Faculty member Lacey Wallace and student intern Sierra Satterfield delve into students' feelings about college campus gun policies
By: Therese Boyd
Another public shooting, another day in America. Many of these shootings happen at schools—in 2015 alone twenty people died in twenty-three school shootings. Sometimes it starts with a personal argument that escalates into an unplanned attack; other times, the shooting is clearly premeditated. Often the public response to such events is to say that people need to arm themselves for protection—the “good guy with a gun” idea. Traditionally colleges were places where guns weren’t allowed. In this era of mass shootings, however, some campuses have changed their policies to allow for students to arm themselves.
Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Lacey Wallace
Credit: Penn State
How do college students feel about concealed carry on campus? Would they carry if they could? Lacey Wallace, assistant professor of criminal justice at Penn State Altoona, working with student intern Sierra Satterfield, compiled the results of a fifty-nine-item online survey of 520 US students to find answers to those questions.
The research project started when Satterfield approached Wallace about an internship. The professor saw an opportunity to “bring back the idea of a research internship,” she says. Together, as outlined in their paper, they focused on “the characteristics of students who support campus concealed carry policies . . . [and] the characteristics of students who say they would carry a gun on campus if policy permitted” Finally, they asked, “what reasoning do students provide for their views on campus concealed carry policies?”
“There was very little research on intent to carry,” Satterfield says. “Prior research [also] didn’t look at school size, GPA, or whether the school was private or public,” statistics that could possibly provide more information for researchers. So Wallace and Satterfield delved deeper. In addition to asking if someone thought people should be allowed to carry, they asked, “If the policy allowed, would you carry?” In the interest of gathering more information respondents could also “explain why they [believed what] they did,” Satterfield says.
The survey showed that “a majority [of students] felt safe on their college campuses” and that “one-third grew up in a home with a gun present,” says Satterfield. But that doesn’t mean the majority supports concealed carry either. In the students’ responses, “55 percent reported that they disagreed with having a concealed carry policy and would not carry if they could. The most commonly stated reason for ‘would not carry’ is ‘[it] would make students and campuses less safe.’” However, “25 percent said they would carry a gun if permitted for personal protection [or in the case of an] active shooter.”
The survey allowed for more insight into respondents’ thoughts. Wallace notes that opponents of concealed carry “talked about immature college students and alcohol—basically avoid mixing guns with immaturity.” And whether or not the belief is accurate, supporters “reason it would just be the older students [who would have guns].” They also found what Wallace calls “an interesting paradox”: while the majority of African Americans “were less favorable to a concealed carry policy, . . . when asked said they would carry.”
Credit: Penn State
On the entire project, Satterfield learned about more than how to do a survey, Wallace says. “Sierra wrote at least half the introduction and half the data review. Each week we met and went over what we wanted to accomplish that week, and then I checked in with her on Wednesdays. We did it on Google Docs. She’s literally seen the whole thing from beginning to the end.”
Now comes the wait—the paper has been submitted for publication and the authors are waiting to hear if it has been accepted. Wallace has an optimistic outlook about any rejections: “A lot of journals will reject two-thirds. If we get rejected we’re in the majority.” She says she has both enjoyed the project and learned from her student. “She has forced me to see through a student’s eyes. She asks a question and I have to sit back and think ‘huh!’ We slowed down, we had more fun.”
The process opened Satterfield’s eyes to the academic world, which, she says, will serve her well in graduate school. In preparing the paper for publication, she says, “what really surprised me is how okay rejection is. It’s okay if they send it back and ask for changes. It takes a lot of patience.”
To read more about Wallace’s gun research, see her “Why Is There So Little Research on Guns in the US? 5 Questions Answered,” recently published in The Conversation.