The Prospect of Guns on Campus: One Philosopher’s Approach


Larry Shapiro, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is taking a novel approach to addressing the prospect that Wisconsin’s state legislature may soon allow students (and others) to carry concealed firearms onto campus: he is offering his students a choice.

He is crafting two syllabi for his Philosophy 101 class. The first includes, alongside topics like Cartesian epistemology and Hume on causation, “issues concerning God, abortion and social justice,” which his students “are obviously more impassioned about.” The second replaces these topics, “about which [his students] are most likely to have some pre-formed belief that a good course in philosophy will seek to upset or challenge” with less provocative subject matter in epistemology and metaphysics.

Shapiro is worried about inflaming the passions of students who may be armed with guns:

While I am presenting an argument in favor of a right to abortion, or against the existence of God, or in favor of tax policies that would strip these students of their inheritances (I also present arguments on the other side of these issues), I will at the same time be worrying that a depressed or disturbed or drunk or high college student is in the audience, armed, and fed up with what I or fellow students are advocating.

So here’s the deal he is presenting to his students:

On the first day of the semester I will explain to my students that I have prepared two syllabi for the course. One they’ll find much more interesting than the other, but we’ll adopt it only if I receive a promise from the students that they will not carry weapons into my classroom.

You can read more about his proposal here.

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Blain
4 years ago

This is a great idea. I formulated a less creative strategy to deal with this prospective problem when the idea was proposed last time in Wisconsin (during autumn 2015): (a) switch all my lower-level undergraduate courses to online only; (b) hold my office hours in an off-campus coffee shop with a ‘no guns’ policy; and (c) request all students in my seminars (mainly graduate students and 4th-year undergraduates) not bring guns to our meetings (I would trust that students that mature would honour this request). But perhaps I’ll adapt a version of Prof. Shapiro’s strategy as well.Report

Danny Weltman
4 years ago

A few things strike me as odd about this strategy.

I worry about the idea that the incentive for picking the controversial syllabus is that the other one is boring: I think this sends the wrong message about philosophy. If people are finding epistemology and metaphysics boring, I’m worried that I’m teaching these topics badly or that I’m picking readings that aren’t good ones for introductory philosophy students. Canonical texts, for instance, might strike new students as boring because they don’t understand the importance these texts had for subsequent philosophers, the revolutionary nature of these texts in the context that they were written, etc. Texts addressing obscure (but philosophically central) issues in metaphysics and epistemology might be boring because I don’t do a great job motivating the issue, or because there’s no reason students ought to care about philosophically central issues in the first place, etc. If I can’t get around this with my chosen texts, I should pick different texts! I shouldn’t sit idle with the fact that these texts bore my students as a way to make them into a “stick” to contrast with the carrot of the more interesting stuff.

I also worry about the link drawn between depression and shooting people when your views are challenged. I may have a different understanding of depression than Prof. Shapiro, but my impression is that depression doesn’t tend to turn people into spree killers, even if they do have access to a firearm and find themselves in a classroom in which their views are being challenged.

I also worry about the idea that Prof. Shapiro can trust his students to abide by their promise not to bring guns to class but not trust his students to refrain from shooting up the place if they have access to guns and are being taught stuff that doesn’t bore them to death. The degree of trust placed in the students seems fine-tuned to get the results he wants (making students feel safer discussing controversial issues and also raising the prospect that their fellow students may at any moment shoot them, which, incidentally, strike me as at odds with each other) and not based on, for instance, what he actually feels justified in trusting his students to do. I think a more honest accounting of the situation would be something like “look, someone’s going to shoot us all to death if they feel like it, but what I’d really like is for students to feel bad about this horrific gun policy, so let’s do this thing with the syllabi.” That’s not to say it’s a bad thing to do, but framing it in terms of what you can trust students to do seems to me to treat them in a very odd way: I’m not sure that one ought to be legitimately more afraid of students who haven’t made the promise than students who have, but who could easily break it.

This is not to say I disagree with the general sentiment which is something along the lines of “oh god, please don’t shoot me,” but I feel like there might be better ways to accomplish this, like a discussion in the first class about how it’s important not to shoot interlocutors even when you happen to disagree with them (couched in less gauche terms, obviously). That would accomplish what Prof. Shapiro aims to accomplish – making students feel safer and also raising the prospect that at any moment the classroom could descend into gunfire – without the negative effects of the current policy, which suggests that philosophy is boring, stigmatizes mental illness, and treats students as very oddly trustworthy and untrustworthy simultaneously.Report

Lincoln R. Carr
Lincoln R. Carr
4 years ago

There is no empirical basis for Professor Shapiro’s concerns. License holders are among the most law abiding citizens, statistically less likely to commit a crime than police officers. There is no serious barrier to prevent a deranged person from shooting up his classrom now, with or without a policy allowing guns on campus. Singling out those who have had to demonstrate good character is—a non sequitur.Report

Brick Hay
Brick Hay
Reply to  Lincoln R. Carr
4 years ago

@Lincoln R. Carr: “License holders are among the most law abiding citizens, statistically less likely to commit a crime than police officers.”

Let’s confine ourselves to 21-22 year olds, shall we? How’s their emotional control? What about under conditions of stress and sleeplessness as well as alcohol and drug use, common aspects of the life of a university student? I would imagine there is zero empirical evidence that pays attention to the specific context that matters here, so your remark about license holders as a broader group is an irrelevancy. In the absence of such specific evidence, we should use more general evidence about the unique psychological profile of late adolescents and the simple principle that gun violence can’t occur without guns. If you’re not persuaded on purely logical grounds of the principle, you may wish to compare the rate of shooting deaths for people who live in a household with a gun and without one. Don’t forget to include accidental shootings and suicides.Report

Lincoln R. Carr
Lincoln R. Carr
Reply to  Brick Hay
4 years ago

Recently, our next door neighbor photographed a coyote in our back yard. My wife was concerned that the coyote was a threat to our two dogs. I’m going to post a “No Coyotes” sign to make our yard a Coyote-Free Zone.Report

Rodney W. Cupp
Rodney W. Cupp
Reply to  Lincoln R. Carr
4 years ago

Are you seriously comparing undergraduates to coyotes? You can’t think of any difference between undergraduates and coyotes that might weaken your analogy? Or are human beings really as oblivious to the law as non-human animals?Report

Lincoln R. Carr
Lincoln R. Carr
Reply to  Rodney W. Cupp
4 years ago

I’m sure you’ve seen René Magritte’s painting, “The Treachery of Images.” It has a picture of a pipe with a caption, in French, “This is not a pipe.” Every time you see a “Gun-Free Zone” sign, imagine there is a caption, “This is not [really] a Gun-Free Zone.”Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Brick Hay
4 years ago

Actually, there is empirical evidence on this point. In Michigan, the license revocation rates of 21-22 year olds nearly match that of 35-44 year olds. The highest revocation rates are among 25-34 year olds. In Texas, 21-22 year olds are 6 times less likely to get their permit revoked than 25-34 year olds, and nearly 5 times less likely than 35-44 year olds.Report

mhl
mhl
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

You didn’t provide a source, but I did a little digging, and it seems to refer to people who have *ever* had a firearm revoked. It stands to reason that 21-22 year olds have not had as many years to do something bad enough to get the firearm revoked, and so they will have lower probabilities than the group immediately above it.

The other point to make is that people get firearms revoked for lots of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with shooting up a classroom. So this isn’t quite the right metric to focus on.

The statistics on how much less safe people are with a gun in their house is clear. Just having a gun increases the likelihood of something bad happening when feelings get hurt. Why wouldn’t this also apply to the classroom as well?Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  mhl
4 years ago

Here’s the source (see page 5): http://crimeresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Concealed-Carry-Revocation-rates-by-age.pdf

Re (1): Brick Hay was focusing specifically on the 21-22 demographic. Perhaps it is true that those with more time have a greater risk of getting their permits revoked (which actually doesn’t match the data), but those people will have already been out of college classrooms by the time they happen. So I don’t see how that’s relevant to this discussion.

Re (2): I’d think that strengthens my point! If the revocation rate for permit holders is extremely low even when taking into account all possible reasons (including non-criminal ones), then it would seem to support the idea that permit holders are extremely law-abiding and responsible when it comes to handling firearms.

Re (3): The best research doesn’t support that. See Gary Kleck’s 2015 meta-analysis of several dozen studies. The methodologically strongest studies all support the conclusion that individual gun ownership does not increase crime.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that revocation rates for permit holders are already very low to begin with. Those 21-22 year olds who have a carry permit are part of a demographic that’s very law-abiding to begin with.Report

mhl
mhl
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

I suspected that Mary Rosh, er John Lott, was your source.

1) I think you are confusing discrete point probabilities for a particular year with cumulative probabilities across many years – at least with respect to 21-22 year olds vs. 25-34 year olds. What is happening with the older population is interesting, but as you say, it is immaterial for our discussion.

2) You kicked this off at the very beginning by saying “Actually, there is empirical evidence on *this point*” (in response to Brick Hay). You then cite gun revocation rates. You then acknowledge that gun revocations are not indicative of propensity to shoot up a classroom, and finish up by saying this strengthens your point. So I am confused.

3) Evidence on all of this is analyzed an a politically charged way. You can have your numbers, I can have mine. Not sure we will convince each other by pointing to our own preferred literature.Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

I don’t think there’s any empirical evidence on something so specific as the propensity of 21-22 year olds to shoot up a classroom. But isn’t it enough to show that (a) concealed carry permit holders are extremely law abiding and (b) that those 21-22 year olds with a concealed carry permit [who are already part of a very law abiding demographic] are not more at risk for dangerous behavior than licensed carriers in other age groups? If revocation rates are already very low when taking into account *all* possible reasons for which one can lose a concealed carry permit, then it would stand to reason that the risk of any particular dangerous behavior is low.Report

mhl
mhl
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Tim – in my opinion it is not enough.
– FIrst, petty crimes and heinous crimes often don’t correlate. I jaywalk every day when I go get coffee, but that doesn’t predict that I will cheat on my wife, or shoot innocent people, or commit whatever serious crime you want to discuss.
– Second, not having one’s permit revoked doesn’t mean they are law abiding. They could be brekaing laws and not getting caught. They could hire could legal counsel. They could be breaking certain laws in certain areas that would not qualify for permit revocation. (Look at George Zimmerman, for example, who is a poster-boy for concealed carry folk and repeatedly has had run-ins with the law, yet still has a firearm.).
– Third, we are talking about introducing a completely new culture on top of an existing environment. Traditional models are out the window.Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Reasons vary from state-to-state, but licenses to carry a concealed weapon are typically revoked a variety of reasons — domestic violence, commission of a felony, improper use of a firearm, drug use, and so on. Putting *all* of these reasons together, the data show that permit holders are at least as law abiding as police officers.

Is that not enough to show that they can be trusted with a weapon? You set the bar extraordinarily high. What kind of evidence would convince you?Report

Dale Miller
Reply to  Lincoln R. Carr
4 years ago

I don’t doubt that the great majority of licensed gun owners are generally responsible individuals. However, allowing firearms on campus would have at least two effects that a reasonable person might believe makes faculty and students less safe. First, whereas now the mere sight of someone with a weapon tells you that there is a problem and you need to take immediate action to protect yourself and others, if firearms are legal on campus then nothing may count as a reason to act until the actual shooting begins. Second, in the worst case scenario in which there is an active shooter, you suddenly have an environment where multiple people are likely to be firing. If the “good guys with guns” are very proficient with their guns even when adrenaline is suddenly coursing through their veins then maybe on balance you’re safer. Otherwise not. And keep in mind that the good guys may not be able to distinguish the bad guys from other good guys.Report

California Grad Student
California Grad Student
4 years ago

I am hesitant to post this comment, as I have much reason to think that Professors Shapiro and Blain are thoughtfully and earnestly engaging these issues. However, I have taught philosophy for some time now, and I have taught ‘controversial’ topics, and I have never once had an occasion where a student attacked anyone. Nor have I heard of an occasion of philosophical violence, except once, where two graduate students, intoxicated, fought over a woman in a bar–how hackneyed. Were that philosophy was so engaging! Nor was there a single shooting or even threatened shooting in the other my other line of work, often significantly more confrontational than Introduction to Ethics or Contemporary Topics and bereft of gun proscriptions.

So while I can be sympathetic to the underlying concerns, it is difficult to see these responsive moves as much more than grandstanding. (I need to read Brandon Warmke’s new article in PPA to see if I’m on the mark!) Want to say something on day one such as, “Tough topics here. You’ll disagree, sometimes greatly. Prepare yourself, and prepare to discuss civilly.”? Want to add a Danny Weltman-like addendum? All that sounds fine. But negotiating the course’s content or hiding off-campus (presumably against campus policy, at least any many campuses)? That seems like the sort of ineffective showing-off that sometimes earns our field a certain reputation.Report

Glenn
Glenn
Reply to  California Grad Student
4 years ago

No offense, but while I agree with almost everything you say, don’t you think the accusation that it is grandstanding to be totally empty? I just heard about the article on this phenomenon today but it already seems like an aging idea. I am afraid that soon this whole grandstanding thing will be just another tool in the toolkit of anyone who wants to smear someone, because pretty much anyone at any time can be construed as performing a kind of grandstanding, and it’s not easily refuted without getting into a stupid meta-conversation.

Had to get that off my chest, but when I saw you use that term I just had to say something. It’s already getting out of control.

But as I say, how can I prove to anyone that I am not grandstanding right now? Or right now? Or right now? Or right now/ in fact, the longer I talk, the worse it gets because it sounds like I am trying to be clever.

Ok, I’ll shut up now.Report

Blain
4 years ago

Regarding California grad student’s comment: “I have taught philosophy for some time now, and I have taught ‘controversial’ topics, and I have never once had an occasion where a student attacked anyone.”

Well, I’ve had experiences with drunk and/or belligerent students in my classes. Not many, but enough for me to dread the prospect that in the future such students may be packing heat when asked to leave the class.

Personal safety concerns aside, though, the chilling effect that armed students may have on other students’ willingness to disagree with them during class discussions of controversial issues is a pedagogic reason why I oppose ‘guns everywhere’ laws like the one being considered in Wisconsin.Report

California Grad Student
California Grad Student
Reply to  Blain
4 years ago

As a philosopher, I’m professionally committed to entertaining conjectural claims about matters of fact. However, this strikes me as a pretty thin reason to be worried about the presence of guns on campus. Once you discount the amplifying effect faculty complaining has, how many students are willing to voice disagreement despite the possibility that a fellow student might punch, choke, or stab them in the classroom, might punch, choke, or stab them out of the classroom, might socially ostracize them, might illicitly have a gun and shoot them, might legally get a gun and confront them out of the classroom, etc., but would change their minds when guns are legally permitted in the classroom? My conjecture is that the number is vanishingly small–though I await non-anecdata to the contrary.

None of this is to say that I _support_ the presence of guns on campus. I don’t. But I don’t see the issue as worth nearly the bemoaning philosophers seem to respond with. As I said before: this seems mostly like strutting about (on both sides).Report

Blain
Reply to  California Grad Student
4 years ago

I doubt that there’s “non-anecdata” on the question either way. But the possibility that armed students might have a chilling effect on class discussions doesn’t strike me as implausible as it seems to strike you. (Maybe our different experiences in teaching might explain this, at least in part. Yours seems to have been without any worrisome incidents. Mine has included occasional encounters with belligerent and irrational students.) Perhaps only very few students will react in the way that I fear. But what conceivable pedagogic reason could there be *for* allowing guns in classrooms? As I said elsewhere, I have yet to encounter even a bad argument for the educational value of arming students.

Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry and behavioural medicine at Stanford University, describes this phenomenon: “In the U.S., whenever there is a angry argument, whether over a traffic accident, someone being fired from their job, or for that matter over nothing of any consequence, it always lurks in one’s mind that someone could have a gun and could start shooting.” He refers to this as “the oppressive psychological weight of America’s gun violence.” [http://washingtonmonthly.com/2015/10/21/the-oppressive-weight-of-gun-violence/]

I just can’t see *any* value in extending that fear — even if it only affects a small number of students — into classroom discussions.Report

Alan White
Alan White
4 years ago

The real point concerns why these laws are passed in the first place. The rarity of gun violence in high-ed classrooms is in fact not such a major concern as to require this in response. So why does this kind of proposal principally rise in red or (as Wisconsin is) turning-red states? It’s ideological. Universities are seen in such states as bastions of liberalism generally–thus inimical to right-wing interests–and one way to curb the perceived onslaught of left-leaning ideas is the literal force of arms as a potential threat to their presentation. Legislators are targeting (sorry) the liberal arts in particular, and if I were such a legislator, I’d take good heart in a response that allowed a possible weakening of a philosophy course curriculum out of fear of violence. It appears the mere threat of such legislation adds to this encouragement of its motivation.

My 35+ year career has been in UW, though not the prestigious Madison campus that is only now beginning to appreciate how politically vulnerable they are, as I have understood as part of a bottom-feeding UW institution for a long, long time. I’m nearing the end of my career, which started in a progressive state and is now finishing in a veritable Wississippi or worse. I’ve fought first-hand–last year in the Tenure Task Farce (the correct term)–against the rising political machinations against this great institution. Offering to water-down curriculum is not the right response, even in literal self-defense. We need to arm ourselves in courage of conviction–if not also with short-recoil .380s with range experience.

I can’t wait for the faculty member who brings a concealed weapon to class in plausible self-defense but who hasn’t completed the concealed-carry protocols, who is then brought up on charges, and whom then the NRA feels called to defend in court. Only Kurt Vonnegut could write as good a scenario.Report

Todd
Todd
Reply to  Alan White
4 years ago

I agree that this is more of an ideological/political move rather than one that is legitimately concerned with safety or the right to bear arms. Rightwing politicians know they can antagonize the liberal professoriate by passing such laws, and then these politicians can turn around to their base and say, “See how these liberal elitists hate freedom! Let’s cut some more funding from public higher ed.”Report

Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

This is much ado about nothing. Campus carry has been legal for many years in several states, and there hasn’t been a single instance of a lawfully carrying student losing his cool over class discussion.

Just look at the data: those who are licensed to carry concealed weapons are extremely law abiding. In Florida, where more than 2.6 million licenses have been issued since 1987, the annual firearms-related license revocation rate (that is, revocations stemming from the misuse of a firearm) is 0.003 percent, while the revocation rate for all violations is 0.012 percent. In Texas, where there are over 584,000 permit holders, the revocation rate in 2012 was 0.021 percent. To put these numbers in perspective, police officers had a firearms violation rate of 0.007 percent from 2005-2007. That’s twice the rate of permit holders in Florida. Moreover, police officers commit crime at a rate of 0.124 percent (6 times higher than permit holders in Texas and 10 times higher than permit holders in Florida).Report

Blain
4 years ago

A couple of months ago, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a study on this issue, entitled “Firearms on College Campuses: Research Evidence and Policy Implications.”
It states:
“Proposals to allow guns on college campuses must consider the fact that serious assaults and suicide attempts – which are more likely to be lethal when firearms are present – are far more common than are the rampage shooting incidents that the policies are purported to prevent. Inserting more firearms into those assaults and suicide attempts by allowing more people to have firearms on campuses is likely to lead to more deaths and serious injuries. A recent study identified 85 incidents of shootings or undesirable discharges of firearms on college campuses in the U.S. from January 2013 through June 2016. Only two of these 85 incidents (2.4%) involved a shooter on a rampage. The most common incidents were interpersonal disputes that escalated into gun violence (45%), premeditated acts of violence against an individual (12%), suicides or murder/suicides (12%), and unintentional shootings or discharges (9%). Campus police much more commonly respond to a variety of violent and non-violent incidents than to rampage shootings. If those campus officers must assume that any given student is armed, this may compromise their ability to effectively respond to, and de-escalate, these incidents.

In summary, available data indicate that policies that allow individuals to bring firearms onto college campuses are unlikely to lead to fewer mass shootings or fewer casualties from those shootings. Mass shootings are a growing concern, but are still very rare events. Increasing gun availability in campus environments could make far more common acts of aggression, recklessness, or self-harm more deadly and, thus, have a deleterious impact on the safety of students, faculty, and staff.”

The study is available here: http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/_pdfs/GunsOnCampus.pdfReport

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Blain
4 years ago

I don’t know if that’s completely fair. The utility of guns consists not just in the fact that they are very useful at *interrupting* crime, but also at *deterring* it. Criminals who know that their victims might be armed may be less inclined to initiate a crime to begin with — something that isn’t reflected by merely taking a headcount of actual events.

But more importantly, saying that we shouldn’t allow guns on campus because mass shootings are rare confuses the likelihood of being confronted with an attacker with the right to defend oneself when faced by one. The pro-gun argument is that individuals should have the right to a reasonable means of self-defense, which is independent of whether guns increase or decrease average safety. Two good papers on this are Lester Hunt’s “The Right to Arms as Means Right” (PAQ, 2011) and Deane-Peter Baker’s “Gun Bans, Risk, and Self Defense” (IJAP, 2014). [And, if I may plug my own work — I also have a forthcoming paper where I argue that a campus gun ban would not be justified *even if* such a ban would increase net safety (which I don’t concede)]Report

Blain
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Regarding: “The pro-gun argument is that individuals should have the right to a reasonable means of self-defense, which is independent of whether guns increase or decrease average safety.”
Well, if guns *decrease* average safety on campus — as the Johns Hopkins study concludes — then that strikes me as a decisive reason to regard them as *not* being “a reasonable means of self-defense.”
Innocent people shouldn’t be rendered unfree and vulnerable for the sake of gun-lovers’ preferences.Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Blain
4 years ago

That doesn’t follow even if I granted your empirical claim. You’re confusing the likelihood of being confronted with an attacker with the right to effectively defend oneself when faced by one. My right to self-defense is unrelenting and cannot be overridden simply because it would increase average safety. (Michael Huemer’s “Is There a Right to Own a Gun?” (2003) goes into this point in more detail, as does the Baker paper mentioned previously).Report

Blain
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Regarding: “My right to self-defense is unrelenting and cannot be overridden simply because it would increase average safety.”

Of course it can. It already is — without the controversy associated with guns — in many cases.

People aren’t allowed to walk around with grenades or bombs simply because they think that doing so would help them defend themselves. The risk posed to others just is too great. (And, moreover, such behaviour would render others quite unfree, as they would be fearful of being in the same places as the grenade and bomb carriers, *irrespective* of the intentions of those ‘self-defenders’.)

Now you may think that guns (any guns? only handguns?) are not as risky or as invariably coercive to others as grenades and bombs. But if simply having armed people around dramatically *increases* the likelihood that others will be harmed or killed, then there is at least a prima facie case to be made that your “right to self-defense” should be overridden in order to better secure others’ overall freedom and welfare.

So this brings us to what counts as a *reasonable* means of self-defence. (I noticed that you dropped the qualifier “reasonable” in your reply.) I think that as soon as your means significantly undermine the security and freedom of others, then that means is rendered manifestly ‘unreasonable’. And I think that this is the case with guns on campuses (a view supported by the JH study). You disagree. Fine. But to simply assert an “unrelenting” right to self-defence, irrespective of its impact on the security and freedom of others, is absurd.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Blain
4 years ago

Thank you Blain, especially as a fellow UW System faculty member. There is no reason to introduce arguments about defense-in-kind except when threats of a kind are significantly present. The proposed legislation assumes that either (i) 2nd amendment rights trump (sic) all other considerations of educational environment, even threats aside, or (ii) the threats of random gun violence are so significant as to warrant elevating the right to concealed-carry over the right to education in optimally safe circumstances in response. Both are absurd. The human right to education in safe circumstances trumps (sic) politically imposed ones such as the right to bear arms, ceteris paribus The threat of classroom violence is not anywhere near a place as to warrant elevating a right to self-defense over the right to education in safe circumstances. Which brings me right back to motives of legislators that have more to do with political intimidation than safety. There is a reason Wisconsin might try to do this, and New York won’t. And that reason is as big as the prominent nose on my face.

And to be clear, I own handguns, am a target shooter, but as you see strongly believe they have absolutely no place in classrooms.Report

Blain
Reply to  Blain
4 years ago

Thanks Alan. I certainly agree with you that this proposal is primarily motivated by a desire to politically intimidate political opponents (like most other GOP policies with respect to the UW system). It has nothing to do with a genuine concern for students’ education or safety. The arguments for allowing guns in UW system classrooms are laughably bad, and often insincere (at least when uttered by legislators like Kremer).

I’ve been at UW-Milwaukee for 8 years now. It’s shocking how far this state has fallen in that brief time!Report

Lincoln R. Carr
Lincoln R. Carr
Reply to  Blain
4 years ago

You seem to be assuming as true the very claim against which Tim has given evidence.

Part of his argument is it’s false that “simply having armed people around dramatically *increases* the likelihood that others will be harmed or killed.” If this is false, then it doesn’t entail a “prima facie case…that your ‘right to self-defense’ should be overridden in order to better secure others’ overall freedom and welfare.”

For someone to be unjustly coerced by the presence of a defensive weapon, it must in fact be the case that they are in danger from that weapon. This is an empirical claim that the science doesn’t bear out. We have a duty to maintain each other’s safety; we have no duty to cater to each other’s unjustified fears.Report

Blain
Reply to  Blain
4 years ago

The Johns Hopkins study I mentioned earlier concludes that ‘campus carry’ laws *increase* overall danger for everyone on those campuses. I understood Tim Hsiao to be conceding that conclusion in our exchange for the sake of argument (viz., that even if permitting people to bring guns into classrooms makes everyone less safe, they still have a right of ‘self-defence’ to those guns).

Perhaps you reject the conclusion of the Johns Hopkins study. But you are quite wrong to imply that “the science” on this matter is settled in the way that you think. (‘Concealed carry’ laws increase the risk of innocent deaths overall, not simply on campuses [http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/26/opinion/the-concealed-carry-fantasy.html?_r=0].)

The U.S.’s rate of firearm homicides is much higher than that of other similar countries (six times the of Canada, fifteen times that of Australia and New Zealand). It is not, I think, an “unjustified fear” to want to contain the disease of gun violence and harm as much as possible at universities.Report

Lincoln R. Carr
Lincoln R. Carr
Reply to  Blain
4 years ago

The National Academy of Sciences, surveying the research up to the time of its report, found the relationship between concealed carry licenses and crime inconclusive (http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=10881). (James Q. Wilson somewhat famously dissented from the report, arguing that the preponderance of the evidence showed an increase in licenses decreased the murder rate.) It did not conclude, despite the fears of many who opposed concealed carry legislation, that such laws _increased_ the danger to the community.

I’m not aware of any scholarly articles that address concealed carry on campus in particular other than the article put out by John Hopkins. Tim already cited the low revocation rate for license holders in the age range of traditional undergraduates. However, the University of Texas at Austin Campus Carry Working Group did publish a report (http://campuscarry.utexas.edu/working-group) that says the following:

We reached out to 17 research universities in the seven campus-carry states…Most respondents reported that campus carry had not had much direct impact on student life or academic affairs…What we can say is that we have found little evidence of campus violence that can be directly linked to campus carry, and none that involves an intentional shooting…We found that the evidence does not support the claim that a causal link exists between campus carry and an increased rate of sexual assault. We found no evidence that campus carry has caused an increase in suicide rates on campuses in other states.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence to assert “simply having armed people around dramatically *increases* the likelihood that others will be harmed or killed,” either in society generally or on campus specifically.Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

What counts as a “reasonable” means of self-defense is relative to the kind of threats that individuals are likely to encounter when they find themselves in a dangerous situation. Within the United States, most threats of grievous bodily harm are easily dispatched by a handgun. A grenade would be excessive. But while a grenade isn’t reasonable for self-defense in the United States, someone who lives under threat of ISIS fighters is arguably entitled to own automatic rifles and even grenades.

Suppose I draw my gun to defend myself against a criminal aggressor intending to kill me. He snatches the gun away. In doing so, has he violated my right to self defense? Arguably so. But on your view — where my right to own and carry gun is defeated or overridden because it would increase average safety — all that would follow is that he’s violated my property rights in some way. That doesn’t seem right. That’s because the right to a reasonable means of self-defense is different from the right to a reasonably safe environment. Security is a variable concept, your right to defend yourself isn’t.

As far as *self-defense* is concerned, the question is not about the statistical likelihood of some person or group or persons finding themselves in a dangerous situation, but on the effectiveness of firearms when they are employed in self-defense. And on that point it is quite clear that guns are a reasonable means of self-defense. So long as there is a need for individuals to defend themselves, then they should be allowed to own and carry a reasonable means of doing so.Report

Blain
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

You seem to want to have your cake and eat it too. On the one hand you concede that what counts as a ‘reasonable’ means of self-defence is context-dependent (so while folks in Syria might need grenades in order to defend themselves properly, there is no need for grenades in American classrooms — phew!). On the other hand, you claim that the “statistical likelihood” of being under a certain kind of threat is *irrelevant* in determining what counts as a reasonable means of self-defence. Which is it? There is a chance — albeit an astonishingly small one — that a unique situation may emerge in a UW classroom in which a grenade is singularly effective in defending someone’s life. By your second line of reasoning, according to which the probability of facing certain kinds of threats are *irrelevant*, then people *do* have a right to defend themselves with grenades everywhere, the harms and coercion imposed on others be damned.

I liked your first line of reasoning better (obviously, since it’s non-crazy). Accordingly, taking context into account, it is clear that students in classrooms in the UW system are not subject to threats sufficient to entitle them arm themselves and thereby violate the rights of others to security and freedom by changing the nature of the learning environment.Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Statistical likelihood is relevant in determining what I may *use* to defend myself (in that I am entitled to a means of self-defense that matches the type of criminal harm common to a time and place), but it has nothing to do with the *right* to defend myself (which cannot be overridden merely because it increases average safety).

The former supports a right to own handguns (in that they’re an effective and proportionate means of resisting the kind of criminal threats common within the US), while the latter means that one’s right to use a handgun to exercise the right of self-defense isn’t something that can be curtailed merely for for utility reasons. So even if I concede the claim that common gun ownership increases the risk of getting hurt, that’s doesn’t show that guns aren’t reasonable means of self-defense.

The fact that violent crime and mass shootings might be rare is, again, irrelevant. That has to do with the likelihood of coming under attack, not with the right to resist when one does come under attack. What counts as a reasonable means of self-defense pertains to the latter.Report

Blain
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Regarding: “Statistical likelihood is relevant in determining what I may *use* to defend myself (in that I am entitled to a means of self-defense that matches the type of criminal harm common to a time and place), but it has nothing to do with the *right* to defend myself (which cannot be overridden merely because it increases average safety).”

I don’t see how these two considerations are distinct.

Presumably likely harm to innocent bystanders is part of the determination of what counts as an appropriate ‘means’ to self-defence in the first case. (If it doesn’t, then the view is absurd. One need not be consequentialist to think this; something analogous is part of classical Just War theory.) While I’m willing to acknowledge a general right of self-defence, that right is not absolute and overriding of all other rights — including those concerning the rights to freedom and security of innocent bystanders.

You seem to want to defend an *absolute* right to possess firearms, irrespective of the costs or risks to others, in terms of both their freedom and security. Sorry, but such an extremist view strikes me too implausible to take seriously.Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Harm to bystanders is relevant, but not in the way you point out. What makes something a reasonable means *of self-defense* will have to do with how it functions *in the context of self-defense*, not how it might be used for *other* purposes. The kind of bystander harm that is relevant in assessing this issue, then, is not the general risk associated with guns in general, but the risk of injuring or killing bystanders *when they are used in self-defense.* And on that point, the clear answer here is that a handgun, unlike a grenade, strikes the best balance between lethality, practicality, and proportionality in responding to threats of the kinds of deadly threats typical in the US.

Now to be clear, I don’t think that the right to possess firearms is absolute. But I do think that it’s not something that can be settled simply by looking at utility calculations (rights — especially self-defense — are trumps). The harms would have to be several times greater than the benefits in order for intrusive gun control to be justified.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
4 years ago

How does a society end up in this mess? Perhaps from the inside it all seems quite sensible but I would not enrol or teach at a university that allowed guns on campus, being short of both courage and foolhardiness. I hope primary school students are restricted to knives and cudgels.Report

Blain
Reply to  PeterJ
4 years ago

I agree. I find the very idea that guns belong in classrooms baffling and disturbing. When I accepted my current job in Wisconsin 8 years ago I had no idea that this was even a possibility.

Of the four countries that I’ve lived in as an adult – Canada, England, Ireland, and the United States – I’ve felt the *least* free within the U.S. And the prevalence of guns in the U.S. is one of the main reasons for this. In Canada, if an argument breaks out in a coffee shop, a pub, or on a street, I think: “Ugh – How annoying.” In the U.S., when the same sort of thing happens, I think: “Bloody hell! What if one of those idiots has a gun?!” Now this kind of unfreedom might be extended to the classrooms in which I teach, and the office in which I work. And to be clear: the overwhelming *majority* of people who actually work and study on UW campuses strongly *oppose* this proposal. It is something that would be imposed on them by GOP legislators.

And as I mentioned earlier, I also see campus carry laws as pedagogically harmful. I certainly don’t see how armed students could ‘help’ discussions about controversial issues. I have yet to encounter even a bad argument that guns in classrooms have any educational value.Report

Catherine
Catherine
4 years ago

Since this hasn’t yet been raised here, I feel that I should mention it…I am now in my second year of teaching. I’m young, female, and small in stature. I have already had two cases of male students physically threatening me. One incident occurred in the middle of class, in front of other students. One happened in a deserted hallway after class. These are anecdotal cases, obviously. But the thought that these students could now have *weapons* is terrifying.

Perhaps I should also mention that in both cases, the students were enrolled in my Logic course. This isn’t just a worry in classes where contentious issues are being discussed.Report