Guns on Campus

PUBLISHED: April 15, 2008

Last fall, when I delivered my daughter to Massachusetts to begin her freshman year at college, I gave her a sleek new laptop, a clock-radio with a double-alert snooze alarm, and a framed photo of our family. But even if she had wanted one, I would never have considered giving my daughter a gun.

So it is disturbing to learn that a significant number of students and state lawmakers nationwide have reacted to the horrible violence plaguing college campuses by turning to guns.

Triggered by the rampage at Virginia Tech that left 33 people dead, and fueled by other campus tragedies including the most recent at Northern Illinois University where six died, at least 15 state legislatures are considering bills to allow students to arm themselves in class. At present, Utah and Colorado are the only states to permit students to carry guns.

By their very nature as life laboratories, college campuses often bring society's points of contention into sharp focus, and when it comes to guns the arguments are brutally clear-cut. Most experts and educators remain convinced that fewer guns mean fewer gun incidents. But the increasingly vocal view by conservative politicians and frightened youngsters is that sterile "gun-free" campuses actually create more dangerous environments than exist in the less-regulated outside world.

A movement known as Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, that has received predictable publicity from Fox News and the National Rifle Association, claims to have over 23,000 members on some 150 U.S. campuses. The group favors changes in state laws and school regulations so that students, with permits, can carry concealed guns to class.

The group's impact could be dismissed as marginal were it not for the accompanying actions of conservative lawmakers. In Arizona, for example, Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would allow guns to be carried by permit-holders at any college or university. In Washington State, a Democrat proposed a measure to ban guns at colleges, while a Republican authored a bill that would ban colleges from banning guns.

Additionally troubling in the midst of this ratcheted gun rhetoric is what local media are finding. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had no difficulty locating a student at Penn State to pose for a photo in which he places his handgun in his belt. The student paper at Arizona State University came up with an almost identical photo for its story. In Idaho, where lawmakers are considering a bill to permit guns on campus, television station KBCI talked to a dozen students at Boise State and found that five were carrying concealed guns.

Why is the epidemic of campus gun violence being addressed almost exclusively by conservative students and lawmakers? Why have neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama made gun control a dominant issue in a campaign that has already lasted over a year and featured 21 debates – other than Clinton’s contrived duck-hunting tales?

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the most fundamental of all gun questions: what should be the modern interpretation of the Second Amendment's "right to keep and bear arms"? The case stems from a lower court ruling that struck down the District of Columbia's strict gun ban. Gun advocates are anticipating a favorable ruling that will help relax local gun regulations - most notably on college campuses.

I take comfort in the fact that neither my daughter nor her teachers believes guns are the answer to campus violence. What keeps me awake at night is the fear that powerful forces are taking dead aim to change that.

© Peter Funt.

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