On Tuesday, the Idaho house gave its approval to a bill that had already cleared the state senate permitting people with an “enhanced concealed-carry permit” to carry firearms on college campuses. Gov. Butch Otter (R-ID) is expected to sign it.
Although the bill was strongly opposed by university presidents and faculty, as well as the police chief in Boise, Idaho whose jurisdiction includes Boise State University, the bill was supported by the Idaho Sheriffs Association. Indeed, one sheriff defended the bill on the grounds that “I oftentimes fear that if you start restricting one thing at a time, like where you can carry guns, there will be a next step and a next step to the point where you’re not allowed to pack guns anywhere at any time.”
Which, of course, is a perfectly sensible argument. Since the fact that guns are banned in airport terminals has already led to a total, nationwide gun ban.
Although gun rights advocates typically defend permissive concealed carry laws on the theory that a person with a hidden firearm may be able to use it to defend against a killer — “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” in National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s words — the reality is that defensive use of guns is rare. In 2010, according to the Violence Policy Center, there were 230 justifiable homicides involving firearms. That compares to 8,275 criminal gun homicides (a number that does not include suicides or accidental deaths) in the same year.
A likely explanation for this disparity is that most gun murders do not occur during mass shootings, break-ins or other circumstances where it is easy to imagine how a concealed firearm could be useful. Rather, as Washington State Sociology Professor Jennifer Schwartz explains, “[n]early half of all homicides, committed by men or women, were preceded by some sort of argument or fight, such as a conflict over money or property, anger over one partner cheating on another, severe punishment of a child or abuse of a partner, retaliation for an earlier dispute, or a drunken fight over an insult or other affront.” In many of these cases, if no one had ready access to a firearm at the time of the argument, no one would have died.
Indeed, guns on university grounds is a particularly dangerous idea because heavy drinking is common on college campuses, and alcohol is a major contributor to gun homicides. According to Schwartz, “40% of male offenders were drinking alcohol at the time” that they committed a homicide crime, and about one third of female offenders were also drinking at the time of their crime.