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Romano: Crime statistics dispute need for guns on college campuses

Published Mar. 1, 2015

Beware of the sex offenders!

The murderers, terrorists and crazies, too!

The folks supporting legislation to allow guns on college campuses want everyone to know about all of the dangers potentially lurking behind every tree in the quad.

One thing they don't want you to know?

The truth.

And the simple truth is your sons and daughters are much safer on college campuses than almost any other place in pretty much any given city.

That's not opinion, and it's not hyperbole. It's a mathematical fact if you take the time to peruse Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics.

For instance, compare Gainesville and the University of Florida. The city of Gainesville, with its population of about 125,000, reported six murders, 62 forcible rapes and 583 aggravated assaults, according to 2013 FDLE figures. UF, with about 50,000 students attending classes, reported no murders, two rapes and eight aggravated assaults.

In case lawmakers have misplaced their calculators, that means a student is 12 times more likely to be raped off campus and almost 30 times more likely to be assaulted.

I won't bother crunching the murder numbers, considering the most recent homicide on UF's campus was 11 years ago.

By now, you could probably surmise that UF is not an anomaly. According to FDLE and U.S. Department of Education statistics, there was not a single murder on the campus of any of Florida's public four-year institutions from 2011-13. Since 2005, there have been five.

Five murders in the past decade on campuses with more than 700,000 students.

"The hype and the hysteria is way out of proportion with the actual risk,'' said Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox, who wrote a 2010 book Violence and Security on Campus.

"I wonder if the same state senators who think it's a good idea to have guns in university classrooms would be willing to have guns in their legislative chambers?''

Okay, but isn't there an argument to be made that even one rape or murder is too many? And, theoretically, wouldn't a student be safer if he or she were armed?

There is some basis for that line of thinking. The problem is you have to put it in context with all of the other ramifications that come along with guns on campus.

When you consider how much safer campuses are than the rest of society, is it really worth introducing guns to a mix that includes younger minds and lots of alcohol?

For instance, a disagreement on the Bethune-Cookman University campus in Daytona Beach last week led to gunfire, with three bystanders suffering minor gunshot wounds.

You could say that is an isolated incident and not representative of the typical gun owner, but you could also say school shooting rampages are isolated and rare occurrences as well.

Lawmakers have suggested the fall shooting at the Florida State University library might have been stopped sooner if other students had been allowed to carry concealed weapons legally. That might be true. It might also be true that more lives would be lost in the crossfire. And it might also be true that police entering such an emotional and dangerous situation would be hard-pressed to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys.

"I would disagree that allowing students to have guns would bring those situations under control more quickly,'' said University of South Florida assistant police Chief Chris Daniels. "I think it would create chaos. True control comes from people who are trained to handle dangerous situations. Not with everyone running around waving guns.''

Here's the bottom line:

The people who are closest to the situation —- university presidents and campus police chiefs — have unanimously asked the Legislature not to pass this bill.

And whether you want to argue that it is because colleges are gun free, or in spite of being gun free, statistics clearly show campuses are already safer than general society.

So for lawmakers to suggest that universities are more dangerous because they are gun free is, at best, a highly speculative and unsubstantiated leap of logic.

At worst, it's a blatant lie told in pursuit of a political agenda.

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