The debate in the Wyoming Legislature about the logic of intentionally welcoming guns to our college campuses and city council meetings comes at the same time a new national administration has fascinated the country with the idea there are facts and “alternative facts.”
In the seemingly endless discussion on the right’s claim that we need to arm the good guys so they can take out the bad guys when a mass shooting happens, both sides offer polar opposite views of such a frightening scenario to make their respective cases. Statistics can sometimes blur the line between fact and fiction, depending upon who is spinning the news and how good they are at convincing the public they possess all of the answers to difficult questions.
There may not be one convenient answer in any situation that involves decisions that must be made in a split second, in this case what is the best way for a tragedy to conclude with losing the fewest casualties. But when two sides compete for public attention, they obviously try to make their case using whatever data can be accumulated in their favor.
If what one offers are facts and the other counters with alternative facts — previously known as falsehoods, or lies — they hand us an excellent tool to help determine who is telling the truth.
The pro-gun cause has littered the public landscape with so many half-truths and lies about the nature of gun violence in America that it has created a convincing perception for supporters of arming the public that it’s the only possible way to keep would-be killers at bay.
Gun-free zones that have long been in place and effective are depicted by the opposition as the true enemy. They continually try to push the notion that the issue all comes down to their insistence that everything would be great if only gun owners weren’t disarmed by authorities and unable to save themselves and others.
Impressive sound bite or reality?
That’s an impressive popular sound-bite for lawmakers and others, but the reality is far different.
Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R, SD-6, Cheyenne) was the director of Wyoming Gun Owners before winning his Senate seat in the November election. Last week Bouchard touted pro-gun numbers cruncher John Lott as the nation’s leading authority on the imperative for armed civilians to help stop gunmen. He even brought Lott to Cheyenne two years ago to lobby legislators on a bill to end gun-free zones at public schools and on University of Wyoming and community college campuses.
In 2015, Lott tried to overwhelm a legislative committee and fill their heads with pro-gun statistics so impressive that only a fool could listen to him and not conclude we’d better arm everyone in America to have any chance to avoid being gunned down in the streets and everywhere else. The economist cited 39 incidents where he claimed armed civilians helped stop gunmen.
But a John Hopkins University team researched his claim and found it was wildly inaccurate, to the degree it has now become an “alternative fact” in the battle to allow lawmakers to let concealed carry permit holders protect us because no one else can. The argument can often sound convincing: Members of the public with such permits are already at a shooting scene, while law enforcement officers may be miles away and unable to get there in time to stop bloodshed.
Of Lott’s 39 cases, Johns Hopkins researchers determined that only four actually involved a concealed carry permit holder to help stop a shooter. As Mother Jones reported, 22 of the cases Lott cited weren’t mass shootings – sometimes a gun was not even fired. In two cases, an armed security guard and a law enforcement officer stopped the mass shooter, not random citizens with concealed carry permits.
Civilians with guns did help police in two incidents, but they didn’t use their weapons. And in five other mass shootings armed civilians attempted to stop an attacker but failed, resulting in three of the good samaritans being shot.
It’s hardly what Lott claimed, is it? But except in cases where investigative news magazines like Mother Jones dig in and find the facts, most such assertions go unchecked to the point that they’re easily accepted.
Another alternative fact that the National Rifle Association and state groups such as Wyoming Gun Owners like to spread is that gun-free zones in schools, universities, government buildings and elsewhere are the scourge of the nation, leaving men and women, who could defend themselves and others with their guns, to become victims instead.
But the Johns Hopkins study found that from 1966 to 2015, just 12 percent of the 111 mass shootings with high numbers of fatalities happened in gun-free zones.
The Brennan Center for Justice, meanwhile, reported there has been a 10 percent average increase in violent crime in the states that have adopted right-to-carry laws.
An FBI study found that unarmed civilians were far more likely than those with guns to stop an active shooting in progress. Researchers at the agency studied 160 active-shooter cases from 2000 to 2013. Only one civilian with a gun, a former Marine, successfully interrupted an attack.
In 21 incidents, unarmed civilians stopped the attacks and restrained the gunmen – showing that civilians without weapons were far more likely to stop a shooting as it occurred than one with a gun.
Bouchard loves to call concealed carry permit holders the “gold standard” of school safety, often sounding like they went through intensive military training to obtain such a right. In contrast, the researchers at Johns Hopkins noted that to respond effectively in an active-shooting situation requires extensive training.
“There is no reason to believe that college students, faculty and civilian staff will shoot accurately in active shooter situations when they have only passed minimal training requirements for a permit to carry,” the Johns Hopkins study says.
It’s far more likely that permit holders might hit an innocent bystander than the shooter when bullets start flying in all directions. Former Cheyenne mayor Rick Kaysen, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, is an opponent of both bills that would allow permit holders to carry firearms on college campuses and at governmental meetings.
“There are no signs out there that say, ‘This is a good person,’ or ‘This is not a good person,'” Kaysen said.
Gun-free zones have worked well and provided protection to college students. An overwhelming majority of the 4,400 colleges and universities prohibit guns on their campuses, and they are some of the safest places in the country.
A 2001 U.S. Department of Education study found that the overall homicide rate at post-secondary education institutions was 0.07 per 100,000 students. The criminal homicide rate for the entire nation was 5.7 per 100,000 overall. The Department of Justice did a study that showed 93 percent of the violent crimes that victimize college students occur off-campus.
The primary reason concealed carry advocates want guns allowed on college campuses is to combat mass shootings. The Johns Hopkins study found that of all “undesirable discharges of firearms on colleges since 2013, just 2 percent involved rampage shooters. Interpersonal arguments that led to gun violence was 45 percent, while premeditated attacks on a single person and suicides or murder/suicides both stood at 12 percent.”
Wyoming is one of 17 states that ban concealed weapons on college campuses, while 24 states leave the decision up to each college and university or college individually.
The National Conference of State Legislatures said only eight states now allow concealed firearms on college campuses: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
Pro-gun zealots want to dispense with common-sense restrictions to allow more people with firearms in their hands into places where they are now barred — like higher-education institutes or governmental buildings, including the Legislature. Perhaps they see it as a way to adjust the political ladder to advance their own political careers.
Let’s show them Wyoming won’t fall for “alternative facts” when it comes to something as important as keeping our citizens safe from gun violence.