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Guns Make College More Dangerous

Last month, Senator Jessica Castleberry (R-35/Rapid City) urged South Dakota college students to lobby their legislators to allow guns on campus so they can protect themselves from rampant crime and discrimination.

Mary Garrigan, member of Rapid City Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, responds with a letter to the Rapid City Journal inviting Senator Castleberry to a conversation about the well-established evidence that guns on campus create more danger for college students:

In truth, there is no evidence that allowing guns on campus makes students any safer or reduces crime, including sexual assault crimes, on campuses. In fact, research indicates that allowing guns on campuses will likely lead to more gun homicides and suicides, more non-fatal shootings and more threats with a firearm.

Historically, college campuses have prohibited guns and are relatively safe environments.  Crime statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Justice show that 93 percent of all violent crime against college students occurs off campus, not on.  And any suggestion that campus carry would help reduce a high rate of sexual assault crimes against students is largely fiction. It fails to acknowledge the fact that 8 out of 10 sexual assault victims know their assailants (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).

This crime frequently occurs in social situations, often involving alcohol and someone they trust enough to forego packing a gun in their handbag – not in a dark campus parking lot by an unknown perpetrator [Mary Garrigan, letter to the editor, Rapid City Journal, 2021.08.26].

The 2016 Johns Hopkins research which Garrigan cites addresses whether “gun-free zones” facilitate mass shootings (they don’t) and allowing guns on campus stops mass shootings (it doesn’t). It also discusses broader safety concerns about the harm pro-gun policies on campus may do to students already dealing with still-developing brains, their impulsiveness, and suicide:

Of particular concern in the context of proposals to allow students to carry firearms on campus is the risk of suicide associated with mental illnesses, especially depression, among this group. In a national survey of undergraduates conducted in 2015 about events within the past 12 months, 8.9% reported “seriously considering attempting suicide” and 1.4% had attempted suicide [64]. A study of students from 645 U.S. college campuses found increased rates of suicide among college students in 2008-2009 compared to 2004-2005: the suicide rate increased from 6.5 to 7.7 per 100,000 students [65] Importantly, a firearm was the leading method for suicide among males, accounting for nearly a third (31%) of all suicides among male college students [65]. For females, firearms were the third leading cause of suicide (10% of all suicides in this group), behind hanging (29%) and poison (16%) [65]. This gender differential in firearm suicide on college campuses mirrors the differential in the overall U.S. population [66]. A large body of literature clearly shows that firearm access is associated with increased rates of suicide, suggesting that increased access to firearms on college campuses could significantly increase suicide in this vulnerable group [67,68].

The combination of challenges with impulse control, emotional regulation, and onset of mental illness contribute to high rates of suicide and suicide attempts among adolescents and young adults. In 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death in the U.S. among college age youth 17-24 years old [69]. Between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate in this age group increased 12% from 11.3 to 12.7 per 100,000.69 Firearms represent an extremely lethal means of intentional self-harm; approximately 90% of suicide attempts with a firearm resulted in a fatality compared to 3% for poisoning attempts [70]. In 2014 among males age 17-24 who died by suicide, 49% used a firearm [69].

Some suicide risk factors differ among those under age 25 compared to older populations. Emotional control, impulsivity, and decision making continue to develop into the mid-20s, which can put youth at higher risk for suicide [71]. In addition to being more impulsive, young individuals tend to be more vulnerable to a contagion effect after exposure to suicide within their community []72]. Suicide risk is often highest in the early stages of the onset of major psychiatric conditions and these symptoms often first develop in childhood or early adolescence [60, 73]. The risk of suicide among youth also increases with age; 2.6 per 100,000 among boys age 10–14 compared to 22.9 per 100,000 among young men age 20–24 [69] [Daniel W. Webster et al., “Firearms on College Campuses: Research Evidence and Policy Implications,” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2016.10.15, pp. 20–21].

If Senator Castleberry really wants to make campuses safer, she should propose legislation to limit the number of alcohol vendors around our campuses:

One factor that can moderate the relationship between alcohol use and violence on campus is the density of alcohol outlets around a college campus. According to one study of 32 colleges, on- and off-premise outlet densities were associated with campus rape-offense rates. Student drinking level was associated with both campus rape and assault rates, and mediated the effects of on- and off-campus alcohol outlet density. Campuses with greater densities of alcohol outlets had higher drinking levels, which in turn explained higher rates of violence on those campuses [95] [Webster et al., 2016.10.15, p. 22].

Ah, but we have lobbyists and at least a couple legislators who make money selling alcohol, so we know Senator Castleberry won’t lead her colleagues down that road. And with all the lobbyists promoting gun sales, it’s unlikely Senator Castleberry will pay attention to Garrigan’s evidence and good sense showing that guns on campus are counterproductive to public safety.


  1. mike from iowa 2021-08-29 10:38

    South Dakota schools prove you don’t need armed people on campus to keep out grizzly bears.

    Two campuses come to mind, one in the Pacific Northwest where a JC shooting occurred and armed students were afraid to intervene for fear of being shot by police and Parkland, Florida where cop refused to enter school while an armed student was shooting students.

  2. David Newquist 2021-08-29 13:06

    During deer season a number of years ago, it was common to see pickup trucks in the dorm parking lots with rifles racked in the back windows. Guns weren’t allowed in the dorms, but there was a rash of break-ins and guns stollen from the trucks. One morning for my 8 o’clock class, a chap came in carrying his rifle. He announced that there had been gun thefts over night, and he wasn’t going to leave his gun in his truck to have his vehicle broken into and his gun stollen. There were two non-traditional women in the class who were old enough to be the young man’s mother. They gathered up their books and walked out of the classroom, followed by a number of other students.

    I and some other professors checked to see just what the policy was for guns on campus was or should be. When the women were consulted about why they walked out of the classroom, one of them said if someone is dumb enough to bring a gun into a classroom, he’d dumb enough to use it, and the presence of a gun in a classroom is unsettling and counterproductive to the educational enterprise.

  3. David Newquist 2021-08-29 13:12

    Please mentally change the double l’s in stolen to singular.

  4. Donald Pay 2021-08-29 13:34

    I read both Castleberry’s and Garrigan’s columns. Castleberry uses a number of one-off incidents to scare people. Garrigan cites crime statistics. Here’s the problem. People are, by and large, scared puppies who react more to fear than facts. We react more to the one person who is at the wrong place at the wrong time, than the thousands or millions who might walk that way without incident. “Oh, I walked to the library last night, and nobody raped me.” Of course, that kind of story doesn’t get people to part with their money, and it’s ALL about money, not safety. Cops don’t want drunk people wielding weapons, and most of the crime around campus involves two drunk people.

  5. kurtz 2021-08-29 14:24

    Bullying is a leading precursor to mass shootings but ending the draft and the rise of massacres in the United States also correlate.

    Several studies and reports have made me come full circle. Israel and Switzerland have evolved on reducing gun violence by compelling military service. Sweden, France, Brazil, others compel service and gun violence is a tiny fraction of the US. Israel should be a county in Utah or Nevada but the Israeli model of compelling military service and universal gun tolerance should be the future for the United States, too.

    Restore the draft and it will reduce military adventurism, too.

    Prohibition doesn’t work.

    Raise the age of possession, operation and ownership of all firearms to 21, levy 100% excise taxes on the sales and gifting of the weapons on Senator Diane Feinstein’s list then tag the revenue for Medicaid expansion.

  6. M 2021-08-29 14:46

    I say we stop giving boys toy guns when they’re little. Do we give little girls pepper spray to condition them? No, we prepare them by giving them dolls.

  7. Vi Kingman 2021-08-29 15:15

    Another solution in search of a problem.
    Keeping guns off of campus seems to have worked for decades so why change anything?
    Castleberry own stock in a gun company?

  8. Mark Anderson 2021-08-29 17:16

    You know Cory, Mary Garrigan borrowed (sort of), my 63 Ford in High School. She didn’t damage it too much. Glad to see she’s still fighting for good causes. Too bad evidence doesn’t mean anything to the horse medicine party.
    Kurtz, ending the draft kept me out of Vietnam, now I’m sure that if I had gone and lived, I would be a much more violent person instead of the mild mannered reporter that I am. I’m sure I could find corollary “evidence” for many things in relation to gun violence, but that kind of “reasoning” leads to a certain Dale who basks in it.

  9. Jake 2021-08-29 19:47

    No, Castleberry’s stock interest is in herself, and herself only. Guns and fear are her and the GOP’s shiny objects t gather attention. Just like too-loud pipes on Harley’s and coal-burner pickup diesels.

  10. Dana P 2021-08-30 08:03

    The cognitive dissonance is nuts.

    Arm yourselves! It will make you and the country safer!! (with no evidence to support that crazy notion)

    But we have hardcore evidence that vaccines will make us safer and will start slowing down this deadly virus, and the response is ……tyranny!!

    My head shakes so much anymore, I think it is going to fall off of my shoulders.

  11. John Dale 2021-08-30 10:44

    Firearms are like antibiotics .. you have to have complete saturation for them to work properly.


  12. John Dale 2021-08-30 10:44

    What does it say about ammo?


  13. kurtz 2021-08-30 10:54

    Until the Vietnam War school shootings were rare and scattered but after commercial teevee brought the carnage into every American living room something changed. School shootings spiked to seventeen in the 1960s.

    Charles Whitman, Richard Speck, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Dylann Roof, Adam Lanza, Robert Dear, James Holmes, Eric Rudolph, Jared Loughner, Wade Michael Page, Ted Kaczynski, Eric Frein, Stephen Paddock and Nickolas Cruz all are or were christians. All these men were victims of bullying, isolation and ostracism. All had histories of extensive teevee usage, many to video game exposure and easy access to firearms. Distrust of government was a factor in most, if not all of the episodes for which they are infamous.

    Is this how Americans really want to live? Carry rifles and sidearms into every bar, church, and arena?

    Stand your ground has become vigilante justice because the courts are overwhelmed with suspects in the war on drugs, our communities are becoming armed camps and we’re barricaded in our homes afraid to let our kids go to school.

    How many more people will be caught in or die from as yet uncounted crossfires?

  14. mike from iowa 2021-08-30 11:36

    Firearms are like antibiotics .. you have to have complete saturation for them to work properly.

    What an asinine comment to make. Guns were made for one reason, to kill humans. They world does not need more guns to kill more people The hundreds of millions of guns in America right now is wholly sufficient to kill enough people to sate Johnny’s blood lust.

  15. O 2021-08-30 11:58

    Mr. Dale, the ONLY way in which guns are like antibiotics is they both are FAR overprescribed for ailments they do not make better.

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State . . . Context matters.

  16. Mark Anderson 2021-08-30 12:30

    You know John, your statement on complete saturation comparing guns and antibodies absolutely proves the point I just made about you, thank you ever so much.

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