Yesterday, Colorado State University’s Board of Directors decided to ban guns on campus. Although the edict follows hard on the heels of the recent tragedy in Alabama, CSU’s campus-wide firearms ban is not in sync with Colorado’s prevailing political climate, which places few legal or practical restrictions on gun owners. Nor does it jibe with 2008’s District of Colombia v. Heller, wherein the highest court in the land ruled that the Second amendment trumps local legislation. While “pro-gun” groups both within and without CSU are sure to legally challenge the ban, the real problem with the CSU gun ban is that it doesn’t go far enough. It fails to answer the question underlying the Board’s decision: how do we make college campuses safer? Banning guns is not the answer. Nor is carrying guns.
It’s a question that concerns approximately 16 million students on approximately 4200 campuses. Five years ago, the American College Health Association commissioned a study on the state of law and order therein. The association released its “Campus Violence White Paper.” Surprisingly, the report concluded that college students were less likely to experience violent crime than non-college students of a similar age.
According to the Violent Victimization of College Students report (Baum & Klaus, 2005), between 1995 and 2002, college students ages 18-24 were victims of approximately 479,000 crimes of violence annually: rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault . . . During this seven-year period, students experienced crimes at a lower average rate than non- students ages 18-24, except for rape/sexual assault.
That’s still a lot of crime, and the White Paper [rightly] cautions that campus crime is chronically under-reported. More specifically, CSU, a school with two campuses and approximately 26,500 students and teachers. To estimate whether or not non-police enforcement firearms are a help or a hindrance to any effort to prevent, reduce or combat criminal activities at Colorado State University, we need to know which crimes CSU staff and students face, and how often they occur.
No problem. Thanks to the 1990 Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, CSU is legally required to report its annual crime stats.
In the last three years, there’ve been 21 sex offenses, 58 burglaries, 15 aggravated assaults and 12 arson attacks at CSU’s Fort Collins campus. CSU’s Pueblo campus has experienced five sex attacks, 54 burglaries, four aggravated assaults, four arson attacks and that’s about it. In all, CSU has had 26 sex attacks, 112 burglaries, 19 aggravated assaults and 16 arson attacks since 2007.
The number of students and staff packing heat at CSU is unknown; common sense suggests a relative minority own or carry firearms. During the time period in question, the university has prohibited guns in all its halls of residence. So it seems highly unlikely that gun ownership—or the possibility of gun ownership—took a bite out of crime at CSU.
That said, if Mothers Against Drunk Driving can base their argument for constitutionally questionable police tactics on “if a roadblock saves ONE child” argument, why can’t gun advocates rely on “if a snub-nosed revolver prevents ONE rape” rhetoric? After all, we are talking about legal gun owners seeking to exercise their legal right to carry a firearm.
On one hand, you have some pretty convincing evidence that CSU students don’t have a pressing need for firearms. There’s also plenty of legal precedent for gun bans on private or government properties. The fact that the University has announced that it will make exceptions for students in “imminent danger” goes some way to ameliorating arguments that CSU is completely insensitive to student safety.
But not all the way. Discounting macho motives, the majority of the minority of CSU students or staff carrying firearms did so for self-protection. The “pro-gun” organizations claiming that only legal guns can stop gun-crazed spree killers on campus may also have a point—which has to be balanced against the possibility of firearms-related accidents.
No matter how you slice it, CSU’s Board of Directors missed a trick here. By not announcing new anti-crime initiatives to assuage staff and student fears, they have done nothing to assure gun owners that they understand and appreciate their opposition to the ban. The autocratic nature of their decision will, in all likelihood, drive gun ownership “underground.”
It’s often said that America would be better off if its citizens linked rights to responsibilities. By the same token, CSU’s Board of Directors should realize that removing rights creates responsibilities. They should make immediate moves to reduce on-campus crime. They could even enlist the help of gun owners. After all, they share the same goal: a safe place to live and learn.