University of Iowa students generally feel safe on campus, support the current weapons ban on campus and approve of the job UI campus police to do protect them, a new survey by a UI journalism class found.
The survey also showed support for restrictions on high capacity ammunition clips and a semi-automatic weapons ban.
The survey is from a class taught by Stephen Berry, an associate professor of journalism and mass communication and IowaWatch co-founder, called Advanced Reporting and Writing: Polling Literacy and Public Affairs Journalism. The journalism ethics website, iMediaEthics.org, and its polling director, David W. Moore, former vice president of the Gallup Organization and a senior editor with the Gallup Poll for 13 years, assisted with the study. [Ed. note: Link to iMediaEthics.org added March 22]
The survey comes at a time when gun laws are being debated in Iowa and nationally. It polled 676 randomly selected students from the UI directory Feb. 26 through March 5 and was weighted to match the school’s demographics.
That was before UI graduate student Taleb Hussein Yousef Salameh, 28, died after reportedly shooting three officers off campus, in North Liberty, in a March 10 standoff. The shooting has increased attention on the UI's ban on concealed weapons on campus.
The margin of error for the survey was 3.77 percentage points, with 23.9 percent of the nearly 3,000 students contacted completing it. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents participated in the survey online, while the remaining 22 percent answered the questions in phone interviews.
Among those answering the poll’s questions, 54 percent indicated that they felt very safe on campus, while 43 percent said they felt somewhat safe. Less than 1 percent did not feel safe.
In the generally favorable reviews of the university’s police department, 20 percent of students rated its performance as very good and 37 percent rated it somewhat good. Less than 10 percent of those surveyed gave the police somewhat bad or very bad marks, 14 percent said they were neither good nor bad, and 19 percent did not know.
UI Director of Public Safety Chuck Green said that while there wasn’t a single driving factor behind the students’ sense of safety, programs for individuals such as Violent Incident Survival Training, Rape Aggression Defense, personal safety training, and physical defense training help people learn how to respond to dangerous situations.
Green declined to answer any gun-related questions.
ALLOWING ARMED STUDENTS ON CAMPUS
A little more than one-half –53 percent – of the students responding opposed allowing concealed weapons on campus and said they would be upset if the current weapons ban on UI property were overturned.
In comparison, only 16 percent believed that weapons should be allowed, and just 5 percent said they would be upset if the weapons ban remained in place. Even 42 percent of surveyed students who grew up in gun-owning families said they would be upset if the ban were overturned.
“The fewer guns there are (on campus), the less likely accidents are. I’d rather not take that chance,” liberal arts junior Oluwatoni Olayiwola said.
Cheryl Thomas, the communications coordinator of Iowans for Gun Safety, agreed, arguing that mixing the drinking culture of college towns with more guns is not the best way to keep students safe.
A bill was introduced in the Iowa Legislature last year to repeal the gun ban on college campuses in the state, but it failed to pass.
“I haven’t experienced a shooting, but if the option were available (to carry weapons), a shooting could be prevented a lot more quickly,” UI liberal arts junior Colin Nelson said. He added that he did not expect the university, whose policy bans the concealed weapons, to move on the issue.
Aaron Dorr, the executive director of the Iowa Gun Owners organization, is a strong advocate for changing the current policy. “There’s no reason why college students should be helpless against a crazy attacker. If people are unarmed, they’re helpless,” he said.
Timothy Hagle, a political science professor at the UI, said a change is unlikely because the university tends to lean left politically, and control of the Iowa Legislature is currently split between Democrats and Republicans.
“We had the Gang Lu shootings in 1991 and even the ones just this past Sunday (March 10) involving a grad student, but we live in a safe state in a safe city on a safe campus,” Hagle said. “Thus, there just isn’t the demand for lifting the ban as there might be in other locations where the need to have guns for protection seems more immediate, such as Chicago.”
Hagle was referring to the 1991 shooting rampage by a UI doctoral graduate who killed four faculty members and a fellow doctoral graduate and wounded an undergraduate student on campus before killing himself at Jessup Hall.
ARMING PROFESSORS AND INSTRUCTORS
Opinions on allowing professors and instructors to keep weapons in classrooms were split more closely.
Twenty-seven percent of students said they would feel neither more nor less safe if faculty had guns in the classroom.
A near equal 25 percent would feel much less safe, 20 percent would feel somewhat less safe, 19 percent would feel somewhat safer, and 7 percent would feel much safer.
UI Faculty Senate member Richard Fumerton, a philosophy professor, said the idea has not been brought up by faculty leaders and that he does not expect a strong push to change the policy.
OFF CAMPUS, GENERAL WEAPONS QUESTIONS
The survey also revealed student support for restricting magazine clips with more than 10 rounds and banning semi-automatic firearms. Forty-one percent of students said they strongly supported the clip restriction and 22 percent somewhat supported it, while just 14 percent somewhat opposed the proposal and 13 percent strongly opposed it.
Thirty-one percent of students who self-identified as very conservative either somewhat or strongly favored the clip restriction, as did 45 percent of those who said they were somewhat conservative.
Students who favored a semi-automatic weapons ban outnumbered those who opposed it: 36 percent of students strongly favored the ban, 20 percent somewhat favored it, 15 percent somewhat opposed it, and 20 percent strongly opposed it. Men were more than twice as likely as women to strongly oppose the proposal.
Dorr said students who supported more gun restrictions simply were wrong. The Iowa Gun Owners’ goals include overturning campus weapons bans, enacting Stand Your Ground laws, removing permit requirements for those who are legally able to own guns, and abolishing pre-emption laws that allow individual communities to place their own restrictions on weapons beyond state law.
Thomas countered that while Iowans for Gun Safety supports the Second Amendment, her group also supports stricter measures to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people and regulating what types of weapons citizens are allowed to own.
“It’s clear that we have a problem. Law enforcement officers are being outgunned. When parents have to bury their children, there’s something that has to be done,” she said.
“We want to uphold the right to bear arms, but we also want to uphold the rights of mothers to know their children can go to school safely and the rights of law enforcement officials to go out on the street and not have to face machines that should only be used in war.”Interactive graphic by Lauren Mills/IowaWatch
How the survey was done
Thirteen students in the Advanced Reporting and Writing: Polling Literacy and Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication telephoned or emailed 2,828 undergraduate and post-graduate students – masters, doctoral and professional students – at the UI from Feb. 26, 2013, through March 5, 2013. IowaWatch staff writer Robert Maharry is in that class and conducted some of the research.
The sampling size was 676 respondents, 76 above the class goal of 600 that was needed for a reliable survey of overall opinion on campus. The response rate was 23.9 percent.
Of those respondents, 49 (22 percent) completed the survey in phone interviews. The other 529 (78 percent) completed the survey questionnaire through a controlled SurveyMonkey questionnaire that allowed each respondent a single access to the survey, once he or she signed in through a link and password. SurveyMonkey participants were not allowed to sign in a second time after signing off.
The class is taught by Stephen Berry, a UI associate professor of journalism and mass communication, with assistance from David W. Moore, a former vice president of the Gallup Organization and a senior editor with the Gallup Poll for 13 years. Moore is author of The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth Behind the Polls and the pollster and polling critic for iMediaEthics.org.
See television coverage
KGAN and KCRG-TV9 aired stories about the UI study.
KCRG-TV9 report (Note about this report's reference to the Nov. 1, 1991, University of Iowa shootings and where people were killed: Four people were killed at Van Allen Hall and one was killed at Jessup Hall before the gunman killed himself at Jessup Hall.)