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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Conceal Carry Laws on Texas Campuses

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Conceal Carry Laws on Texas Campuses

The Texas legislature is deliberating a law that would allow all citizens with concealed handgun licenses to carry handguns on college campuses.  Most debates about the impact of gun ownership on crime generate much heat but little light and this debate appears no different.  Little evidence is presented to support a position.  I have four objectives in this post.  First, I will do a very quick review of the literature on the relationship between gun ownership and crime.  Next, I will present a simple model that incorporates both positive and negative consequences of allowing concealed handguns on college campuses.  I will also present my prior beliefs about the effects of gun ownership on crime.  Finally, I will also suggested a method of phasing in laws allowing concealed weapons that could be reversed if data suggests that the laws increased rather than decreased crime on college campuses.

My review of the literature on the relationship between gun ownership and crime will of necessity be short.  I know little about it.  What I know is that the current assertion that crime decreases as gun ownership in a community increases is based on the influential work of John Lott.  His book, “More Guns, Less Crime,” neatly summarizes his empirical findings.  Before his research, the conventional wisdom held that there was a direct causal relationship between gun ownership and crime.  Controversial research sparks additional research to confirm or disprove results.  Ian Ayres and John Donohue published results that found no relationship between gun ownership and crime (“Shooting Down the ‘More Guns, Less Crime’ Hypothesis,” Sanford Law Review, Vol. 55, 1193, 2003; “The Latest Misfires in Support of the ‘More Guns, Less Crime’ Hypothesis,” Sanford Law Review, Vol. 55, 1193, 2003).  Ayres and Donohue’s position seems to represent what might be called the academic “consensus” if it exists although research showing increased gun ownership having a positive or negative effect on crime exists (See also Ayers, “Super Crunchers”).An econometric model could be applied to measure the impact of any change in the use of conceal carry laws, but I will apply it to the current legislation which would allow concealed weapons on college campuses in Texas.  A simple version of the model assumes that there are both direct and externality benefits and costs associated with increased gun ownership.  Direct benefits include a student, staff or faculty member using a concealed weapon to stop a crime on campus.  A positive externality results when someone with criminal intent reduces activities on campus out of fear that the envisioned victims might be able to protect themselves with guns.  A direct cost includes a student acquiring a concealed carry license to plan a crime against a student or faculty member.  A negative externality includes accidental shootings and crimes of passion. 

My prior belief is that the direct benefits and costs would be low and would be overwhelmed by the externality benefits and costs.  My father was a cop and provided anecdotal evidence.  He told me that he never responded to a call in which someone had successfully protected themselves or their families with a gun, but that he responded to many calls in which a person shot a friend or family member fearing that they were a criminal.  I also do not believe that the number of students or faculty who plan murderous escapades will change much with expanded rights.  The level of crime will move depending on changes in the positive and negative external effects.  If the positive effects were larger than the negative, then the law would be beneficial.  If not, the law is harmful.

But why is opinion important when the impact of this law can be measured?  A phased in law would create a natural experiment.  It might work something like this.  Twenty five percent of campuses, selected randomly, would allow faculty to carry concealed weapons.  Annual data on campus related crime would be compared to crime rates on these campuses prior to the new law, and with the crime rates of campuses without the new right.  If statistical evidence showed that the new law increased crime, the law would be rescinded.  If the law reduced crime, faculty at all campuses would be allowed to carry concealed weapons and 25 percent of campuses would be selected to expand the right to carry concealed weapons to students as well.  Annual data would again be collected.  If the expansion of conceal carry rights to students increased crime, that portion of the law would be rescinded but faculty and staff could still carry concealed weapons.  If the law reduced crime, it could be expanded to include students on all campuses.  A phased in version of conceal carry laws accompanied by measurement of impact would take the guess work and some of the heat out of the debate.


  1. Brandon Guthrie20/3/11 1:24 AM

    I have heard of this possible law and just really don't know how to think about it. I think the biggest possibility of negative effects on the amount of crime by passing the law would be those crimes of passion. These are crimes committed on a whim that are not planned or preconceived. Like Dr. Wilson stated, I do not believe the amount of preconceived murders and massacres on campuses would change that much. That is because most of these people are going to carry out their crimes whether or not they are allowed handguns legally on campus. I personally just do not think this is a good idea to put into law unless very careful measures are taken. First being maybe only professors who are given very good training would be allowed to carry a weapon. Can you really imagine a situation happening and hundreds of students pulling out handguns? That has chaos written all over it. I truly believe the only people prepared and able to handle a situation are police officers or trained officials. They are the only people that know how to carefully handle situations such as these and use the amount of force that is necessary.

  2. Lori Hodges20/3/11 10:45 PM

    I don’t feel that opinion has any importance in this issue. I do question the ability to measure the impact of the law. There are several elements of uncertainty involved with this issue. How do you measure responsibility in individuals? The data being retrieved annually could potentially alter based on changes in an individual and their circumstance such as poverty, cultural differences and illegitimacy rates which affect crime rates. The cost involved with the terms of personal liberties and public expenditure. It seems that it comes down to an economic principle of a trade off between providing our own personal security or putting this responsibility on the government or institution.

  3. Stephanie Tunches20/3/11 11:18 PM

    I think the phased in law would be a great idea to figure out if carrying concealed handguns on campuses would include more direct benefits without more direct costs. I think that randomly choosing 25% of campuses to participate in this could do our campuses good in order to find out that annual data for related crimes on campuses. Just as you said, "If statistical evidence showed that the new law increased crime, the law would be rescinded. If the law reduced crime, faculty at all campuses would be allowed to carry concealed weapons and 25 percent of campuses would be selected to expand the right to carry concealed weapons to students as well." This says it perfectly. It seems to be a happy medium and a good way to test the waters.

  4. Danielle Richter21/3/11 1:32 PM

    I believe the phased in law is a great beneficial idea to figure out if the handguns allowed on college campuses would help decrease crime rate. However I do believe that they should let more than 25 percent of the schools try it, to see how it works in each state, therefore the state could also make a decision to allow or not allow handguns on campus. However allowing handguns would not help tremendously, because of the fact murders at campuses are probably planned out so the person would have figured out how to work around the handguns.

  5. What Danielle has said, about murders being planned around the handguns, is probably the biggest point of my opinion. By watching Criminal Minds, I constantly learn more about the minds of passionate criminals, and how they are not likely to be deterred easily, especially if they have gone so far as to plan something ahead of time, rather than a spur-of-the-moment act. Although there would be direct benefits, I believe the negative externalities would exceed the positive externalities. I don't believe it is worth the risk, and I definitely agree with Brandon's statements about allowing guns only to well-trained professors. "Can you really imagine a situation happening and hundreds of students pulling out handguns?"

  6. My only concern is that even with a CHL, responsiblity with a handgun is not ensured. I am a gun owner and raised by a police officer as well. He taught me all growing up the responsbilities of gun ownership and it's repercussions. He also ingrained in me that , as a civilian, if you feel endangered to the point of raising your muzzle to another human being, you had better be prepared to use it. Most people have handguns for home protection but never have to use or pull it. In a situation that requires us going for the gun, fear, adrenaline, etc, influence our reaction. The general public is not trained like law enforcement to remain calm in these situations, causing innocent bystanders to become victims, such as family/friends in the house at the time. If the case becomes where the law is passed, I think CHL classes should become stricter with shorter intervals than the current 4 years for renewals.

  7. Thought you may be interested in these heat maps of Texas:

    Current Unemployment:

    Public School Test Performance:

    Real Estate Prices: