Several states have now proposed laws that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on their college campus. Advocates of these bills argue that the recent tragic shootings at colleges in Virginia and Illinois might have been prevented or mitigated if students and faculty--not just the gunman--had firearms at the ready.
But, such legislation is not only unnecessary, it is ill-conceived and would most likely lead to more tragedy than it prevents and certainly won't make campuses safer. In fact, while recent violent crimes on campus are troubling, colleges are actually extraordinarily safe places, with the majority of experts espousing that the relative lack of guns is precisely what makes them havens from violent crimes.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average homicide rate on college campuses nationally for the past six years is approximately one homicide for every one million students. In comparison, this would be like New York City having eight homicides per year instead of the 466 murders committed there in 2009.
One grave concern of the proposed laws is the potential mix of guns with alcohol and drugs. In a recent survey by the American College Health Association, four in 10 college students said they endured stress often and approximately two in 10 stated they felt stressed all or most of the time. Far too many students turn to alcohol or drugs - or both - to combat these feelings. Already, the ACHA reports 35 percent to 40 percent of students participate in binge drinking in any typical two-week period. Given that figure, it's not surprising that 700,000 assaults annually among college students are attributed to alcohol use. Moreover, according to last year's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse study, 85 percent of all campus arrests involve alcohol--one of the strongest and most consistent risk factors for violent crime. Put guns in the hands of drunken college students and the odds are great that many of those assaults will become tragic, life-ending encounters.
Violence towards others is not the only reason to be concerned about introducing guns on campus. There are currently 100 suicides for each homicide that occurs on a campus. In a large-scale ACHA survey published this March, nearly 18 percent of college students said they had experienced depression within the last school year. An earlier study by this same group noted that 59 percent of students feel hopeless at times and 45 percent feel depressed to the point that it is difficult to function. And each year about 10 percent of college students seriously think about suicide, with the most common method of ending life being by firearms. Since we know that the most effective way to prevent suicides in this age group is to limit the means by which the suicide may occur, common sense dictates that legalizing concealed weapons in dormitories and classrooms is only likely to make things worse.
The evidence is, therefore, overwhelming: making guns more freely available on college campuses will significantly increase the risk of serious and, in fact, deadly crime, especially for those large numbers of students who might be intoxicated or depressed at some point, while only marginally, if at all, decrease the risk of what is already the very rare event of a shooting rampage. Guns just have no place on a college campus--except in the hands of law enforcement.
Dr. Victor Schwartz is University Dean of Students at Yeshiva University and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at YU's Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Jerald Kay is professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Wright State University's Boonshoft School of Medicine. Dr. Paul Appelbaum is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law and director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.