On Thursday, March 3, 2011, President James D. Spaniolo sent a letter to the “Students, Faculty, and Staff” of the University of Texas – Arlington (UTA). Some are criticizing the letter as an inappropriate use of state property to influence pending legislation. But it is far worse than that. It is an ideologically-driven missive that could get some “Students, Faculty, and Staff” at UTA seriously injured or killed.
The letter begins innocently enough with Spaniolo simply noting that “The Texas Legislature is currently considering several bills that (he knows) many of you are following with great interest and an increasing level of concern and alarm—legislation that could allow concealed handguns on college campuses across Texas.”
By the beginning of the second paragraph, Spaniolo, who does not have a PhD (or, apparently, any record of scholarly research whatsoever) states his opinion on the legislation: “I have followed very closely the disparate views that have been expressed on this issue, and I am keenly aware of and sensitive to the arguments in favor of this legislation. But I have concluded that allowing concealed handguns on campus would not make UT Arlington—or any college campus—a safer place.”
It is unsurprising that Spaniolo comes down on the wrong side of this issue with an opinion that is not informed by scholarship. The president of the university has only five publications (this century) listed on his resume. They are all non-scholarly city newspaper opinion pieces with titles like “U.S., Cuba Must Start Anew.”
Yet without any visible expertise in this important and well-researched area he says the following: “As president of UT Arlington, my top priority must always be to do everything possible to ensure the safety and security of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. I firmly believe—as does virtually everyone in leadership positions at colleges and universities and in law enforcement—that allowing concealed handguns on campus would significantly increase the potential for members of our community to be injured or killed.”
This last paragraph suffers from two severe deficiencies:
First, it claims (without supporting evidence) that virtually everyone in law enforcement believes “that allowing concealed handguns on campus would significantly increase the potential for members of our community to be injured or killed.” Spaniolo provides no references – not one, but zero - for this bold assertion. I hereby publicly challenge him to do so. Note that I do not issue a challenge with regard to his assertion concerning “virtually everyone in leadership positions at colleges and universities” and their opposition to the pending legislation. I do not care what people in “leadership positions at colleges and universities” believe about guns. They are not an ideologically neutral population. Nor are they, as a group, specially qualified to make a judgment on the issue of concealed weapons. Police officers are different.
Second, it is his frank admission that his position is based on what he “firmly believe(s).” Of course, “firm belief” simply means “strong feeling” in this context. But public policy should not be made on the basis of “strong feelings.” It should be made on the basis of empirical evidence. And, to date, the empirical evidence supports those who assert that concealed weapon permits (CCWs) reduce violent crime, rather than increasing violent crime.
To date, there are sixteen refereed publication, which demonstrate that CCWs decrease violent crime. There are ten refereed publication that say they make no difference in violent crime rates. There are zero refereed publications demonstrating that CCWs increase violent crime.
But President Spaniolo hasn’t looked at the empirical research. He’s looked to the following sources (quoting from his letter):
1) “UT Arlington’s Student Congress adopted a resolution—by a vote of 36 to 6—against the proposed concealed-carry bills that have been introduced in the Legislature. Student Congress also sponsored a well-attended campus forum on the issue last week.”
2) “UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa sent a letter to Governor Rick Perry last week strongly expressing the concerns of the many constituents of the UT System institutions.”
3) “The Texas Council of Student Services Vice Presidents, which comprises 46 public institutions across the state, has expressed in a letter to legislators the serious concerns its members have on this issue. Frank Lamas, vice president for student affairs at UT Arlington, serves as chair-elect of this group.”
Students – even members of the UTA Student Congress - cannot be looked to as expert sources on this topic. Neither does the UT System Chancellor nor the Texas Council of Student Services Vice Presidents have the needed expertise. The problem should be addressed by citing peer-reviewed research by the criminologists and economists who have studied the costs and benefits of CCW legislation.
As one with a Master’s degree in public policy, President Spaniolo should know where to look for information that credibly informs public policy. But he does not. Instead, he intentionally seeks information from both biased and uninformed sources, which do nothing but reinforce his strong feelings on an admittedly emotional topic.
President Spaniolo ends his letter to the UTA community with this chillingly misleading paragraph: “We are fortunate to be a part of a vibrant campus community where debate and dialogue are part of the fabric of intellectual exchange. We must ensure that our campus is a safe place for pursuing and advancing an education. Allowing concealed handguns on our campus would be antithetical to our mission.”
His suggestion is that the presence of guns would close down rational debate in an otherwise free and open marketplace of ideas. But that isn’t so. Concealed guns will never shut down debate at UTA. Instead, administrators who conceal research will prevent debate, dialogue, and informed intellectual exchange. And no one should have a license to do that.