Thursday, April 17, 2008

Packin' heat on campus

A somber anniversary has just passed, and it has everyone talking about gun control. I have no personal interest in using a national tragedy as a platform for my own political views. What I can't help but respond to, however, is the recent news about a local Madison chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus working to make concealed carry legal on UW campuses. Prior to this, I hadn't even realized that there was a movement to allow students and faculty to carry concealed weapons on campuses. Schools have always been a place I associate with being "gun-free/drug-free" areas.

UW graduate student Bret Bostwick founded the University of Wisconsin chapter three weeks ago. The group has received significant media attention in the wake of the death of UW junior Brittany Zimmermann and the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings.

The organization aims to “educate and advocate for concealed carry legislation” in Wisconsin supporting the right of individuals over the age of 21 who have completed training and obtained licenses to carry concealed weapons on campus, Bostwick said.

School-related shootings and murders tend to rile up the debate every time. The argument from the pro-concealed carry side tends to be "If the victim or someone near to the victim had been able to carry a gun, they could have stopped this from happening." The argument from the anti-concealed carry side tends to be "More guns just mean more accidents and deaths." Both sides often have good points, but a lot of that gets lost in the passions raised in between.

Too, it's difficult to come up with unbiased statistical analysis of how concealed carry does or does not impact crime in a particular area. There are also so many factors that play into violent crime rates that it must be extremely difficult to peg any lower or higher rates solely on gun ownership laws.

I'll admit, I'm not terribly comfortable with concealed carry laws in general. I don't particularly enjoy the idea that someone I pass on the street could be packing heat at any given time. I do believe that people should have the right to own certain kinds of guns and keep them in their homes or use them for hunting--contingent, of course, on the proper enforcement and following of background check, training and safety laws.

But for now, let's set aside the issue of general concealed carry laws and talk specifically about the idea of students and faculty being allowed to carry on campus. Traditionally, all school campuses have been "gun-free zones" - that is, no matter what a state's concealed carry laws are, they don't apply to campuses. This has been and continues to be the case in most states, with the exception of Utah, Virginia and Colorado. In late 2006, Utah's state Supreme Court struck down a ban on concealed weapons imposed by the University of Utah (based in Salt Lake City). That institution, backed by all other universities in the state, is currently working to get the decision reversed.

Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a national organization with 25,000 members, has branches on campuses in 45 states, including this new group at the UW-Madison (other Wisconsin schools with SCCC branches are MATC and Lawrence).

What's interesting about all of these efforts is that the main allies of groups like SCCC are state legislators, while school administrators and police organizations widely oppose such moves. I'm inclined to go with what police officers want in this case. They know better than most what it takes to responsibly handle a firearm, and they know, often first-hand, what kind of shit can go down in desperate situations where guns are drawn.

What it comes down to, at least for me, is the fact that police are trained to know how to handle themselves in sudden and tense situations where shots may be threatened and/or fire. Regular citizens, even many of those who go through all of the legal requirements for gun ownership, don't have that same level of training. In a situation where someone is being threatened, say, in a room full of fellow classmates, who's to say that the addition of one more gun isn't going to take even more lives than if it had just been the original perpetrator firing? Add to that situations where a person gets out of control, either through excessive drinking (something not all-together uncommon on campus), fights, or a bout of rash action.

But if we take guns away from law-abiding citizens, only criminals will have guns, right? This seems like a rational argument at first, but think about it this way: people break laws all the time, but that doesn't mean we should get rid of those laws all-together. They're there so that we have some clear guidelines on how to act, some sense of basic security, and appropriate punishments (implemented by people who've been educated and trained for it specifically) for those people who see fit to break the rules. Saying that we should all have the right to do something because criminals are already doing it anyway comes off sounding pretty ridiculous in this light.

I wouldn't feel safer on campus and in the classroom knowing that any one of my fellow students might be carrying a gun with them. There will always be some doubt, some insecurity in the world. Adding more fire to the fire? Wouldn't that, y'know, make the fire worse? How about actually enforcing existing gun laws, and creating faster, more effective ways of communicating danger to students on campus when incidents happen? Providing self-defense classes I'm all for, making sure people get appropriate mental health care when they need it I'm all for, but isn't the whole reason we're debating this in the first place because of guns on campus? Why allow for even more of them to be present, thus upping the likelihood of an accident or incident? That seems pretty illogical to me.

3 comments:

John P said...

Emily:

How do you know that the person you pass on the street now does not have a gun?

I do not have a gun and would never own one, that is my choice. However, the one thing that some gun control people do not understand is that gun laws just hurt the law abiding citizens, since they will probably follow the law. A criminal will never follow the law anyway. I will grant you that gun laws might restrict some people from getting a gun. But if someone wants to commit a crime, they will get a gun no matter what the law is. I am for reasonable gun laws, for example, back ground checks, mandatory shooting/safely classes, etc. But I have no problem with someone packin heat on campus

Anonymous said...

Emily,
You compare the training of police officers to the training proposed for concealed carry license holders. I believe that this comparison should not be made.
CCW license holders need to only train one specific scenario, which is immediate danger to themselves. CCW encounters occur at very short distances when it is clear that the permit holders life is in danger.
Police, on the other hand, have to train for many, many different scenarios where they must insert themselves into dangerous situations. The training is completely different.
I support concealed carry on campus because I think that people have a right to defend themselves whether that is on campus or elsewhere. As a state we can make hurtles for these people, like background checks, fingerprints, training, but we should never completely deny their rights.

Cam said...

I worry that we are focusing too much on the symptoms rather than the disease, I think our focus should be on creating a community where people don't want to shoot other people.

The Lost Albatross