No Evidence For Joe Scarborough's Claim That Guns On Campus Will Prevent Mass Shootings

Joe Scarborough endorsed allowing students to carry guns on college campuses based on the evidence-free argument that making campuses “gun-free zones” invites mass shootings like the Virginia Tech massacre that could have been prevented by armed students.

In fact, an analysis of mass shootings in the United States over the past 30 years found no examples where an armed civilian ended an attack or any evidence that places that do not allow guns invite mass shootings. Furthermore, research has indicated that students who possess guns at college are more likely than their peers to engage in risky conduct, suggesting that arming students could have substantial risks.

Scarborough endorsed students carrying guns on campus as a preventative measure against mass shootings on the February 19 edition of Morning Joe. He said, “I can tell you that you have campuses as gun-free zones and you put up signs all over the place, you invite people to come in and do things like they did at Virginia Tech. I can guarantee you where I went to school at the University of Alabama somebody would not be able go room by room by room picking off students and teachers. They would get to about the second or third room, and boom, it would be over.”

According to Mother Jones' analysis of U.S. mass shootings in which four or more people were killed from 1982 to 2012, none of the 62 incidents studied was stopped by an ordinary citizen carrying a gun. Additionally, since 2007, according to data collected by the Violence Policy Center, individuals with permits to carry a concealed weapon have been responsible for 28 mass shootings where at least three people were killed. Mass shootings have also occurred at schools despite the presence of armed security or law enforcement who presumably are better equipped to stop shooting incidents than students carrying guns.

There is also no evidence that disallowing guns in particular areas invites mass shootings. Mother Jones also found that none of the 62 mass shooting incidents involved a shooter who chose his or her target because guns were not allowed to be carried at that location - instead, “in many of the cases there was clearly another motive for the choice of location.” According to an analysis of 110 mass shootings in the United States since 2009 by Everytown for Gun Safety, “an overwhelming majority of mass shootings take place in private homes where gun carrying is unrestricted, and less than one in six incidents took place in a so-called 'gun-free zone.'”

Scarborough reacted to co-host Mika Brzezinski's argument that armed campus security is a superior idea compared to armed students by saying, “I think there is a big difference, you take states, again, like Alabama where kids go out hunting with their father at the age of five. Kids like that know how to handle guns safely. I say kids, I mean by the time they are adults, by the time they are 20, by the time they are 21, they know how to handle guns a lot better than a lot of cops in urban centers as I've seen.”

But according to a 2002 study in the Journal of American College Health authored by researchers affiliated with the Harvard School of Public Health, students who keep guns at college are more likely to engage in risky or illegal behavior, specifically “to drive a motor vehicle after binge drinking (27% vs 9%); to have unprotected sex when under the influence of alcohol (17% vs 10%); to vandalize property (21% vs 10%); and to get into trouble with the police (10% vs 6%).” To Scarborough's point about students from Alabama, students from the East South Atlantic geographic region -- Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky -- were most likely to keep a firearm at college and also 2.2 times more likely to report being threatened with a gun while at college compared to students who attend school in New England, where student gun ownership is the lowest.

The study's authors concluded, “Given that alcohol is widely thought to contribute to violent behavior generally and to a majority of college student suicides, rapes, and other violent crimes, we find it quite troubling that almost two thirds of students with guns at college report binge drinking.” The study also pointed to past research that found students who own a gun were more likely to report “being victims and perpetrators of physical and sexual violence at college.”

Scarborough's comments came during the discussion of a New York Times article that described how advocates for the carrying of guns on campus are increasingly arguing that arming women on campus will prevent sexual assaults. As Scarborough put it, “many would argue” that guns on college campuses “would help prevent rape.” But the research on risky behavior by college gun owners dispels this notion -- especially the finding that students who own a gun were more likely to report being the perpetrator of a sexual assault.

Further, as Jezebel's Jia Tolentino noted in her response to the Times article on gun advocates framing guns on campus as a sexual assault issue, "[G]uns make domestic violence more deadly for women. Rape on college campuses (as well as in general) happens in situations that mirror very closely the dynamic of domestic violence -- the introduction of coercion and sexual assault under the cover of relationships and interactions that seem outwardly acceptable." Tolentino also noted that guns on campus advocates who raise the issue of sexual assault promote “the idea that the onus is on rape victims -- rather than their rapists -- to prevent their rapes.”

Indeed, research has found that having guns in the home does not make women safer from domestic violence, but rather the presence of a firearm in the home makes domestic violence more likely to be fatal. According to The Atlantic a 2014 meta-analysis “found that women with access to firearms become homicide victims at significantly higher rates than men.”