The ability to carry a gun on a university campus, known as campus carry, has received much attention recently in Texas. But what has not received much attention is who supports and who opposes the new law when it comes to the students themselves.
We wanted to know what students thought of campus carry, so we put together a survey that was administered to my large online American Government class at The University of Texas at Austin. In all, we surveyed 1,077 undergrads. This sample was not a group of hyper-political students or people who self-selected into a survey about campus carry. Rather, this was a neutral sample of many different students.
What did we find? In short, we found that the majority of students oppose campus carry, but there is a sizable minority that supports it.
We asked students “Do you think qualified faculty and students should be able to carry concealed weapons on campus?” Sixty-six percent of the sample said no, and 34 percent said yes.
We also asked “Would you feel safer or less safe knowing a qualified faculty or student was carrying a concealed weapon on campus among you?” We found that 18 percent of students said it would make them feel safer, and 54 percent said it would make them feel less safe. Sixteen percent of students responded “neither,” and 12 percent said that they were not sure.
Consistent with national public opinion on gun control measures, women expressed more opposition to campus carry than men did, with 73 percent of women opposing it compared with 58 percent of men. Also in keeping with national trends, African Americans were the least supportive of campus carry, with 17 percent supporting it. Whites were the most supportive at 39 percent, and Hispanics at 29 percent.
We also found a stark partisan divide. Sixty-four percent of Republican students favor campus carry in contrast to just 17 percent of Democrats. Independents were in between both partisan groups, with 30 percent supporting campus carry.
Perhaps more interesting was whether Texans differed from their non-Texan counterparts. They did. About three-fourths of the students in our sample grew up in Texas, and they were more likely to support campus carry than those who grew up outside of Texas (37 percent compared with 26 percent).
How comfortable someone is with guns also seemed to play a role. Support for campus carry among those who either own a gun, grew up with a gun in their home, or have fired a gun was higher than for those who have no exposure to guns. Gun owners are the most supportive group, at 60 percent. Forty-five percent of students who had fired a gun and 45 percent who grew up with a gun in the home also support campus carry.
Our surveyed showed 127 students answered “yes” to all three exposure to gun measures in our survey — they own a gun, grew up with a gun in their home, and have fired a gun. Of the 127 students, 64 percent support campus carry. By contrast, 322 students in our sample had no exposure to guns on all three measures. Of these, 84 percent opposed campus carry.
So what does this all mean? One lesson is that there is considerable diversity of views among the students about this important topic. Another lesson is that if we are going to adopt policies that affect us all, lawmakers first ought to find out what we think. Whether that would have changed any minds about this particular policy is unknown, but for those who feel strongly about issues such as this one, they have an obligation to let lawmakers know what they think.
Rather than passing the legislation during the summer when most students are away, such issues should be considered when the student body has the opportunity to weigh in. My talented government students were able to design a study to gauge public opinion on the issue on campus carry. Our Legislature might hire one of them in the future to help.