College campuses provide near-perfect laboratories in which to observe the primordial chemistry among testosterone-rich young men, sexual competition, peer pressure, illicit drugs and rivers of flowing alcohol. Now, courtesy of the Texas legislature, the Lone Star State will offer students the chance to experience all that with a twist: concealed firearms in campus buildings.
Over the weekend, Texas legislators passed a bill to allow those ages 21 and over to carry concealed firearms in dorms and campus buildings. Governor Greg Abbott has said he will sign it into law. While private colleges will not have to comply with the law, the state's 104 public institutions of higher education, with about 1.3 million students, will be required to allow "campus carry" for those with permits.
Concealed-carry supporters rightly point out that this is simply an expansion of campus gun rights from the outside to the indoors; concealed carry was already legal on campus grounds. Of course, what neither the legislators nor anyone else knows is what happens when a state government goes to great lengths to normalize gun carrying in virtually every conceivable location and situation. A bill allowing statewide open carry of handguns was also passed last week, leading the way to open carry of handguns on public thoroughfares, on campus and off. Based on the legislators' actions, it's impossible to conclude that they are anything but enthusiastic about the prospect of gun-toting upperclassmen.
A timely research paper on firearms and alcohol, published online April 30, suggests that perhaps they shouldn't be.
"Acute and chronic alcohol misuse is positively associated with firearm ownership, risk behaviors involving firearms, and risk for perpetrating both interpersonal and self-directed firearm violence," states the paper, by veteran researcher Garen Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis. "In an average month, an estimated 8.9 to 11.7 million firearm owners binge drink. For men, deaths from alcohol-related firearm violence equal those from alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes." In effect, drunk shooting among men is as lethal a problem as drunk driving. "This is true even though alcohol involvement is underestimated in fatal violence relative to motor vehicle crashes." Now, think of a demographic group that might be especially prone to binge drinking and general alcohol abuse.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health, roughly four in five college students drink alcohol, and "about half of college students who drink, also consume alcohol through binge drinking." -- Annually, about 1,825 college students ages 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries.
-- More than 690,000 students 18-to-24 are assaulted by a student who has been drinking.
-- More than 97,000 students 18-to-24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
Federal law doesn't restrict access to firearms by people with a history of alcohol abuse, including convictions for alcohol-related offenses. But some states do. Texas prohibits concealed carry while "intoxicated." But it doesn't define a set limit of drinks or a specific blood alcohol level.
William McRaven, a former Navy admiral who is chancellor of the University of Texas System, noted that college is stressful enough without introducing guns to classrooms. "There is great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals age 21 or older, will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds," he wrote to legislators. (After the legislation passed, McRaven took his lumps and pledged that the UT System would do everything it could to maintain safety.) The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R, said it would allow "very limited, reasonable prohibitions" of handguns in select areas of a campus. But not everyone in the ivory tower seemed terribly concerned by the latest advance of guns for guns' sake. Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp noted that having licensed weapons on campus "does not raise safety concerns" for him. He probably hasn't been to a keg party lately.
Francis Wilkinson writes on politics and domestic policy for Bloomberg View.