotiation. Today, as law enforcement trains for active shooter scenarios, engaging in rapid responses is the norm. Meaning any civilian with a firearm—regardless of his/her intention—will most likely be a target for the police. Eighty percent of college police chiefs surveyed believe that the police department should play the lead role in minimizing firearm violence on campus (Thompson et al., 2009). Law enforcement administrators worry that if concealed weapons are allowed, and a shooting occurs, then any students, faculty, staff or administrators who attempt to intervene with a concealed weapon will be put in harm’s way once the campus police arrive.

While public policy should not be driven solely by public opinion, certainly public opinion, especially in regards to a special population like college campuses, should be considered when deciding issues as powerful as concealed guns on campus. What type of impact would concealed guns have on freedom of expression and the inherent learning nature of college environment? Would armed students, faculty, and staff stifle contrarian opinions to the spirited debate necessary for a mature learning atmosphere? Would the faculty, students, and staff at liberal campuses or campuses from more politically liberal areas be even less inclined to favor concealed guns than their politically moderate or conservative counterparts? As the research indicates a strong majority of students, faculty, and staff remain pessimistic about the utility and safety of conceal guns on campus. Much more research is necessary on this heated and complex issue from a wider variety of college campuses across the nation. This research, however, has found institutions that would likely be assumed to support the idea of concealed guns on campus in fact reject that notion.

Footnotes
1

Four other states (Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, and Wisconsin) currently allow some form of concealed weapons on campus (although weapons are not necessarily allowed in campus buildings).

 
2

In attempts to survey a cross-section of Chico State students, in fall 2008 all students enrolled in every section of Political Science 155 were targeted for participation in this study. At Chico State, all students at some point in their academic career, regardless of major, are required to successfully complete Political Science 155, American Government: National, State and Local. There were 1,237 students enrolled in Political Science 155 and 975 completed the survey (89 % of the sample). The remaining 115 participants were sampled from classes in the three largest colleges on Chico State’s campus: Behavioral and Social Sciences, Humanities and Fine Arts, and Communication and Education (11 % of the sample).

 
3

We employed two collection strategies, in-person paper copies for students and a web-based survey for faculty/staff/administrators at CSU, Chico, raising a potential methodological issue. The issue of insufficient “web coverage” does not apply to the campus, as all employees have access to computer technology, so using a web-based survey allows for widespread participation (Couper, 2000). Survey research methodologists differentiate between collection instruments by category, comparing aural and visual communication of the survey (Dillman et al., 2009). This research uses only visual communication (web-based and paper), not aural (telephone and interactive voice response), thus avoiding some of the difficulties in multiple collection strategies. Finally, a wide variety of research, on topics including alcohol consumption (Miller, et al., 2002), tourism (Fleming & Bowden, 2009), and sexual boredom (Meyerson & Tryon, 2003) find no differences between paper and web-based instruments, when both types of instruments are employed.

 
4

There are three major schools at Chadron State College: Business, Math, and Science; Health and Education, and; Liberal Arts. Participants were sampled in courses across all these schools to generate as broad a cross section as possible.

 
5

During the middle of data collection, there was a sexual assault on campus on the Chico State campus and the next night another incident coined by the local news media as a “riot” occurred, which more closely resembled a party that spiraled out of control a couple of blocks south of the Chico State campus. Participant responses were separated by pre- and post-sex assault and “riot” to control for bias. At the end of data collection separate analysis was conducted on the pre- and post-groups and, for the entire Chico State sample, there were no significant differences. Because these events did not result in any significant disparity, this study combined all the of the Chico State data for the analysis.

 
6

The original analysis was conducted using logit. Although the models were significant, they violated the proportional odds assumption, so ordinal logistic regression analysis was not appropriate. We, therefore, collapsed the survey responses into yes, no, and uncertain to use logistic regression as our method of analysis.

 
7

The term “sister school” denotes a term of comparison. In this case, other colleges and universities which are similar in academic mission, funding sources, and geographic proximity.

 

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© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2012