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Negligent Discharges: A Real Risk If We Allow Guns on Campus

Schools must look at the risk management implications associated with concealed carry laws and the unintentional discharge of firearms.

Author clarification, Oct. 7, 2014: In the firearms community the term “accidental discharge” is a reference to the mechanical failure of a firearm, an extremely rare occurrence given modern firearms technology. The term “negligent discharge” used in the article is a reference to human error in firearms handling that results in a gun being fired, the much more common reason for a weapon to fire when not intended. The concern in schools is much more the second than the first.

In Idaho, like many states, the debate over guns on campus in 2013 following the Sandy Hook school shooting became high profile, common and as with any gun issue, emotionally charged. During the 2013 Idaho legislative session, an attempt was made to move legislation to allow concealed carry on K-12 campuses.  As this debate unfolded, two issues s fueled the discussion, both in Idaho and nationally.

First; proponents claimed the change would make school campuses safer.  Second; that the right to bear arms afforded in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should not be limited on a school campus. There were a number of missing components to the discussion.  Chief among them was the increased potential for negligent discharge (ND) incidents in a school setting that allowing guns on campus would foster.

2 ND Incidents in 9 Days Highlight the Vulnerability

In the 2014 legislative session, Idaho allowed for the concealed carry of firearms on its higher education campuses under an enhanced permit requirement. On July 1, the law went in to effect. On Sept. 2, an Idaho State University assistant professor of chemistry suffered a negligent discharge of the small caliber weapon he was legally carrying in his classroom. Luckily, the professor was the only person injured. It could have been much worse.

Utah for several years has allowed the concealed carry of fire arms on both its higher education and K-12 campuses if the person has a permit. On Sept. 11, an elementary school teacher legally carrying under Utah’s concealed firearms law experienced an ND while at school. The teacher was the only person injured. Again, it could have been much worse.

Police departments all across the United States report a significant number of ND incidents annually and this by highly trained officers carrying firearms daily.  The appearance of ND as a topic in law enforcement-specific media and literature indicate the extent of the problem. In fact, most law enforcement use-of-force reports show ND as a separate category.

Civilians with concealed carry permits presumably suffer from a similar if not higher rate of ND incidents. It is impossible to determine the exact rate as the data does not exist. Unless someone is injured, a civilian ND incident is likely to go unreported.  From a completely statistical standpoint, more guns on a school campus means an increased likelihood that one will fire when the person carrying it did not want it to, simple math. 

Paul Markel, a fire arms expert and trainer writing for Officer.com quoted one of his early firearms instructors saying; “There are two kinds of shooters, those who’ve had an ND and those who will.” 

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