Civil Liberties

Gun Crazy: Firearms Proponents Want a World Where College Kids Carry Concealed Weapons

The NRA and Co. have pushed campaigns to allow concealed-weapons permits on college campuses in 15 states this year and failed in all of them.

First the bad news: Despite its election day smackdown, the NRA and its pals soldier on in their mission to arm god-fearing Americans in ludicrous places. A flurry of news stories earlier this year reported a pioneering solution proposed to the rash of recent campus shootings: instead of redoubling efforts to enforce the whole "gun-free school zone" thing -- a quaint little notion from, like the 1980s -- why not change the rules to let students bring more guns onto college campuses?

A few answers leapt to mind -- binge drinking, drug use, close living quarters in a high-pressure environment -- but for awhile, it seemed like the idea was catching on. In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007, in which 32 people were killed, several states began considering legislation to expand the right to carry a concealed weapon onto college campuses.

So what's the good news?

The legislation has been a dismal failure.

Despite all the media attention to the fight to extend concealed weapons onto college campuses, this end result has gone underreported. "In 2008, proponents of guns in the classroom have gone zero-for-fifteen with 'guns-on-campus' bills," the Brady Campaign reported this June, "failing in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. Only two bills are still pending -- in Michigan and Ohio -- and neither has shown any sign of movement in the last two years. Only one state -- Utah -- has ever passed such a law."

The gun lobby is hardly declaring defeat, however. One thing it has to show for its efforts is a new generation of gun activists, who have formed a new group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. Spawned in the wake of the Virginia Tech killings, the apparently thriving organization is spreading the gun lobby's gospel of "self-defense," and arguing that under the banner of states' rights, students at public colleges and universities should be allowed to carry concealed weapons onto their campuses. "We don't feel that campus is some magical environment," SCC spokesman Michael Guzman told FOX News last year.

Magical or not, colleges have long been "gun free zones" for a simple reason: students should be able to go to school without fear of assault by a deadly weapon. It takes a pretty twisted brand of logic to believe that because horrific massacres sometimes do happen, the solution is to throw more guns at the problem. Yet that's precisely the fear-mongering argument of the pro-gun crowd, which has seized on such tragedies to advance their argument that public places prohibiting guns are intolerably dangerous and that filling them with guns is the best way to make them safer. Virginia Tech, according to this crowd, was just further proof that "gun free zones" -- whether they be schools, churches or bars -- are themselves tragically misdirected.

The term itself has been effectively maligned. Google "gun free zones" and you get hundreds of thousands of links to pages describing them as death zones. They are "reckless, negligent, and known to be dangerous," argues one. "When will those who pushed for gun-free zones realize that they are contributing to tragic situations?" asks another. And, a personal favorite, and delivered without a hint of irony: "An armed society is a polite society."


SCCC -- whose website features a link to its Facebook page as well as a section featuring 15 different styles of t-shirts bearing the group's logo (a handgun wearing a graduation cap), in addition to clocks, tote bags, trucker hats a barbeque apron and underwear (the only women's option being a "classic thong") -- is clearly trying to make concealed weapons cool among the college set. And it seems to be working. As of November 29th, the young organization claims to have 35,000 members.

While SCCC describes itself as a grassroots group comprised mostly of students, with no affiliation to the National Rifle Association, the NRA is featured prominently on its (rather dated) news blog, which continues to push McCain/Palin as the clear choice for gun owners. More importantly, it's goal is in lockstep with the NRA's longtime mission of spreading guns to college campuses, providing a response to those who argue that, like its mission to bring guns onto national parks -- one that was quietly rewarded last week -- the NRA has pursued this goal without much consideration for what those who actually live and work on college campuses want.

In Utah, currently the only state that allows concealed weapons on its campuses, the relatively new law was fought by tooth and nail by school administrators like then-president of the University of Utah, who told the Christian Science Monitor in 2002: "Given the unique environment of a college campus, that is not a place for guns." Another professor vowed early retirement if the university if the law was rolled back. "I don't care if it's guns or Darwin or divine intervention," law professor John Flynn said. "The state legislature has no business invading the university's right to manage its own internal affairs."

Exasperated gun enthusiasts like to ridicule the notion that a campus's learning environment might be compromised by the introduction of lethal weapons. As one lobbyist and former Utah politician put it (a bit redundantly), "With a concealed weapon, you don't know it's concealed. The idea of something no one knows about having a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas just doesn't have a lot of logic."

Not surprisingly, some students disagree. "I feel less safe knowing that a stranger sitting beside me in class may have a gun in his or her backpack," one University of Utah student told CNN earlier this year. Imagine that.

The gun lobby and SCCC also like to draw a distinction between the "bad guys" -- people who bring guns onto campus illegally -- and the "good guys" -- permit-holding gun owners who could save the day if it became necessary. (Supporters of concealed weapons on campus cite the many laws and regulations that will ensure that guns are only in the hands of "good guys.") It's a pretty simplistic way to classify human beings -- and years of murder statistics haven't exactly borne it out.

Most recently, an unprecedented 38-page report has found a connection between weak gun laws and fatal shootings.

"States with lax gun laws had higher rates of handgun killings, fatal shootings of police officers, and sales of weapons that were used in crimes in other states, according to a study underwritten by a group of more than 300 U.S. mayors," reported the Washington Post on Friday.

According to the Post:

"The study is the first of its kind and comes after the mayors and 30 law enforcement organizations successfully lobbied Congress last year to release portions of the ATF data. Public access to the reports had been restricted since the 2003 passage of the 'Tiahrt amendment,' authored by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and drafted with help from the National Rifle Association. Tiahrt said at the time that he was 'fulfilling the needs of my friends who are firearms dealers.'"


This summer's pro-gun Supreme Court ruling in DC v. Heller actually addressed the question of firearms on campus in a way that should do no favors to the pro-gun-on-campus crowd. In his majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited."

"… (N)othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

But while Heller's otherwise sweeping implications seemed to fall short of a sanctioning of guns on campus, the ruling nevertheless emboldened the pro-gun crowd, who heralded it as a victory for gun rights. And despite the defeated bills from earlier this year, legislation to allow concealed weapons on campus is being renewed and pushed in at least a dozen states.

For the moment, the gun lobby and SCCC seems to be directing much of its energy to Texas, where the debate is alive and well. (A 62-page "Texas edition" of the SCCC handbook is available on its site.) As recently reported by a Dallas/Ft. Worth media outlet, Texas lawmakers reconvening next month are filing multiple piece of legislation to broaden the state's concealed handgun law. The proposed bills "would allow permit holders to carry their guns on private and public college campuses. For gun rights groups, it's priority number one."