By Caroline Kushner
“April 16, 2007 is a day I’ll never forget,” Halley Hovey-Murray, a senior on the SMU debate team, said.
That was the day of the Virginia Tech massacre, resulting in 33 deaths, including the shooter. Hovey-Murray is a native of Richmond, Va., only three hours away from Virginia Tech. Her parents fell in love during their time as graduate students at the university, leaving their daughter with a strong sense of attachment to the Hokie nation. The senseless violence that occurred in Blacksburg that day rocked the nation, the state of Virginia, and Hovey-Murray’s view on allowing concealed weapons on college campuses.
“For me it was one of those impossibly tragic events that really hit close to home,” Hovey-Murray said.
This is why she is keeping a close watch as Southern Methodist University continues to deliberate over Senate Bill 11, more commonly referred to as campus carry.
Allowing schools to be “gun free zones” leaves law-abiding citizens with concealed weapon permits defenseless in the face of a criminal active shooter.
A final verdict has not yet been reached at SMU regarding Senate Bill 11, but the university is making sure all those with an opinion are heard. The legislation states that private universities must connect with faculty, administration and students, but does not specify how this contact needs to be made. SMU has provided an online forum for members of the SMU community to comment and voice their opinions, and has also been in contact with multiple organizations regarding campus carry.
In an additional effort to hear student opinion, SMU Debate and SMU Student Senate hosted a debate earlier this month giving students the opportunity to discuss campus carry.
While Hovey-Murray had passion in her plea supporting campus carry, her debate opponent, Noshin Kuraishi had statistics.
When it comes to college campuses, the right to carry a concealed handgun raises many concerns. Eleven states currently allow citizens who possess a concealed carry license the ability to carry a weapon on public university campuses, and 21 states have left the decision up to the individual schools.
Since August 2015, when the Texas Senate passed the campus carry bill, Texas Christian University and Rice University, two private colleges in Texas, have opted out of Senate Bill 11. The vice-chancellor for student affairs at TCU explained that no matter which side of the argument people were on, they all agreed that the safety of the TCU community was the main priority.
“Remember this, there’s a law banning guns on campus, but have you ever been to a college campus where they search all the backpacks?” Adam Winkler, gun-control expert and professor at UCLA, said.
Winkler is a realist and explains that rules on college campuses are broken all the time. Some students participate in underage drinking and consumption of illegal drugs, so what’s to stop them from having a gun with them?
“The rule itself might not stop them,” he said.
Data from the Crime Prevention Research Center shows that the murder rate declines by 3 percent each year a concealed handgun law is in place. The Center believes criminals are deterred by larger punishments, and with more concealed handgun laws, criminals are unaware of which potential victim has the ability to fire back.
“There are many in America whose view is that more guns equals less crime,” Winkler said. “If you have more guns on campus, you’re less likely to have criminals come on campus because they’re afraid of getting shot.”
People who have a concealed weapon permit are law-abiding citizens and 97 percent of violent crimes are committed with a weapon that has been illegally obtained. The Crime Prevention Research Center claims it’s difficult to find a group in the population that has as low of a conviction rate as concealed weapon permit holders. The Center states that police officers are convicted at a higher rate than concealed weapon license carriers.
Statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety show that between 2002 and 2006, Texans with a concealed weapons permit were five and a half times less likely to commit manslaughter, and four times less likely to commit murder in comparison to the general population of Texas.
“There are many in America whose view is that more guns equals less crime,” Winkler said.
Though statistics may prove that Winkler is right, a study done by the National Institute for Mental Health shows that full maturity in the brain does not occur until the mid-20s and older. Statistics also show that people under the age of 25 commit half of the gun crimes in America.
“Criminal activity is generally activity of the young,” Winkler said.
With most college students being under 25, does it make sense to allow those who are not mentally mature enough to carry a weapon, despite data from the Center for Crime Prevention Research stating that college aged permit holders in Texas are just as law abiding as people who are 25 and older?
SMU is under the protection of four police forces, leaving campus safety to dozens of trained professionals.
“A student’s chances of falling victim actually decreases once he or she steps on campus. Most reported cases of campus homicide involved interpersonal disputes among friends, not a vengeful sniper,” Kuriashi said.
During a U.S. Senate hearing in November, the President of the Crime Prevention Research Center explained that in his decades of research, he has only been able to identify four gun-related accidents involving college students with no fatalities.
SMU has always had a zero tolerance policy for weapons of any kind on campus.
“We’ve always maintained that that’s the safest thing for students,” student liaison to the Board of Trustees Jacob Conway said.
Conway has also been in close contact with Paul Ward, the head of legal affairs at SMU.
“They’ve addressed the Student and Faculty Senates,” Conway said of the legal affairs department. Legal affairs will address the Board of Trustees before the end of the fall 2015 semester.
As someone who remembers April 16, 2007 all too well, Hovey-Murray can’t help but wonder how drastically different the outcome of the Virginia Tech massacre could have been had even one student or faculty member been allowed to carry a firearm.
“Gun control laws deter law-abiding citizens from arming themselves, they do not deter criminals,” she said.