In a society prone to violent crime, United States colleges are still islands of sanity, a recent study shows. College students report carrying weapons at a much lower rate than in schools and across the country at large.
But researchers, who issued questionnaires to 26,000 students, estimate that almost one million USstudents go armed with a gun, knife or other weapon, flouting campus rules that typically ban them altogether.
Most such students are men. Armed male students are also more likely to be drinkers, drug abusers and brawlers. "You have a recipe for a potential disaster here," said Philip Meilman, one of the authors of the study.
No accurate data are available on campus crime rates in recent years, when crime rates have been falling after years of extraordinary growth. But the strength of campus police has increased sharply and colleges have come under pressure to issue detailed reports.
A 1993 survey reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education found 15 murders, 880 sex offences, 4,443 assaults and robberies and 4,837 drug violations in 796 colleges.
The new study, produced by the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey at the University of Southern Illinois, sponsored by the education department, fills what researchers call a "relative void in the literature on the topic of weapons on the collegiate level".
Alongside questions about alcohol and drug use the survey asked: "During the last 30 days, how often have you carried a weapon (gun, knife, etc)?" Students were not to count weapons used as "part of your job" or "for hunting purposes".
Eleven per cent of men and 4.3 per cent of women reported carrying weapons, 7 per cent overall. This implies that of around 14 million students, 980,000 go armed, at least occasionally. Women may have included a mace as a weapon, but men rarely carry them. Their weapons are probably guns or knives.
But if the presence of weapons is regarded as a measure of safety, colleges still fare better than the outside world. In a 1993 Gallup poll, per cent of adults said they carried a weapon to protect themselves from crime.
Authorities must be aware that campuses are not necessarily safe havens from violence, the report notes, and "need to be fully prepared to deal with assaults, catastrophic injuries and deaths resulting from weapons".
"The good news is that campuses are relatively safer than surrounding communities," said Mr Meilman. "The bad news is that it's still 7 per cent."