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Opinion | The Podium

Keep guns off college campuses

A student wrote chalk messages on a memorial wall for the victims of a killing spree at University of California, Santa Barbara.

David McNew/Getty Images

A student wrote chalk messages on a memorial wall for the victims of a killing spree at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Last week’s shooting rampage by a college student in Santa Barbara, California — which left seven dead and others wounded — was shocking. But it was not surprising. We have seen this horror film before, too many times.

There are many unanswered questions about how this tragedy could have happened. Everyone involved is asking what more — if anything — they could have done to prevent it. Elected officials across the country ought to be asking the same kinds of questions. But we already know what the gun lobby’s response will be: Require colleges to permit guns on campuses. But make no mistake: The gun lobby is more interested in advancing its ideology than in protecting the lives of students.

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In states across the country, the gun lobby is pushing state legislatures to require colleges to allow students to carry guns on campus, even though the vast majority of students strongly oppose this mandate. Earlier this year, Idaho legalized “campus carry” over opposition from police chiefs and the state’s eight college presidents, as well as many faculty members and students. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, bills that would allow guns on college and university campuses were introduced in 19 states last year — despite polls showing that students, faculty members, and law enforcement leaders oppose allowing guns on campus, by large margins.

What’s the problem with guns on campus? Anyone who has ever attended a fraternity party – or gone to a college bar — knows the answer to that question. Binge drinking has long been a problem at colleges, and increasingly, so is drug use. Throwing guns into the mix would be a lethal combination.

College administrators know this — which is why, when given the opportunity to opt out of laws that would otherwise allow guns on campus, they almost uniformly do so. College presidents also know what’s best for their bottom line: a safe, inviting environment where students can worry about grades, not guns.

We entrust colleges and universities with students at pivotal times in their personal development. To keep them safe, administrators should be able to determine their own policies on firearms, without ideologically-driven interference from state legislators.

Already in 2014, there have been at least 18 shootings on college campuses. Who knows how many more would result if campuses are required to permit guns on campus, but we do know two key numbers.

First, 49 percent of college students binge drink or abuse prescription and illegal drugs, behavior which contributes to most violent crimes at colleges. Fistfights are common enough on college campuses, with bloody results. But if a fistfight becomes a gun fight, kids will be killed. If dormitory horseplay can turn into gun play, kids will be killed.

And second, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among college-age students and putting guns in their hands will only make matters worse. Each year tens of thousands of college students attempt suicide but the vast majority recover and do not attempt again — because very few use guns. Whereas a suicide attempt committed with drugs results in a death less than 3 percent of the time, suicide attempts with guns are fatal over 85 percent of the time. There are already too many suicides on campus; laws that make suicide more common are deeply irresponsible.

The supporters of Everytown for Gun Safety — a bipartisan coalition of mayors, mothers, gun violence survivors, and more than 1.5 million grassroots supporters from across the country — have successfully held back K-12 and college-carry in various states, including Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Texas. And those fights will continue.

This commencement season, as so many talented and passionate young people start the next chapter in their lives, we wish the Class of 2014 the very best. We also hope that the newest alumni will support their alma maters’ right to adopt policies that put safety over politics.

Michael R. Bloomberg is the former mayor of New York. Thomas M. Menino is the former mayor of Boston. Martin J. Walsh is the current mayor of Boston.
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