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Coastal Carolina dorm shooting raises question: Should coeds pack heat?

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A 2008 Massachusetts Department of Higher Education report found 13 fatal mass shooting incidents on college campuses since 1990, or less than one per year.

Campuses are relatively safe places, says Peter Langman, an expert on the psychology of school shooters and author of “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters.” Grisly mass shootings, like those at Virginia Tech and the recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., make campus shootings appear more prevalent than they actually are.

“Something like that, where you have a great magnitude [of fatalities] can skew people’s perceptions,” says Dr. Langman. “A lot of people seem to think there’s an epidemic of school violence that’s getting worse and worse ... and yet when you look at the data, school related homicide has gone consistently down over the last 20 years.”

What has changed is 24/7 media coverage and technology that allows witnesses to record shootings in real time, says Langman.

“When there is a large-scale incident, there’s such overwhelming attention, it dominates the national and international media,” he says. “Meanwhile, on a day-to-day basis at schools across the country, there’s actually less violence – that doesn’t make the news.”

Campus shootings like the fatal incident at Coastal Carolina University Tuesday, also serve to reignite the debate over whether to permit guns on campus, first unleashed after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. Proponents, including the advocacy group Students for Concealed Carry, argue that students, if armed, would be able to stop shooters or put forth some resistance.

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