UT Chancellor: Removing Gun-Free Zones Will “Inhibit Our Freedom of Speech”

October 5, 2015

By Anthony Hennen at Red Alert Politics

Opposition to conceal-and-carry on campus in Texas has cited safety concerns, but another argument is less familiar: the threat to free speech.

William McRaven, the chancellor for the University of Texas system, said, “if you have guns on campus, I question whether or not that will somehow inhibit our freedom of speech.”

New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni agrees, saying the Texas law that allows gun owners to bring concealed weapons onto college campuses is “insanity.”

“In Texas, there’s so little concern for college students’ physical safety that concealed firearms will be permitted in classrooms at public universities like the state flagship here,” Bruni wrote.

The policy has faced opposition before the recent mass shooting in Oregon last week. A law that allows permit-holders to carry a concealed weapon on campus will take effect August 2016, making Texas the eighth state to allow it.

Under current law, carrying a concealed weapon on a college campuses is banned, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, though permit-holders can pass through campus without entering any buildings.

Bruni focuses on the University of Texas at Austin for his argument. What concerns him is a chilling effect on campus speech. He quotes a history professor, a founder of Gun Free UT, who says that, “If I know that there’s a possibility that someone will have gun in his pocket, I can’t in good conscience get students to debate the way they do now.”

Given the real threats to free speech and expression on college campuses chronicled by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, it’s a strange argument. The biggest threat to free speech comes from university administrations, not students who conceal-and-carry.

It’s also an unfair characterization of those with conceal-and-carry permits. As economist John Lott noted, crime rates for permit holders are extremely low, especially for a firearms related violation. The data is not complete, as it focuses on Florida and Texas, and some states don’t require a permit for conceal-and-carry, so no data exists to track those individuals.

Almost 13 million Americans have a permit for concealed handguns, about 5 percent of the total adult population. The Violence Policy Center provides a number of instances where permit holders have killed other people, but none have occurred in a school setting.

Anyone concerned about a mass school shooting has no evidence that someone with a conceal-and-carry permit will be a threat to students and faculty.

Conceal-and-carry is not a solution to mass shootings and crime, however. The Washington Post has cited nine incidents where it occurred. One study “found no significant effect of [concealed handgun licensing] increases on changes in crime rates. This research suggests that the rate at which CHLs are issued and crime rates are independent of one another—crime does not drive CHLs; CHLs do not drive crime.”

Frank Bruni frets about concealed handguns as a danger on campus. Others see concealed handguns as effective in preventing mass shootings and general crime. Based on the available data, both arguments are weak.


Schools: University of Texas at Austin