By Devin Lynch, Staff Writer
This post was originally published in our September-October 2020 magazine, which you can view here.
In October of 2019, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a prevalence survey on campus sexual harrassment, with disturbing findings — 50% of female seniors reported experiencing some form of outright sexual assault during their time here at UNC, and 50% of all respondents of all genders and class years experienced sexual harrassment.
In April of that year, a former student opened fire in a classroom at UNC Charlotte, killing two people and injuring six. While the survey and the shooting are unconnected, the UNC System’s response to both was nearly identical. UNC Charlotte petitioned for a task force to “study and educate students on preventing gun violence,” while Chapel Hill’s student government created the Red Zone Initiative to “educate students on affirmative consent and how not to perpetrate.” That’s right. UNC’s response to a tragic shooting and egregious rates of sexual assault on campus was to teach students how not to rape people and how not to shoot up their school.
These are simply feel-good measures designed to virtue signal and pretend to reassure students that they’ll be safe on their campus. Today, I’d like to propose a much bolder (and more controversial) solution: Campus Carry, which the National Conference of State Legislatures defines as “allowing students and faculty members at public universities to carry firearms on campus in accordance with their state’s laws.” First, I’ll explain how campus carry will prevent violence, then cite examples from states with campus carry to demonstrate its effectiveness.
Regarding campus violence, current laws put the most vulnerable students at risk. UNC’s prevalence survey found that 20% of female freshmen reported being the victim of sexual assault involving physical force. Meanwhile, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reports that 90% of sexual assaults are committed by men against women. In these cases, physical height and weight differences often prevent victims of assault (physical or sexual) from defending themselves.
But wouldn’t that power imbalance be substantially reduced if the would-be victim was packing heat? There’s an adage that “God created men and women, but Samuel Colt made them equal.” Regardless of gender, you shouldn’t have to be a bodybuilder to defend yourself. Unfortunately, current NC law effectively makes this the case. No matter how fast police response times are, they’ll never be instant, and campus carry will prevent assaults in the first place instead of simply prosecuting them after they happen.
More importantly, the knowledge that some students are carrying has a ripple effect on campus. Civilian firearm owners prevent over 7,000 crimes every day, and most of the time, the gun is never even fired. Even a person of malicious intent will think twice before trying to harm someone once their victim pulls out a gun. This effect is amplified by the presence of concealed firearms. Most states with campus carry allow students to carry concealed weapons (provided they have the proper permits) which makes it nearly impossible to know who’s carrying and who isn’t. So while a firearm is only present in about 18% of college classrooms in Texas, a would-be shooter is far less likely to follow through since they know their victims might shoot back.
So, this all sounds great, but does it actually work? Well, the campus crime rate in Kansas is down 13% since they passed campus carry, and Texas, which just introduced the same law, is in a similar region of the country and will likely see similar results. The main challenge comes in convincing (generally left-leaning) faculty members. Several KU professors announced their departure after campus carry was enacted, and the measure is still unpopular among many faculty members there.
Fortunately, the benefits don’t depend on public support. The fact is that campus carry protects the most vulnerable students, and the UNC system utterly failed to protect its own students last year. Sure, there are likely other effective solutions to campus violence, but so far nobody has proposed anything tangible. So until that happens, I’ll continue to advocate for the rights of students to defend themselves on campus.
Devin Lynch is a Staff Writer studying Computer Science from Charlotte, NC. He is the State Chair of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) in North Carolina, and is libertarian-aligned.