Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why SB-231 is bad public policy

This article, by UNLV Criminal Justice professors Terance Miethe and Timothy Hart, first appeared in the May 2011 issue of the NFA Alliance.

Effective crime control policy occurs when it derives from reasonable assumptions about the nature and distribution of criminal behavior. In the case of Senate Bill 231(SB-231), which would prevent NSHE campus presidents or publicsafety departments from setting anyoversight or registration requirementsfor concealed-carry-weapons-permitholders — faculty, students or visitors — to carry concealed guns oncampus, several questionable assumptions aboutthe nature and prevalence of college student victimization are readily apparent.

Assumption 1: More Guns Leads to Less Crime.
An implicit assumption underlying SB-231 is the belief that increasedgun availability on campus will reduce campus crime (i.e., more guns,less crime). This presumed deterrenteffect of armed citizens is alleged inseveral high-profile studies, but thereis no sound empirical evidence tosupport this claim.

Assumption 2: Violent Offenders are Rational Offenders Who Will Be Deterred by Armed Students.
SB-231 assumes that criminalsare rational individuals whose illegalbehavior will be deterred by the fearof confrontation with armed studentson campus. For those not deterred bythe threat of an armed confrontation,SB-231 further assumes that studentswith guns in their possession will beable to successfully terminate a criminal attack. Unfortunately, both ofthese assumptions are problematicfor the following reasons:

  • l The typical mass murderer inschool shootings is often so mentallyimpaired that he is unable to makerational decisions. The threat of detection or death from armed bystanders doesn’t appear to be a major concern because many of them are already prepared to die for their acts.
  • l The ability of any non-professional to use a firearm to terminate anattack is severely limited by the spontaneity, unpredictability, and gravityof violent situations. When facedwith conditions of stress and novelty, humans are generally incapableof immediate rational action and this becomes increasingly difficult withinthe situational contexts in which most violent victimizations occur (e.g.,most interpersonal assaults involve abrupt, spontaneous outbursts andeither one or both participants areunder the influence of alcohol)

Assumption 3: The Benefits of Arming Students Exceed the Costs.
The scientific merit of SB-231 isfurther reduced when the many adverse collateral consequences of increased gun presence on campus arealso considered.These negative consequences include

  1. (1) the increases in deaths andserious injuries due to accidental discharge of weapons or overreaction tothe severity of a conflict situation,
  2. (2)the increased risks of death and injury to fellow students and facultyfrom “friendly fire” during the stateof chaos surrounding violent attacksin public places, and
  3. (3) the detrimental impact of the presence of firearms on the free exchange of ideasand classroom learning.

Assumption 4: College Campuses are Dangerous Places.
It is undeniable that too manycollege students are victimized byserious violent crime each year. AccordingtotheFBI’sUniform CrimeReports, a total of 45 homicides wererecorded by campus law enforcementsince 2001, and numerous studentshave been victimized by sexual assaults, robberies, and other violentcrimes.A closer look at the availabledata, however, provides a somewhatdifferent image of the nature of college student victimization and thepresumed dangerousness of college campuses.
  • l Rates of serious violent crimeexperienced by college students aredramatically lower than the risk ofthese crimes for persons in the general U.S. population who are betweenthe ages of 18 and 24.
  • l The vast majority of criminal victimizations of college students involve minor property offenses (e.g.,petty thefts, vandalism). Less than5% of criminal victimizations of college students involved a violent offense (Hart & Miethe 2011).
  • l College students are about 20times more likely to be victimized bya violent crime when they are awayfrom campus than when they are oncampus. Nearly 94% of violent incidents involving college students occurred away from campus.
  • l Regardless of whether the crimeoccurs on or away from campus, theclear majority of student victimizations involve relatively minor formsof violent attacks with no physicalinjuries (75%) or simple assaultswithout weapons (63%)
What these results indicate is thatcollege campuses are relatively safeenvironments. If college studentsare victimized by crime, it almostalways occurs in a physical locationaway from campus.Given this profile of the offcampus nature and low prevalenceof college student victimization, thepassage of SB-231 and the subsequent increased “arming” of students would be largely unnecessary for improving the safety ofcollege campuses.

Rather than increasing the number of lethal weapons on campusunder SB-231’s dubious assumptionof “more guns, less crime”, a moreinformed public policy on campuscrime would focus on those specificcrime prevention programs that havebeen widely identified as the “bestpractices” according to criminological research.These “best practices” involvethe principles of situational crimeprevention and include the following activities:
  1. (1) increase the effort required tocommit crimes (e.g., through targethardening, controlling access to facilities, screening exits),
  2. (2) increase the risks (e.g., extending guardianship, assisting natural surveillance, strengthening formal surveillance),
  3. (3) reduce the rewards from crime(e.g., concealing targets, removingtargets, identifying property),
  4. (4) reduce provocations (e.g., reducing frustrations and stress, avoiding disputes, reducing emotionalarousal), and
  5. (5) remove excuses (e.g., postinginstructions for particular activities,controlling drugs and alcohol)

Based on the evidence presentedabove, SB-231 is bad public policy.It makes many inaccurate assumptions about the nature and distribution of crime. It also ignoresthe empirical evidence that showsthat right-to-carry laws have no effect on violent crime.Instead of supporting a policylike SB-231, why not invest time,energy and resources into crime prevention programs with a proven trackrecord that they work?Across all levels of Nevada’seducational institutions, the bespublic policy for reducing students’risks of victimization while at schoolis to implement more fully the “bestpractices” cited above. Schools can become safer andmore secure environments for learningby investing in these basic principles.SB-231’s efforts to increase gunson campus to prevent crime will notachieve this goal.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting way of interpreting facts and ignoring anything that didn't support the political agenda of the authors.

    Statistics show a reduction in per capita violent crime in areas where citizens are known to be allowed to carry concealed weapons. Statistics also show that violent crime increases when citizens are refused the right to defend themselves. The criminals know it takes the police several minutes at best to respond to a report of a violent crime in progress.

    As to campuses not being dangerous, some of the most dangerous areas in Reno are the University campus and it's immediate neighborhood. I haven't a clue what statistics these two professors were using, but they don't match the statistics available to the public.