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Fact-check: Did States with Campus-carry Laws See Enrollment Drop?

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University of Texas professor Ann Cvetkovich speaks during a public forum on a law allowing students with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms on campus, on Sept. 30, 2015. Photo: AP

During their most recent legislative session, West Virginia lawmakers took up a bill that would require colleges in the state to allow students to carry guns on campus as long as they possess a concealed carry permit.

The bill ultimately passed the House, largely on party lines, before falling in the Senate.

During the House debate, one Democratic delegate, Andrew Byrd, argued that passing the bill could keep students from enrolling in the first place.

“The states that have passed (a campus carry law) have seen enrollment drop significantly,” Byrd said, according to an account in WVNews.com. “We need to encourage people to come to our state, not be afraid to come to our state.”

Has there been a significant enrollment drop in states that have passed a campus carry bill? We took a closer look.

When we contacted Byrd, he pointed to an article in the Houston Chronicle about international student enrollment declining in Texas, a state that has enacted a campus carry law.

“International applications to Texas’ four-year public universities have plummeted over the past year by at least 10,000, a 12.5 percent decrease from last fall, according to a Houston Chronicle review of university data,” the article said.

The article cited possible explanations by experts, including Jeff Fuller, a former admissions director at the University of Houston.

The most prominent explanations were “a sluggish global economy,” “greater competition from other countries,” and “President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric,” which Fuller said “has made some international students uncomfortable.”

A less prominent explanation in the article was Texas’ campus carry law, with Fuller saying it was “a sticking point for some applicants.”

However, this is not especially strong evidence to support Byrd’s assertion. Byrd said “states,” but Texas is just one state. He also didn’t specify international student enrollment, which the article did. It’s also not clear that campus carry was the primary factor driving Texas’ decline.

So we decided to take a broader look at states that enacted campus carry. Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for the Association of American Universities, said his group had no systematic data on the issue. So we dug through the numbers ourselves, state by state.

States that have campus carry laws

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 16 states explicitly ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus, while in 23 others, the decision is left up to each college or university. For instance, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, allows campus carry despite the absence of a state law. Tennessee, meanwhile, allows the right for faculty members but not students or the public.

Here, we’ll focus on the remaining 10 states that have either legislation or court rulings that allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. (Private schools are not included in the data because they are not required to follow the same guidelines.)

What does the data show?

When we looked at the data state by state, we found that public university enrollment trends in campus carry states have been, at best, inconsistent. Some states actually saw an increase after the law came into effect. We did not assess Arkansas, because we could not find data for the relevant period.

Four states — Colorado, Kansas, Oregon and Wisconsin — did see decreases after passage, though they were fairly small.

The campus carry law in Colorado took effect in 2010. Between that year and 2015, the most recent year available, enrollment fell by 5.8 percent.

In Kansas, the campus carry law has only been in effect for a little over a year. Between 2017 and 2018, the enrollment decrease was 1.1 percent.

Oregon initially saw a 2.9 percent increase in enrollment in 2011, the year its campus carry bill came into effect. Since then, enrollment has fallen by 4.6 percent.

Wisconsin’s campus carry law also came into effect in 2011. Through 2015, the most recent year available, enrollment declined by 8.8 percent.

Two states saw no clear pattern in their enrollment figures.

Mississippi’s campus carry law took effect in 2010. For the first year, the number rose. Enrollment dropped for the next three years, then increased again in 2015, the most recent year with available data.

Utah saw an increase after its campus carry law took effect in 2004. Since then, there was a three-year decrease, followed by a four-year increase, another decrease in 2012, an increase in 2013, and another decrease in 2014, the last year for which data is available.

The remaining three states actually saw increases in their enrollment.

Texas passed its campus carry law in 2016 but data shows a 2.9 increase in enrollment between 2015 and 2017.

Georgia’s campus carry law took effect in 2017. Enrollment has increased by 2.2 percent since before the law.

Finally, Idaho’s enrollment rose by about 11 percent after its campus carry law took effect in 2014. The most recent data for Idaho runs through 2015.

To sum up: Four of the nine states we looked at saw fairly consistent enrollment declines after a campus carry law took effect, while two showed no consistent pattern and three saw enrollment increases.

In other words, there was a lot of variability, contrary to what Byrd said.

But even in the cases of the states with modest declines, it’s not clear that gun laws were the driving force.

Many other factors — such as the size of a state’s college-age population, whether universities are expanding or contracting their offerings, and broader economic forces — can affect enrollment numbers. For instance, improving economic conditions after the Great Recession may have led some students to take jobs rather than enroll in college.

David Bills, a University of Iowa sociologist who studies education, said it’s not impossible that there could be some relationship between campus carry and enrollment declines, but he said he’s never seen research on this question.

“Establishing a causal relationship between a particular law and enrollment trends would demand a very rigorous research design,” Bills said. “The standard of evidence would have to be pretty high. … If that research exists now, I’m not aware of it.”

Our ruling

Byrd said, “The states that have passed (campus carry laws) have seen enrollment drop significantly.”

His evidence for this assertion was one newspaper article that speculated that campus carry was a reason why international enrollment has declined in Texas. But that’s a far narrower finding than he indicated — and other factors have as good a claim, if not a better one, for being the driver of that decline.

When we looked at the numbers more broadly, there is no consistent pattern in states’ enrollment fluctuations following the enactment of campus carry laws. In fact, a slight majority of states either saw increases or a zig-zagging trend line. And even in the states where enrollment dropped, it is hard to say that campus carry was the reason.

We rate his statement False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Checking Bernie Sanders on Life Expectancy in Virginia, West Virginia

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign stop Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Morgantown Event Center. Photo: Jesse Wright/WVPB

During a June 12 speech at George Washington University, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders offered what he said was a stark example of income inequality and its real-world consequences.

“In 2014, for example, in McDowell County, W.Va., one of the poorest counties in the nation, life expectancy for men was 64 years. In Fairfax County, Va., a wealthy county, just 350 miles away, life expectancy was nearly 82 years, an 18-year differential. The life expectancy gap for women in the two counties was 12 years.” 

Was Sanders right? We took a closer look. (Sanders’ campaign did not respond to an inquiry.)

Let’s start by noting that the two counties are indeed at opposite ends of the income spectrum.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, McDowell County, in the heart of Appalachian coal country, has a median household income of $25,595, about 44 percent of the national median household income of $57,652.

By contrast, Fairfax County, located in the affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C., has a median household income of $117,515, or slightly more than double the national median. 

So median household income is more than four times higher in Fairfax County than it is in McDowell County.

What about life expectancy?

The longest-running data on life expectancy by county in the United States is compiled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. We used the institute’s interactive database to find the most recent data for both of the counties Sanders mentioned.

Here’s a summary for 2014, the most recent year available:

The data shows that life expectancy is a few years longer than Sanders said for men in McDowell County — 67 instead of 64 — which in turn makes the gap for men between the two counties 15 years, rather than the 18-year figure Sanders cited.

For women, Sanders also is slightly off — there’s an 11-year gap rather than a 12-year gap.

But while Sanders is a bit off on the numbers, his overall point is sound. In fact, not only can people in Fairfax County expect to live longer than those in McDowell County, but the gap between the two has been widening for nearly four decades.

This chart shows life expectancy for men, women, and both in the two counties since 1980. Figures for McDowell County are shown in red, and figures for Fairfax County are shown in green. It’s easy to see the trend lines going in opposite directions.

It appears that Sanders’ comparison actually emerged more than five years ago, in a New York Times article by Annie Lowrey. She wrote:

Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va., are separated by 350 miles, about a half-day’s drive. Traveling west from Fairfax County, the gated communities and bland architecture of military contractors give way to exurbs, then to farmland and eventually to McDowell’s coal mines and the forested slopes of the Appalachians. Perhaps the greatest distance between the two counties is this: Fairfax is a place of the haves, and McDowell of the have-nots. …

One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.

Our ruling

Sanders said, “In 2014 … in McDowell County, W.Va., one of the poorest counties in the nation, life expectancy for men was 64 years. In Fairfax County, Va., a wealthy county, just 350 miles away, life expectancy was nearly 82 years, an 18 year differential. The life expectancy gap for women in the two counties was 12 years.” 

A few of these numbers are slightly off, but Sanders’ overall point that there is a large gap in life expectancy between the two counties is solid. We rule his statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Can Cell Phones, Bluetooth Defeat Credit Card Skimmers?

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A researcher holds a magnetic credit card "read head" that is used to read information from cards during retail transactions. Photo: AP

Should you be worried about credit card fraud when you pull up to the gas pump? A post circulating recently on social media says you can deploy your cell phone to stay safe.

An April 14, 2019, post on a Facebook page called “Local Jackson County News WV” told readers they can use their cell phones at gas stations to determine whether a pump has a credit card skimmer — a device that can steal credit card numbers.

The post said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Can Bluetooth sensors always determine if there are credit card skimmers in gas pumps? We took a closer look.

How skimmers work

First, some basics: Credit card skimmers are real, and they’re illegal.

When installed in gas pumps, skimmers listen for the data traffic from the credit card reader, record it to memory and pass that data onto the pump controller.

Skimmer technology has become so advanced that thieves do not have to return to the pump to retrieve the stolen information. Perpetrators can simply sit in their cars and download credit card information to a laptop.

A special agent with the U.S. Secret Service told NBCNews last year that the agency recovers 20 to 30 skimmers a week, with an average skimmer holding information from 80 credit cards.

Can Bluetooth sensors stop skimmers?

Bluetooth can be a useful tool for consumers who want to protect their information, but they are far from foolproof.

Paige Anderson, the director of government relations with the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group representing gas stations and convenience stores, told PolitiFact that there are too many kinds of credit card skimmers to rely on a phone to detect them.

“Some use Bluetooth technology, some use cell service and some skimming devices store the data themselves,” Anderson said.

Vassil Roussev, a computer scientist and director of the University of New Orleans Cyber Center, said that a “hit” on Bluetooth “could very well be an indicator of compromise by a skimmer, but it could also be any number of other devices within 30 feet or so, such as devices in other cars. More importantly, not finding one does not mean the pump is safe.”

The skimmer need not be detectable by Bluetooth, he said, or it could be programmed to send signals only at certain times.

“Overall, I would say that this tip offers a low level of protection,” Roussev said.

Anderson added that checking for skimmers is something gas station owners and workers need to do on a daily basis.

Retailers should conduct daily internal and external checks and take other measures to foil data thieves, she said. These practices reduce the risk of potential credit card theft, she said, though they may not eliminate it.

Our ruling

Local Jackson County News WV published a post that said, “Just a tip, When you pull up to the gas pump to fill up your car, get your cell phone and search for Bluetooth devices. If a sequence of letters and numbers show up don’t pay at the pump. One of the pumps has a credit card skimmer inside of it. All of these skimmers run on Bluetooth.”

Checking a Bluetooth sensor in your cell phone before inserting your credit card in a gas pump may be able to determine whether the pump has been compromised. However, skimmer technologies vary, and many types of skimmers won’t be detectable using the Bluetooth method.

We rate the statement Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Are 19% of West Virginians on Food Stamps?

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A food drive at Newark Liberty International Airport, on Jan. 23, 2019. Photo: AP, Julio Cortez

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., recently took to Twitter to criticize a Trump administration proposal on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes known as food stamps.

Manchin wrote: “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed. I’m urging @USDA Sec Sonny Perdue to withdraw the proposal.”

The tweet linked to a press release from Manchin explaining his position on the proposal, which would give states less flexibility on enforcing work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. Manchin and several dozen senators from both parties expressed opposition to the proposal.

We won’t address the pros and cons of the Trump administration proposal here, but we did wonder if almost one of every five people in West Virginia rely on SNAP.

We checked with experts and looked at the data, and it turns out that Manchin was pretty close to the mark.

In February 2019, the most recent month for which full data is available, West Virginia had 314,042 SNAP beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the state’s estimated population for 2018, according to the Census Bureau, was 1,805,832.

That works out to 17.4 percent of state residents, or a bit lower than the 19 percent figure Manchin cited.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “19% of WVians rely on SNAP, but proposed changes would take food assistance from those struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to become permanently employed.”

The percentage Manchin cited is a little high, but it’s close. We rate his statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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