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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Don't Shoot the Messenger

This week, a national organization called the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) is coordinating peaceful 'empty holster' protests on university campuses. The protesters are challenging state laws and university policies which prohibit those licensed to carry concealed handguns to do so on campus. According to the SCCC, such policies 'stack the odds in favor of armed killers' by preventing otherwise lawfully held weapons to be carried by their owners.

I understand at a base level the point being made by the SCCC (the group sells tee shirts emblazoned with 'What you don't see can save your life'), but I would be extremely uncomfortable teaching in a classroom in which students were permitted to carry weapons. Admittedly, this could be because I'm not (yet?) acclimated to living in an area in which guns are more commonplace than in my previous East coast digs; it could also be because I teach Property, which apparently drives some to violent behaviour.

Flippancy aside, it's not at all clear to me that various standards in granting licenses for handguns are stringent enough to instill confidence in a policy permitting concealed weapons on campus. Would you be more comfortable knowing there were students licensed to carry weapons doing so on campus? Do you think tragedies such as the one which befell Virginia Tech could be prevented in such a situation? How might the classroom dynamic change if weapons were permitted?

Posted by Nadine Farid on October 24, 2007 at 03:01 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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People tend to forget the second ammendment makes the first ammendment possible. The second ammendment is just as important as the first, even though some tend to disregard it because they do not use it or agree with it.

I am one who tends not to use some of my rights I am entitled to but because I choose not to use those rights or like those rights, should I make others not have the right to exercise those same rights? Of course not.

Let people protect themselves where ever they go, obviously not letting them do so does not work.

Posted by: Kipp Jones | Oct 26, 2007 6:59:07 PM

Prof. Farid wrote:
1) "Would you be more comfortable knowing there were students licensed to carry weapons doing so on campus?"
2) "Do you think tragedies such as the one which befell Virginia Tech could be prevented in such a situation?"
3) "How might the classroom dynamic change if weapons were permitted?"

My responses:

1) Yes. I fully realize that anyone, at any time, can carry a weapon on campus if they are willing to break the law. Criminally-minded people seem to have little compunction against breaking the law. The discomfort some people imagine feeling under this scenario is, in my mind, a result of the "out of sight, out of mind" and "ignorance is bliss" mentality. At any moment of the day, any of the people around you might be carrying a weapon illegally. While those weapons pose a real threat of harm, you are not worried because you don't know they are there. But if at any moment of the day, someone around you might be legally carrying a weapon (for which they've been thoroughly background checked and trained when and when not to use), then you are worried...largely because it's no longer "out of mind" and even though that weapons poses statistically zero threat of harm to you.

2) Perhaps. It would depend on the chances of there being a legally armed person in proximity to the criminal, and of that person willing to deploy the firearm to stop the threat. But if I turn your question around, we do know something for certain...banning weapons from campuses absolutely does not prevent tragedies such as the one that befell VA Tech.

3) This is a good question, and much more difficult to answer. I do think that concealed carry on school campuses would affect the classroom dynamic, and it's likely to detract from the "ideal" learning environment. I think that once all these debates are over and licensed people are allowed to carry on campus (like they do in Utah), all the alarmist hub-bub will die down, and mostly, campus dymanics will effectively be business as usual. In other words, nearly everyone will forget that a few licensed people are carrying firearms around them. Nadine, when you go to your local Albertson's supermarket in Spokane, there are likely several people carrying licensed handguns in there with you. But you don't think about it...you just go about your business. Correct? Thus there is no "worry" that they might have a legal firearm, and thus, your ability to conduct your business at hand (finding items, putting them in your cart, and buying the groceries you need) is not diminished. I'm quite sure that the same would be true for college or other school campuses.

But another issue here regards trade-offs. I put "ideal" in quotes above because the ideal exists only in our minds...in theory. Life is full of tradeoffs. Given the evidence coming from right-to-carry states (that says crimes committed by licensed individuals are almost non-existent), perhaps the tradeoff for the issue at hand is this: On the one hand, the fact that some people on campus carry weapons, and the very threat of school shootings, might diminish the learning environment to some degree, and especially at first. On the other hand, students benefit from being safer if an armed response can more assuredly be mounted in an emergency, and secondarily, we all benefit by knowing that constitutional rights are restored and fulfilled (the bearing arms part of the 2A).

Tradeoffs. These issues are all about tradeoffs. Such is life. But the scales by which tradeoffs are measured are difficult to balance without resorting to objective, fact-and-data based arguments. There is precious little of that in politics and policy these days. Hopefully my comments made sense to you, and some of your readers.

Best regards,

Posted by: Carl in Chicago | Oct 26, 2007 4:21:59 PM

While the comments have devolved into a "is concealed carry a good idea," and occasionally "are guns a good idea" debate, my understanding of the original post--and certainly of the original protest--is that the question is about the unique status of prohibiting concealed carry (or really any weapons carry) on _campuses_.

Most of the campus gun laws, even in "gun friendly" states, such as Georgia, are written broad enough to include "universities" where the vast majority of the occupants are adults. Let's not obfuscate the issue with talk of "schools" (as opposed to universities), or with more general issues of gun control. What is it about a campus environment that mandates a difference in the law?

Why would a state that decided that 21 year olds without criminal records, mental health issues, and otherwise in good standing, are capable of carrying guns in other places, are incapable of carrying them in this particular location? Despite the offensiveness of the statement about "a relatively closed environment of 20-somethings," we're talking about states that have _already made the decision_ that these 20-somethings (more accurately 21-50 somethings, in most law school classes) are capable of handling this right. What changes when someone begins lecturing?

Posted by: Lee | Oct 25, 2007 4:40:37 PM

Does anyone remember the shooting incident at Appalachian School of Law back in January of 2002? From Wikipedia:

On January 16, 2002, ASL Dean Anthony Sutin, Professor Thomas Blackwell, and 1L student Angela Dales were shot and killed by disgruntled student Peter Odighizuwa, 43, of Nigeria. When Odighizuwa exited the building, he was subdued by two students armed with personal firearms.

Sounds like it was good thing having those two students around to stop Mr. Odighizuwa.

Posted by: pchuck | Oct 25, 2007 1:47:39 PM

Safety is always an issue, but is throwing more guns at it really the solution? Most of the time, college campuses are among the safer places to be as far as violent crime is concerned, so why bring dangerous weapons in to the mix? I understand the concern in being able to defends oneself in the event of a VT-type shooting, but I really don't think a civilian militia made up of young college students has the maturity, training or sensibilities to properly function as a security force in those situations. Should you be able to defend yourself? Absolutely. But in the aggregate, these types of on-campus shootings are so rare that allowing students to have guns on campus will likely lead to more instances of violence (premeditated or not) than would any potential mass-murderer. I'd much rather have my safety in the hands of trained professionals than someone who simply passed the low regulations for gaining a firearm and who feels that he/she knows what to do in a dangerous situation.

Posted by: Scott H. | Oct 25, 2007 12:39:56 PM

Arthur: Are you really suggesting that if somebody tries to rape me, I should not attempt to stop them with lethal force? If they come at me with a knife? A bat? To kidnap me or my child?

Don't forget that the government has no affirmative duty to protect you from any thing. Courts have consistently held against plaintiffs in civil cases trying to hold cities liable when police stood by and watched crimes occur.

It seems to me that we are two sides of a divide where on the one side people believe that no one should ever die at the hands of another, and on the other people believe that death is not the worst possible outcome. This divide is orthogonal to another divide where the one side believes that only government should have the right to violence and the other reserves that right to regular people, too. Would you have governments give up their guns, too, Arthur (and not just the cops, but the military, too)?

Posted by: billb | Oct 25, 2007 9:38:35 AM

Arthur: Use the word "preemption" in your searches. Most (or all, perhaps Ohio is weird...) states with shall-issue concealed weapons laws have preemption laws as well preventing subordinate governments from mucking with things.

Posted by: billb | Oct 25, 2007 9:27:08 AM

I did a brief search on some of the effects of CCL but was not able to find some of the information I am interested in. Maybe someone here knows.

In a "shall issue" state, can individual cities refuse to issue these permits or allow concealed weapons in their cities? The reason I ask is because I think that population densities have a lot to do with gun violence and violence in general. When I see that animated gif that was linked to showing the increasing tide of "shall issue" states it makes me wonder who exactly in those states is pushing for these changes. It would be interesting to see a district/county breakdown to see if this is potentially an urban/rural split.

The other studies I would be interested in seeing are some well designed causative studies that control for external influences when they come to conclusions (as some of the studies I've seen) that CCL reduce violent crimes. Data can be manipulated in many different ways as we all know. It is interesting to note that the "shall issue" tide is turning starting in the late 80's while at the same time violent crime was escalating until it peaked in the early 90s (92, I think). That violent crime rate has dropped steadily since then (it may be starting to rise again). Because most policy decisions have some sort of built in "time delay" it becomes very difficult to link things causally, we often end up with quasi-causative and mostly correlative statistics.

I most recently moved from "Kill"idelphia and seeing the murder rates in that city on the rise year after year I did not see a scenario in my mind that would warrant MORE guns in that city. I can that PA is a "shall issue" state but from a few of the articles I have read about gun violence in Philadelphia most of the police and officials say the increase happened once they no longer had the discretion to deny certain people concealed weapon permits. Again this is in no way definitive since it is anecdotal at best, but it speaks to the point regarding "rights" Certain people should not have guns, but these "shall issue" laws make an end-run around that societal safeguard.

In my interpretation of the right to bear arms I thought the thrust of the founding fathers was to allow citizens weapons to protect them against the unjust demands of the government or invasion by a foreign government rather than turn us all into some sort of street justice society. We have the police, national gaurd, and legal system to act as the protectors of society. When people become judge, jury, and executioner we are certainly handing over a lot of power to some people that probably shoudn't have it without any checks and balances. The "shoot em dead" mentality for some of the physical crimes listed above is not a judgement or decision that any one person should be making while in the heat of the moment. I think even the police have a hard time making those choices and they have to make them often.

A gun advocate guy I know once said to me "You can have a society in which no one has guns or everyone does, which do you think would be easier to achieve?" He is of the school of thought of that believes in some sort of m.a.d./détente theory that would lead to increased peace through paranoia.
In the end he may have his experiment borne out and we will see the results.

Posted by: Arthur | Oct 25, 2007 3:48:44 AM

What's different about a "learning environment" from a movie theater, the grocery store, or any of the other public places where the residents of the 38 states that have shall-issue or no-permit-required concealed-carry laws? Where are the stories from Florida (25 years of shall-issue, also Washington since 1961(!)) and the rest the states about concealed-carry holders "not liking what somebody has to say" and blowing them away? Studies seem to show that concealed-carry permit holders are less likely to commit crimes (including murder) than the general population. Also, disallowing concealed carry on college campuses prevents not only students from carrying (maybe justifiable due to their young age and flighty nature) but also prevents faculty, staff, and administrators from carrying. Surely the latter are mature enough to carry on campus?

I'm surprised by the the arguments of the above commenters who seem to base their positions entirely on emotional response and the not-too-thinly veiled presumption that 18-year olds will kill each other over Macbeth or a war in a foreign country or who should be president or whatever else gets folks riled up in class these days. Yes, it would be a better world if we never resorted to violence to solve our differences. I don't personally believe that we'll ever get there as long as there is any resource scarcity. So, the question becomes, what do we, a violent society, do to lessen violence on the one hand and preserve lives and (real) property on the other? I'm sorry not to have any answers for you, but if some people feel more comfortable with a gun, especially a concealed one that no one else generally sees, what's the harm? It's not enough to show that people will die at the hands of concealed-carry permit holders. Y'all have the burden to show that more people will die unjustifiably due to an increase in concealed carry. Personally I would feel more comfortable if I knew my neighbors and I could defend each other in an emergency--even one on a school campus.

To Arthur's point: All the concealed-carry permit holders that I know say, "Give 'em your wallet," when it comes muggings. They also say the equivalent of "shoot 'em dead" when it comes to rape, kidnapping, other physical attacks, home invasion, etc. There aren't too many stories of folks trying to gun down their muggers, Arthur. Perhaps gun-owners aren't as blood-thirsty as you imagine.

Some parting questions: Why is it that "because it's my right" is a good enough for protests (don't get me started on Free Speech Zones) but not for secretly carrying weapons? Why is it that an increasing number of states are moving to shall-issue permitting schemes if "improper discharge" of weapons is so likely? I think the great American democratic laboratory that is the variation of laws and culture amongst the states is proving itself here.

Posted by: billb | Oct 25, 2007 12:49:21 AM

I agree with most of the posters above who don't believe we will have any increased level of safety by allowing concealed weapons in the classrooms. I also don't believe there should be a concealed weapon allowance anywhere for a myriad of reasons I will not go into here.

The argument that by not allowing people to have concealed weapons will give the bad guys some sort of advantage can be turned right around to say that by knowing that average citizens have guns then the criminals will know to bring theirs' for the perpetration of their intended crimes. The counter argument might be that if criminals knew citizens have guns they wouldn't commit the crimes in the first place. Back and forth, back and forth, this debate goes on forever.

I guess a lot of this depends on what you hope to get out of this whole issue. Do you want a decrease in violence? Do you want a decrease in crime? Do you want a sense of security? Do you want to feel empowered?

As a person who has been held up at gunpoint, I never for one instant wish I had a gun, or that anyone around me had a gun. My thought process was that if I had a gun that might aggravate the situation into one in which I got shot; the same goes for bystanders who might not have great aim. My ideal situation would have 0 guns in it. I'd rather give up my property than get into a fire fight over it; maybe because to me my stuff is not worth my life or the criminal's.

Posted by: Arthur | Oct 24, 2007 11:32:50 PM

I must admit that if I knew before applying to a particular school that individual students could pack heat, I would not apply to that school regardless of any scholarship offers. Debates can get heated & sometimes can turn violent as I witnessed SFSU after 9/11, but debates aside many of these violent instances have come from disillusioned students that feel it is necessary to take measures into their own hands to balance justice. The argument being "I have a right" is BS. I don't want to be in the middle of a shootout but the option of having someone carry a concealed weapon as protection in a learning environment is not the solution. I do not want to worry about whether or not someone who is sitting right next to me is packing & may not like what I have to say in class today.

Posted by: Catharine | Oct 24, 2007 8:45:07 PM

In theory the classroom dynamic would not change at all, as no one would ever actually know who in the class was packing.

Frankly though the concept of concealed carry makes sense in a paranoid way. You are essentially preparing for something for which there is a very small chance of occuring, that is to say being the victim of a crime and furthermore being in a situation in which your having a gun can make a difference. The chances of the latter are increased by proper training, without which you run the risk of only making a bad situation worse. The fact that some states give only the most basic of firearms training before issuing a permit perhaps makes your concerns justified.

The tragedy at VT was a mix of many different factors, few of which I think would have been preventable by allowing concealed carry on campus. The "at least they would have had a chance!" argument does not hold water with me, as it comes off more like "at least let me have a chance ... to assuage my paranoia and engage in behaviors I engage elsewhere."

I think there are a lot of situations in which carrying a concealed weapon makes some degree of sense, or at the least does no harm. In my opinion, a relatively closed environment of 20-somethings is not one of those situations.

Posted by: js | Oct 24, 2007 3:24:28 PM

I don't think that I would feel any safer knowing that other students were carrying concealed guns. Moreover, just because students had permits for such weapons, it certainly doesn't ensure that they will know how to properly discharge them in times of crisis; in fact, I see it causing more potential harm than good.

Posted by: Arnold | Oct 24, 2007 3:22:49 PM

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