Content warning: This story includes discussion of gun violence and mass shootings. Gun violence is an extremely prevalent — and pressing — epidemic, especially for Gen Z. Growing up in the aftermath of Columbine and alongside the tragedies in Parkland and Uvalde, this generation is no stranger to gun violence. Gen Zers grew up doing more active shooting drills in elementary school classrooms than tornado drills. You’d be hard-pressed to find a young person who didn’t feel that sharp surge of anxiety when a balloon popped in the back corner of a high school dance. When it comes to gun violence, Gen Z was molded by it.
The issue of gun violence followed Gen Zers to their college campuses. Since 1966, there have been 12 mass shootings on college grounds, including the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech — the deadliest college shooting to date, with 32 people killed — and, most recently, the 2023 shooting at Michigan State University, where three students were killed and five were injured. In addition to these tragedies, there have been countless firearm incidents on college campuses.
Despite all of this, many college campuses in the United States are pressing to have existing concealed carry laws exist in a university setting. As of publication, students have the ability to carry a legal firearm (with required permits) on college campuses in 11 states, with 23 states leaving firearm rules under the jurisdiction of the university.
Growing up under the cloud of gun violence, it’s easy to feel anxious about your safety on a concealed carry campus. I spoke with Brady Kirkpatrick, a certified gun safety expert, and Fran Haasch, founding attorney of Fran Haasch Law Group, to learn more about staying safe on concealed carry college campuses.
Know your school’s policies on firearms.
Concealed carry is the practice of carrying a legally-obtained weapon in public spaces in a way that hides its appearance. This can be done through the use of holders, garters, or simply carrying it in a firearm-safe bag. Since the law permits the concealed carry of firearms on some college campuses, all students can do, essentially, is “be aware of the gun laws and policies in your state and campus,” Kirkpatrick says. “Some states and campuses may have restrictions on who can carry guns, where they can carry them, and how they must store them.”
At some universities, guns are prohibited from certain buildings or areas on campus. If you see something that contradicts the policies in place, notify your university’s safety department.
Always be aware of your surroundings.
Because of concealed carry, you never really know who is carrying a gun, which can create a lot of anxiety. So, it’s essential to stay aware of your surroundings and keep your safety your No. 1 priority.
Additionally, in states where concealed carry is permitted on campuses, it means that these laws exist off campus as well — students may be carrying at extracurricular and social events, including parties. In instances where alcohol or other substances may be involved, stay vigilant and aware of the people, and situations, around you. “Avoid confrontations or arguments with people who may be armed,” Kirkpatrick says. “If you feel threatened or unsafe, try to de-escalate the situation or leave as soon as possible.”
Leaving parties, or walking through campus alone, can also be an anxiety-inducing time — especially on a concealed carry campus. “Try to take well-trafficked routes and avoid being isolated from someone you don’t know or trust,” Haasch says. “Get to know your surroundings — take notice of the blue light locations and don’t be hesitant to use them if necessary. If your campus has a bus or public safety escorts that will walk you home at night, take advantage of them.”
Kirkpatrick also encourages protecting yourself by taking a self-defense class or carrying a non-lethal weapon, like pepper spray, stun guns (tasers), whistles, or alarms. “However, be careful not to use them in a way that could escalate a conflict or harm yourself or others,” he says.
Trust your gut.
As a human, your gut will rarely steer you wrong. If you’re feeling uneasy in class, at a party, or anywhere on your gun-permitted campus, don’t dismiss the feeling. “If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, trust your instincts and leave,” Haasch says. “It’s better to lie and make up an excuse to leave than to stay and be uncomfortable, scared, or worse. Your safety comes before someone else’s feelings or what they may think of you.”
If a situation with a firearm escalates, Kirkpatrick says to follow the A.L.I.C.E protocol and call for help: “Alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate — know where the nearest exits and safe places are and how to contact help,” Kirkpatrick says.
In the current climate of the world, gun laws exist in a gray area from state to state. If you attend a school where firearms are permitted, remember the best thing to do is take care of yourself. Stay aware of your surroundings, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.