It has been nearly a year since the tragic shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech, where 32 students were murdered by a lone gunman who also took his own life. The incident rocked the campus in Blacksburg, Va., and shocked a nation into action. On Jan. 5, President Bush signed into law the most sweeping federal gun control measure in more than a decade.
The Virginia Tech massacre also refocused public attention on a debate more than two and a quarter centuries old: The right of our country’s people to bear arms. According to a Mar. 18 article in The New York Times, the U.S. Supreme Court recently addressed the issue for the first time since 1939, when it heard arguments on Mar. 18 in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. Outside the nation’s highest court, the issue is front and center on college campuses.
The group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is a national organization that advocates gun possession on the nation’s campuses. (Only one state, Utah, permits gun possession on the grounds of state universities.) Proponents of gun ownership on campus believe the risks and dangers of school shootings would be mitigated by allowing students to carry weapons and protect themselves and others.
Since the campus shootings at Northern Illinois University on Feb. 14, the group’s membership has surged from 14,000 to 23,000, according to its Web site, www.concealedcampus.org. A K-State chapter of Students for Concealed Carry was recently established, and according to Kansas Federation of SCCC President Ryan Willcott, freshman in pre-professional business administration, its organization already has grown to 195 members.
According to the Kansas Attorney General’s Web site, more than 11,000 Kansans have applied for a concealed carry permit since the Personal and Family Protection Act was signed in 2006. If the right to bear arms is extended to campuses, the potential hazards could outweigh any benefits.
The motives of gun owners who want the right to bring their firearms to campus are pure: They want a safer campus and a secure learning environment. They point out that strict gun control regulations on campuses do not deter violent gun crimes from occurring at colleges and universities.
But escalation is not the answer. Allowing firearms on our university campuses would give rise to more gun-related incidents than it would prevent. The college environment is known for drugs, drinking and the stresses of class and preparing for a future career. Can you imagine what might happen in a beer-induced brawl at a Saturday tailgate when guns were introduced to the mix?
In a CBS Evening News report on March 27, University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said that making weapons legal on campuses would make an officer’s job more difficult in the event of a school shooting. Officers could find it harder to spot the real threat if a gunfight erupted between students and shooters.
“There’s only going to be a split-second there, and I could see innocent people being shot by police,” he said. “There is no way to estimate how many additional victims would be killed in crossfire between criminals, armed students and law enforcement officials.”
Incidents like those in Virginia and Illinois certainly require us to examine our gun control policies. Though new gun control legislation – like that approved by President Bush in January – makes it harder for criminals to obtain firearms, there are still considerable gaps in our mental health-care system. As Virginia Tech showed us, it can be easier for a student suffering from mental-health disorders to purchase a weapon than a convicted criminal.
Putting guns in the hands of college students is a knee-jerk reaction to devastating tragedies but is not the long-term solution that will make us safer.
Joe Vossen is an eighth-year senior in puppet show production and Russian culinary arts. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.