I am an ethics professor, and I carry a concealed handgun in the classroom. In the event of a mass shooting, I am the first line of defense between my students and an attacker. I refuse to let myself and my students be victims.
I’m sure many of my fellow professors would disagree with my actions. In fact, many would probably brand me as a traitor to academia for admitting such a thing. For them, it is inconceivable that a member of the intelligentsia — an ethics professor, of all people — could support the right to carry a so-called instrument of death.
So in what follows, let me make the moral case for campus carry. Those wanting a more rigorous statement of my argument may be interested in reading one of my academic journal articles on the topic.
The Moral Case for Campus Carry
Campus carry is simply an extension of our natural right of self-defense. Our right to life follows us wherever we go, so the right to defend our lives must also accompany us. Whether I am at home, in my car, at work, or in the classroom, I possess the absolute and unrelenting right to defend myself against unjust aggression. Because firearms enhance that right, there exists a strong presumption in favor of being allowed to own and carry a firearm as I go about my daily business.
That presumption may sometimes be overcome (such as in courthouses, prisons, or airports), but only if the government assumes the special responsibility of protecting those citizens whom it disarms through the coercive power of the law. In other words, if the government is going to tell us we can’t carry guns in a specific area, thus impairing our ability to defend ourselves, it must assume a special responsibility to protect us. It must serve the function our guns would provide had we been allowed to carry them.
An analogy might help illustrate this point. Suppose I push you into deep water as part of a swimming lesson. Because I have intentionally put you into a position of increased vulnerability, I owe it to you to make sure you do not drown. Likewise, if the government requires us to disarm ourselves before entering a specific area, it knowingly puts us in a position of increased vulnerability. It must therefore assume the special responsibility of making up for the gap it has created by increasing protective measures.
The government meets this special responsibility only if it can provide a means of defense equivalent to the one it has coercively stripped away. In the real world, this means it must maintain a pervasive armed presence in the places in which it has disarmed us.
The presence of an ordinary police force does not meet this requirement. Police responses almost always come after someone has already committed a crime. According to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, only 47.3 percent of all personal crimes in 2008 were even reported to police. Of these crimes, only 28 percent of police responses came within five minutes of reporting, 30.3 percent within six to 10 minutes, and 33.5 percent within 11 minutes to one hour of reporting.
Clearly, for resisting attack, the police cannot play the same role as people can by carrying their own guns. The only government apparatus capable of effectively intervening in the midst of a crime is one in which police or other law enforcement officials are present everywhere, which is neither attainable nor desirable.
An ever-vigilant law enforcement presence obviously isn’t feasible in the vast majority of “gun-free” zones, especially college campuses. Even though many colleges and universities maintain their own dedicated police departments, they lack the manpower to maintain a pervasive armed presence. Given the scarcity of police protection in relation to the large areas these officers must protect, the government cannot adequately meet its special duty of protection on campuses. As such, qualified students, staff, and faculty should be allowed to carry guns on campuses.
It is absurd to think one forfeits the right to defend his life simply by entering a classroom. The right of self-defense is essential to our very dignity as human beings. Although we may sometimes partially delegate this responsibility to others, we can never delegate it completely. Even in the most secure college campus, the police response to an active shooter is measured in minutes. But when seconds matter, it is up to students and faculty to defend their own lives. And they cannot do this without a reasonable and effective means of self-defense.
The empirical evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that forcefully resisting violent crime with a gun is associated with lower injury rates and successful resistance. Studies consistently find that defensive gun use is beneficial for both men and women.
Guns also have deterrent effects aside from their use in disrupting crimes in progress. Criminals tend to pick “soft” targets, so the mere possibility of forceful resistance from victims serves as a disincentive that may prevent shootings before they even begin. Why not extend these benefits to primary and secondary school teachers, college students, and college faculty?
Bad Arguments Against Campus Carry
Some argue campus carry creates a difficult situation for responding police officers, who will be unable to determine the good guys from the bad guys. But this objection proves too much: It applies to any situation in which the police encounter a victim who is successfully resisting an attack. If the mere possibility of mistaken identity is enough to justify a ban on campus carry, it would also justify a ban on any kind of forceful self-defense measure.
Simply because the police may have difficulty distinguishing between criminals and victims does not mean victims forfeit their right to forceful self-defense. Our right to self-defense is not a function of the ability of the police to protect us, but a basic dignity grounded in our right to life.
Many opponents of campus carry argue college-aged students are prone to excessive alcohol consumption and other reckless behavior that would make carrying more dangerous. While this may be true when considering college students in general, this does not take into account the fact that concealed carry permit holders tend to be more law-abiding than non-permit holders across all age groups. The common stereotype of college students as reckless party animals does not apply to the subset of students who are licensed to carry weapons.
Another objection is that civilians don’t have enough training to defend themselves and others while under pressure. This objection is simply false. First, one does not need to be an expert with firearms to use them successfully. As I’ve pointed out, studies consistently show that individuals do just fine when defending themselves with firearms, despite their relative lack of training compared to police officers. Even for the untrained, guns are still their best bet.
Second, just as some defense is better than no defense, having a weapon is better than having no weapon at all. If I find myself in a situation in which I must defend myself or others against a gunman, I would much rather trust my life to my gun than to my ability to tackle the shooter. Studies show armed resistance is more effective than unarmed resistance, so if I’m going to defend myself with a weapon, I’d prefer it be the kind of weapon that best guarantees a successful outcome. In that respect, nothing compares to a gun.
The final objection I wish to consider is that guns don’t belong in classrooms because they have a “chilling effect” on the free exchange of ideas. As a professor who lectures on controversial topics all the time, I regard this as pure nonsense. Self-protection is the guardian of free expression, not its enemy.
A world in which we are the most free to express our ideas is one in which we are entitled to protect ourselves from persecution for holding the ideas we have. This isn’t to say we all must carry guns on us at all times, but that self-protection complements free speech. Besides, this objection also proves too much: If allowing access to a means of self-defense is inherently at odds with free expression, this argument would apply to all kinds of self-defense, not just guns.
Earlier, I pointed out that those who carry concealed weapons tend to be extremely law-abiding. If this is true, there is no good reason to fear those who are armed for self-protection. Such fears are unfounded and promote a mistaken perception of gun carriers. Indeed, the exact opposite may very well be true: In the same way that a police presence might lead to a greater perception of safety, many people may feel safer knowing that qualified students and faculty are carrying weapons for self-defense.
Addition: Since publishing this article I have received numerous questions about the legality of what I do. I fully comply with all applicable laws and recommend the same to others.