FIREARMS: Concealed carry opposition is irrational

In June 1975, every indicator predicted a good summer for America’s seaside tourism industry — the oil embargo had been lifted, the Vietnam War was over and the stock market was recovering.

Instead, coastal tourism declined that summer, primarily because of growing concerns about shark attacks. Ironically, there were no fatal shark attacks off the U.S. coast in 1975. The national epidemic of galeophobia (fear of sharks) originated not with any real-life incident but with the June release of the movie Jaws.

A terrifying fantasy caused otherwise rational people to lose sight of reason and ignore the laws of probability. (You’re almost twice as likely to pick the winning Powerball numbers as to be killed by a shark in U.S. waters.)

A similar epidemic of baseless paranoia now grips Texas. But the perceived threat isn’t sharks; it’s concealed handgun license holders.

In response to Republican state Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s bill, which would allow holders of state-issued concealed-handgun licenses to carry concealed handguns on college campuses, opponents have dusted off their own terrifying fantasies — the same contrived, hypothetical scenarios they used unsuccessfully 14 years ago to oppose the passage of Texas’ concealed-handgun licensing law.

And just like the hysteria that followed the release of Jaws, the hysteria about the dangers of allowing “concealed carry” on Texas college campuses has no basis in fact.

Approximately 1 out of every 77 Texans is licensed to carry a concealed handgun. Yet the annual odds of being murdered or negligently killed by a concealed-handgun license holder in Texas are only about 1 in 10.2 million.

If this bill’s opponents are genuinely concerned about the well-being of college students, they should focus on protecting students from more likely threats, such as the threat of being killed in an automobile accident (1 in 6,500), the threat of being struck by lightning (1 in 500,000) or the threat of being killed by falling airplane parts (1 in 9.3 million).

Viewed from a pragmatic standpoint, there seems to be no rational basis for their rabid opposition to Wentworth’s bill.

Some opponents offer the rationale that college campuses often play host to heated debates. Apparently, they believe that heated debates never take place in churches or office buildings or among members of the Texas Legislature (concealed carry is allowed in the Capitol).

The 11 U.S. colleges that allow concealed carry on campus — all nine public colleges in Utah, Colorado State University and Blue Ridge Community College (Weyers Cave, Va.) — have yet to see any classroom debates escalate into shootouts. In fact, after allowing concealed carry on campus for a combined total of more than 80 semesters, not one of those schools has seen a single incident of gun violence, including threats, suicides or accidents.

Many individuals on both sides of the gun-control debate view Texas’ concealed-handgun licensing program as a beacon of efficiency and compromise that provides a win-win scenario for all involved.

In a Nov. 24 radio interview, Kristen Comer, executive director of Washington CeaseFire (a Seattle-based gun-control advocacy group), said, “Texas has a great program for their concealed-carry permit holders. In order to get your concealed-carry permit in Texas, you need to go through a firearm training course [in which] they specifically talk about being . . . confronted with the choice of ‘Do I take out my gun?’ ”

Studies suggest that Texas concealed-handgun license holders are five times less likely than non-license holders to commit violent crimes. The National Academy of Sciences and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center agree that concealed carry does not lead to more gun deaths.

In light of such findings, what is the justification for denying license holders the right to protect themselves on college campuses?

Why should a graduate student who is able to defend herself when leaving a local health club not be able to defend herself when leaving a student rec center?

Why should a 22-year-old undergrad not be allowed the same level of personal protection at the school library as at the public library?

Why deny a professor who is able to defend himself at a theater on Saturday and at a church on Sunday the ability to defend himself in his classroom on Monday?

Adults age 21 and above who have gone through the training, testing and extensive background checks required to obtain a Texas concealed-handgun license should be allowed the same level of personal protection on college campuses that current laws allow them virtually everywhere else.

Reprinted from Special to the Star-Telegram