Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Guns on College Campuses are Bad Policy

H 222 would prohibit the governing bodies of Idaho colleges and universities from regulating the lawful possession of a firearm while on campus. Eight other states are currently considering similar legislation. Florida just defeated its version of this bill.

The debate on this bill has largely been framed in the context of concealed carry permits. My reading of this bill reveals no distinction between concealed and open carry. Thus my interpretation of H222 is that anyone legally entitled to possess any weapon could do so if this bill becomes law.

The justification for this bill, according to its sponsor, Erik Simpson (R-Idaho Falls), is colleges and universities are  “…places where various serious crime occurs just like out in the streets of Boise or Idaho Falls or any other city in the state of Idaho.”

Generally speaking, US colleges and universities are far safer than the cities and counties they reside in. 93 percent of students become victims of violent crimes while away from campus. Idaho is no exception. For example, Boise reported 6 homicides in 2009, 1 in 2008, and 9 in 2007. During that same period, there were no reported homicides on BSU’s campus.  There were no reported robberies at BSU in 2007-2009 and 20 forcible sex offenses while Boise reported 198 robberies and 270 rapes during the same time period.

Thus H 222 falls into the category of a solution seeking a problem. But if the bill becomes law, the cure will be far worse than the illness. Consider the following items:

      • Very few people are trained in combat shooting situations. One study reports that police potential to hit their intended targets is 25% of the rounds fired. In the event that a shooting incident should occur on a college campus, the probabilities of armed students or faculty hitting the intended target are considerably less than that for the police. But the potential to hit unintended targets in crowded classrooms would be greatly magnified. Studies of the hit rates of military in combat reveal two items of note – the low rates of hitting their targets in combat are largely the result of poor marksmanship, especially when the adrenaline is flowing, and the unwillingness to kill another human being. Thus the argument that armed students or faculty could stop a Virginia Tech situation are dubious at best.
      • Armed faculty, staff, or students would only add to the confusion in the event of a campus shooting. In the event of a campus shooting, would you want to be holding a gun when the police arrive? What about armed civilians arriving late to the shooting scene? The tragedy in Tucson was very nearly made greater by this very circumstance – a bystander had picked up the shooter’s gun and was nearly shot by an armed citizen.
      • Idaho is one of nine states that has failed to submit a single name of mentally ill people to the national background-check system as required by law. Approximately 60 out of 1000 adults has a serious mental health issue. About a third of college students have sought some type of mental heath counseling. This means that gun dealers may be selling weapons unknowingly to potentially dangerous people because of a wildly inaccurate list.  How many more Jared Loughners are there trying to buy a gun legally at this very moment?
      • Alcohol is a regular feature of college life.42% of all college students report that they had engaged in binge drinking (five of more drinks) in the past two weeks prior to the survey. 
      • Currently four states and 25 colleges (out of approximately 4300 colleges and universities) permit weapons on campus. The introduction of weapons on college campuses is too recent and involve far too few cases to allow study of the impact of these policies. Research conducted by the Department of Epidemiology and the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of North Carolina revealed that workplaces that permitted weapons were five times more likely to experience a homicide.
      • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students and thousands of students attempt suicide unsuccessfully each year. One large study revealed that half of all college students consider suicide at some point in their life. Studies also show that gun availability in the home correlates with an increased risk of successful suicide.
      • The Violence Policy Center reports that since May 2007, there have been 18 mass shootings where legal concealed handgun holders have taken, or have been charged with taking, the lives of 79 victims. Since May 2007, legal concealed handgun carriers have killed at least 288 individuals--including nine law enforcement officers--in 194 incidents in 29 states.
      • Backpacks are ubiquitous on school campuses. They hold an incredible array of items, including firearms. A Gardena High School (located in LA) student dropped his backpack causing a weapon carried inside to discharge, critically wounding one student and grazing a second student. How many backpacks are dropped each day in densely-packed classrooms? How many backpacks are lost or stolen on any given day, thus providing another source of illegal firearms?
      • This bill is premised on the legend of the urban gunslinger - a well armed community has less crime. But reality intrudes on the myth. Epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that armed citizens were four times more likely to be shot than unarmed citizens when confronted by armed assailants. States that have the highest percentages of gun ownership also tend to have the highest levels of gun violence. Louisiana is among the highest percentage of gun ownership and has the highest percentage of gun deaths. Hawaii is at the other end of the continuum.
      • What liability issues will be raised by this bill? Will faculty and staff have any type of immunity and/or indemnification? What liabilities will the institutions incur in the event of a shooting or an accidental discharge?
      • University campuses provide more than just classrooms and research space. They are also meeting places and entertainment venues. Over one million people visit BSU’s campus for non-academic functions. Do guns have a place in this environment? Will certain groups or entertainers stay away from Idaho’s college campuses if this bill becomes law?
      • One national study found that 94% of respondents were opposed to permitting guns on college campuses. A survey of students in my introductory class revealed that 80% were opposed to allowing guns on campus. The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators is opposed to this type of legislation.
      This bill would introduce a far greater degree of danger on college campuses and would forever alter the dynamic between students and faculty and among the faculty.  Will the next student who becomes distraught during a discussion resort to violence? Will the next student who receives a bad grade respond with violence? What about the next faculty member who is denied tenure; will he or she resort to the type of violence that occurred last year at the University of Alabama? Introducing weapons on a college campus will create mistrust and inspire fear, which is contrary to an environment conducive to learning.

      If you are wondering what can go wrong by allowing guns on a college campus, I invite you to watch the following video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTfM7WGdWpM – in which a bereaved father asks the Florida legislature to vote no on a bill similar to the one now before the Idaho legislature. No parent should have to endure the misery that has ensued from the lethal combination of alcohol, a weapon, and a crowded college campus.

      This issue, like many other public policy questions, is about managing risk. The data point to the conclusion that college campuses are generally safer than the areas that surround them. Introducing weapons on a college campus would mean more risks to manage, not fewer. Those who support this bill are not looking honestly at the risks involved, nor are they looking at the reality of society so thoroughly inundated with guns. 

      I invite the legislature to assert its interest in making Idaho’s college campuses as safe and as inviting as possible by voting no on H 222.

      Update - this bill has died in committee as of March 25th. We will have to remain vigilant as I am sure that we will see this bill again in the future.

      Monday, March 7, 2011

      Juvenile Waivers: Another Failed Policy

      A generation after record levels of youth crime spurred a nationwide movement to prosecute more teenagers as adults, a consensus is emerging that many young delinquents have been mishandled by the adult court system.


      In the quest to get tough on criminals, many policy makers lost sight of seeking  balance between the best interests of the offender and the interests of society. That was especially true with juvenile offenders.

      But we now have evidence that juvenile waivers is just one more failed remnant of the overall failure of the 1980s get tough approach. But old ways die slowly especially in states like Idaho. While others states revamp their crime control policies, Idaho continues along it merry way creating damage in its wake and wasting tax payer money.

      Thursday, March 3, 2011

      Hold Prosecutors Accountable

      The federal government's reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks once again returned to the Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices considered whether former attorney general John D. Ashcroft could be held personally liable for the detention of an American Muslim.

      Abdullah al-Kidd, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in 2003 and held as a material witness. But Kidd contends that he was not detained because he had information about terrorism. Instead, he says, he was detained as part of a plan approved by Ashcroft to sweep up Muslim men the government suspected but could not prove had ties to terrorism.


      Justice Roberts is clearly worried about the impact of holding prosecutors accountable for their actions. But I hope that the Court will take into consideration the following: (1) police officers seem to function under qualified immunity while prosecutors and judges have absolute immunity. (2) prosecutorial misconduct is a leading reason for wrongful convictions. (3) Bar associations have failed to adequately police the behavior of prosecutors. A study of prosecutorial conduct in California reveals the rampant disregard by prosecutors for the rule of law and the consequences of illegal and unethical behavior.

      What remedy do victims like Mr. al Kidd have unless absolute immunity is removed and replaced with qualified immunity? In addition, the Court should impose requirement similar to the exclusionary rule - if you cheat, the case is dismissed. But that would not resolve the problem faced by victims like Mr. al Kidd.

      Tuesday, February 22, 2011

      A Case of Murder?

      The death of a 2-year-old Houston boy from a rare infection blamed on contaminated alcohol wipes may be only the first casualty tied to allegedly shoddy sterilization practices by a Wisconsin medical products firm.


      We can learn several things from this case. First, the regulatory model in this country is broken. Examine the time line between the inspections, the death of the child, and the recall. The latest installment in this tragedy is the Republicans want to curtail regulation and inspections.

      The other aspect of this tragedy is the white-collar crime is violent crime. At least one death has been attributed to the deliberate indifference of the manufacturer. Will these misanthropes face criminal charges? Based on past history, it is doubtful. 

      Tuesday, February 15, 2011


      Most of the 113 medical devices recalled by the FDA from 2005 to 2009 for serious or life-threatening hazards were not subjected to the Food and Drug Administration's more stringent approval process, known as "PMA", or premarket approval, according to a review of the FDA's recall data.

      Instead, they were cleared using the 501(k) process, which is less extensive and does not require clinical testing. For consumers, that means some cleared products including artificial hip joints, heart valves, and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) were marketed and used on patients without being tested beforehand.


      Imagine going through hip replacement surgery or heart valve procedure only to discover that the parts were defective. How many patients and their families were affected by this broken regulatory model? How much money did it cost to correct and to compensate these victims of white-collar crime?

      Will there be an investigation and/or congressional hearings? Doubtful. Is there a way to protect yourself from being victimized in this manner? No. Surprise! Your government has failed you once again.

      Friday, January 28, 2011


      Even with judicial blessing, the conduct of executions in this country is a shambles. In Arizona and Georgia, the sodium thiopental used in executions has possibly been ineffective and almost certainly been illegal. It came from Dream Pharma, an unlicensed British supplier, run from a driving school. The batches carried a date of 2006. They were likely made by a company in Austria that went out of business. The drug is said to be effective for only a year. As a foreign-made drug without approval by the Food and Drug Administration, it is prohibited by federal statute.


      Rules exist for reasons. In this case, states that conduct executions are supposed to ensure that the protocols are followed in order to minimize the chances of a botched execution and/or physical suffering by the condemned.

      Clearly in these cases the law was not followed. What sort of example does this sordid behavior set? The rest of us can pick and choose which law to follow - or not - based on expedience?

      It is bad enough that states continue to follow a failed policy. Doing so under these circumstances makes it seem almost clandestine and desperate. Nothing dignified about this behavior whatsoever.

      Tuesday, January 18, 2011

      Reducing Prison Spending

      The centerpiece of Mr. Daniels’s approach is a set of reforms governing sentencing and parole. Judges would be allowed to fit sentences to crimes and have the flexibility to impose shorter sentences for nonviolent offenses. A poorly structured parole system would be reorganized to focus on offenders who actually present a risk to public safety.

      Addicts would be given drug treatment to try to make them less likely to be rearrested. And there would be incentives for towns to handle low-level offenders instead of sending them into more costly state prisons.


      Why can't Idaho and other states admit they have a problem similar to Indiana and take similar steps to reduce prison expending? More treatment will not only save money, but it will lower recidivism rates, which translates into fewer victims in the future.

      But it seems that no one in the legislature or governor's office is interested in those sorts of outcomes. What is that saying about insanity?

      Friday, January 7, 2011

      Hell Just Froze Over

      We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. The criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.


      Conservatives broke it and now they want to fix it. Good for them. It is too bad that this conversion had to result from the budget crisis instead of the revelation that "get tough" crime control polices were failing.

      States like Idaho need to get busy reforming their criminal justice systems. Mandatory minimum sentencing, juvenile waivers, the "drug war," capital punishment and community corrections (probation and parole) are all issues that are in dire need of substantive reform (no lipstick on the pig, please).  

      Thursday, December 9, 2010

      Another Failed Policy

      Sara Kruzan was 16 when she lured her former pimp into a motel room, shot and killed him and took his money. The terrible crime was committed in Riverside County by a girl who had been sexually molested and physically abused since her earliest days, raised by an addicted mother, gang-raped at 13 and at the same age sent into the streets to make a living as a prostitute by the man she would eventually kill.

      But teenagers change. Today, at 32, Kruzan is a model prisoner in the honor dorm at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla. In January, she will receive her associate's degree from the nearby community college. She has volunteered for dozens of rehabilitation programs and won awards for her participation and attitude.

      She also serves as an important reminder of why sentencing juvenile offenders to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is backward and counterproductive. Science and society have learned more in recent years about the still-immature and rapidly developing brains of adolescents.

      Read more....

      We have learned a great deal about juveniles and how they develop psychologically and physiologically. We also have decades of experience with the practice of juvenile waivers. Unfortunately this policy has failed to keep pace with the advances of knowledge. Once again, politics and ideology trump research and rationality.

      Update 1/3/2011: On his way out of office, Gov. Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan's sentence

      Monday, December 6, 2010

      The Beat Goes On

      Word quickly reached top executives at Abbott Laboratories that a Baltimore cardiologist, Dr. Mark Midei, had inserted 30 of the company’s cardiac stents in a single day in August 2008, “which is the biggest day I remember hearing about,” an executive wrote in a celebratory e-mail.

      Two days later, an Abbott sales representative spent $2,159 to buy a whole, slow-smoked pig, peach cobbler and other fixings for a barbecue dinner at Dr. Midei’s home, according to a report being released Monday by the Senate. The dinner was just a small part of the millions in salary and perks showered on Dr. Midei for putting more stents in more patients than almost any other cardiologist in Baltimore.

      Read more... 

      The senators solicited 10,000 documents from Abbott and St. Joseph. Their report, provided in advance to The New York Times, concludes that Dr. Midei “may have implanted 585 stents which were medically unnecessary” from 2007 to 2009. Medicare paid $3.8 million of the $6.6 million charged for those procedures.

      We can only estimate the amount of medical fraud that goes on everyday in this country. But we do know that physicians kill more people than street criminals do each year. See the connection between iatrogenic criminality and our medical system based on profit? 

      Crimes Against Us All

      In 2005, when a federal court took a snapshot of California’s prisons, one inmate was dying each week because the state failed to provide adequate health care. Adequate does not mean state-of-the-art, or even tolerable. It means care meeting “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” in the Supreme Court’s words, so inmates do not die from rampant staph infections or commit suicide at nearly twice the national average.

      Read more....

      No society can refer to itself as civilized while allowing thousands of its citizens (yes inmates are citizens) to be treated in such a manner as described in California. But California is not alone in its mistreatment of inmates. Idaho has its own "gladiator academy" operated by the Corrections Corporation of America.

      Aside from the moral (or lack thereof) aspects of the current conditions in our prisons (and jails), Justice Alito raises the myth of crime control through mass incarceration. Alito ponders the impact of releasing so many inmates on California's crime rate.

      As one of my late professors (George Beto) once told us in class, opening the doors of prisons would not significantly impact the crime rate. So Alito and others are asking the wrong question - will the crime rate change? Probably not. Will there be new crimes and victims? Probably yes.

      But we also have to keep in mind that over 90% of inmates will be released from prison at some point. And a significant number will fail in the free world (California reports 70% recidivism rate). So has it occurred to Justice Alito and others that our current crime control policies are not only failing to reduce crime, but in fact may make the crime rate higher?

      The decline in the crime rate since the 1990s is largely attributable to changing demographics. There are fewer people in the crime-prone and victim-prone age groups. I maintain that providing treatment for mental illness and drug addiction (including alcohol) instead of engaging in mass incarceration would further reduce the crime rate. But California broke it, now they own it.

      It will be interesting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Schwarzenegger v. Plata. My bet is that fear and bad policy will win out over rationality and morality.

      Sunday, December 5, 2010

      Who Profits, Indeed

      Who really profits from the spew of bills recently advanced by the legislators across the country, and here in Texas, that make immigration enforcement a state matter?

      The answer is private prison corporations. In a recent feature on National Public Radio, it was made abundantly clear to anyone who cared to listen that the real motivation behind the Arizona anti-immigrant bill titled SB 1070 was profits for the private prison industry, which hoped to garner new markets from contracted prisons they would build to house the estimated tens of thousands of immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, that they believed would be snagged in this ever-widening net. Now, no one likes to make a dollar more than yours truly. Yet is there anything more cynical than hoping to write a law that imprisons women and children in order to make that buck?


      Corrections Corporation of America and other for-profit prisons stand to make out like bandits if the Faustian bargains succeed. But a few politicians are also benefiting from the deal:

      A Tennessean survey of campaign finance records shows that CCA, its officers and their families contributed more than $95,000 to campaigns in the state this past election cycle. The company also had five lobbyists on its payroll working at the Tennessee legislature this year.

      CCA is also making the rounds in Idaho. Denton Darrington (R-Declo), chair of the Senate Judiciary& Rules Committee, received a donation from CCA.Other members of the committee who received CCA donations include Patti Anne Lodge and Dean Mortimer,  Republicans who received CCA contributions include Mike Moyle, John McGee, Joe Stegner, Lawrence Denney, Darrell Bolz, Russ Fulcher, Clif Bayer, Dean Cameron, Maxine Bell, Janice McGeachin, Steve Kren, Brent Crane, Fred Wood, Eric Simpson, Jeffrey Thompson, Bert Brackett, Frank Henderson, Jim Clark, Jim Hammond, and Butch Otter. Democrats who received CCA contributions include James Ruchti and Diane Bilyeu.

      While Idaho politicians did not rake in quite the largess that Tennessee (and I imagine other states) did, the state did not go unnoticed by CCA.By spreading around a little money (under $10,000 reported), CCA gets a contract worth $27 million to run a prison that is currently a target of ongoing litigation regarding its "gladiator school" conditions.

      Coming soon - their own private Idaho.

      Sunday, November 28, 2010

      More Evidence of the Failure of the War on Drugs

      IN VERACRUZ, MEXICO Exploiting loopholes in the global economy, Mexican crime syndicates are importing mass quantities of the cold medicines and common chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine - turning Mexico into the No. 1 source for all meth sold in the United States, law enforcement agents say.


      When we will finally learn that prohibition polices don't work? Okay, let me rephrase this question - when will policy makers finally learn that prohibition polices fail to reduce the availability of  drugs?