It's back to school time again and college kids are heading to campuses across the country. If the National Rifle Association has its way, "packing" for college will have a whole new meaning. The NRA is working hard to force college and universities to allow students to carry guns in dorms and classrooms.
Of course, college administrators, faculty, students and campus security personnel agree that this is a crazy idea. But the NRA thinks it knows what's best for the safety of college communities. During the last four years, the gun lobby has pushed 65 bills in the legislatures of 32 states to require colleges to allow students to carry concealed weapons. Thus far, the NRA campaign has been an abject failure, even in "gun friendly" states like Texas, Arkansas and Arizona. But the gunners will be back, with the tactics of bullying and intimidation that have become their trademark.
Texas is an interesting case study. The NRA argues that allowing college kids to carry guns is essential for their safety, but Texas students, most of whom likely have grown up around guns, are loudly responding "no thank you". At the University of Texas in Austin, students have mobilized and demonstrated against guns on campus. In a referendum at Texas A&M, 57% of the student body voted against guns on campus. Presidential candidate Rick Perry, a former Aggie cheerleader, is a big fan of guns on campus, but his views are way out of step with his alma mater.
The mania surrounding this issue started with the Virginia Tech shooting of four years ago, with "gun rights" proponents arguing that if students had been carrying guns to class, they could have successfully resisted the shooter. But those students most qualified to assess this argument -- those who actually were under fire in the Virginia Tech classrooms -- have become crusaders against guns on campus. The Brady Campaign's Colin Goddard, who still carries parts of three bullets in his body from the Virginia Tech shooting, has visited campuses in every part of the nation to argue that more guns on campus would mean more death and injury. The compelling documentary, Living for 32, chronicles his transformation from French student to gun control activist.
Of course it is imaginable that a student with a gun could successfully defend against a campus killer, although other scenarios may be far more likely, such as a deadly crossfire taking even more lives, or the student who tries to draw his gun in defense becoming the first victim. The real problem is that in order to create any realistic chance of successful resistance by gun, there must be lots of students carrying lots of guns all over the campus -- in classrooms, dorm rooms, dining halls and sports arenas. Such a proliferation of guns and gun carrying introduces a panoply of new, everyday risks. For example, a student's protest of a low grade could turn violent, a depressed student could commit suicide with his roommate's gun, and a gun could discharge when it is accidentally dropped at a fraternity keg party. These kinds of shootings are far more likely to occur than a violent student entering a classroom intent on mass murder.
The pro-gun crowd assails college campuses as "gun-free zones" that allegedly leave students and faculty as sitting ducks, but the fact is that currently gun-free campuses are far safer than the rest of our gun-saturated country. The campus murder rate is 44 times lower than the general murder rate. Indeed, college students aged 18 to 24 experience violence at a 20% lower rate than non-students in the same age group. And 93% of the violence against students occurs off campus.
Recently, there was a frightening day on the Virginia Tech campus when young people attending a summer camp thought they had spotted a man with a gun crossing the campus. The University went into immediate lockdown, but no gunman was found. In the world of the NRA and Rick Perry, reports of a man carrying a gun on a university campus would be no cause for a lockdown, or any other action. It would be common behavior that the rest of us would just have to get accustomed to. We would have to wait for the shooting to start before anyone could intervene.
The vast majority of college students and their parents,have no interest in getting accustomed to kids carrying guns on campus. They will carefully pack the laptop, the books and the Ramen noodles. But, wisely, not the guns.
For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009). This and previous blogs are also posted at the Brady Campaign.