Writing about guns, especially when it seems as if half the states are considering some new gun legislation, feels like “proceeding to the waterline of some Atlantic shore, flinging a thimbleful of tap water into the fathomless brine, and expecting anyone to notice,” to borrow an expression from a friend of mine. The talk on the Missourian Web site alone has been prodigious over the past few days.
Yet, after hearing that the Missouri House passed a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons on the MU campus, I feel compelled to trudge to the beach and dump my feeble thimble all the same: I don’t like the idea, and I am even less enchanted by some of the arguments used to support it.
The claim that rankles me the most is that if more people carry guns with them on college campuses, then disasters like the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech will be avoided. Legislating based on extremely rare, hypothetical events is misleading and illogical, not to mention incredibly speculative. It’s like saying that, because one human is killed by a shark out of the millions of people swimming in the ocean every year, beachgoers should be allowed to secretly carry hand grenades.
This argument, and others that imply concealed-weapons carriers are only capable of making campuses safer, also (irritatingly) suggest that every single permit holder is the flawless version of Wyatt Earp, the type of shooter who will only brandish a firearm to uphold the law and protect helpless saloon girls from the whims of psychotic banditos. Although that may be a fair description of many, there is simply no segment of humanity that is so especially, perfectly restrained and conscientious across the board; background checks do not account for boiling points or eliminate the inevitable possibility of human error.
People advocating the spread of concealed-carry permits and rights often put themselves on these grandiose, Earp-esque pedestals. For example, in relation to a concealed-carry privacy bill in Arkansas, one supporter referred to permit holders as “the most law abiding segment of society.” Another permit holder in Texas gave his editorial the hilariously self-righteous title of “Texas Concealed Handgun Carriers: Law-Abiding Public Benefactors.”
Such claims of being "the most law-abiding" are largely based on the fact that concealed-carriers don’t go around shooting people willy nilly. Essentially, those who use this argument are bragging about not being criminals and insinuating that they, by concealing guns and not misusing them, are more law-abiding than I am for not having a gun at all. Talk about capitalizing on low expectations.
Granted, the opposite broad-brush claims are equally unfair. Most permit holders are not trigger-happy, and allowing people to carry guns on campuses is not sure to lead to more grand-scale tragedies. Either way, the wild-rampage argument is an irrational ground for making a decision, and all such claimants are bound to go in circles by shouting differently sourced numbers that support their respective arguments.
The favorite such statistics of proponents’ are those that show crime rates will be lowered in areas where people are allowed to carry concealed weapons. But those compelling numbers, the strongest the supporters of this bill have, are relatively irrelevant in this case: According to the most recent campus safety report issued by the MU police, the average year sees zero cases of murder (attempted or otherwise) and zero cases of manslaughter on this particular campus.
Jonathan Ratliff, leader of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, was quoted as saying that he supports the bill because he wants to “be able to protect myself and allow my friends to be able to protect themselves.” Protecting people sounds well and good, but, for goodness sakes, from what? We are not attending class in the hills of Afghanistan. If the only reason for carrying guns is protection, why aren't we discussing less lethal means of defending oneself? Why does a woman scared for her safety need to have a gun instead of a can of pepper spray?
According to the campus safety report, the biggest crime-related problem on campus by a huge margin is liquor law violations, which will hardly be helped by people secretly toting guns around. And there is already an MU police force to deal with other rare instances in which guns might be needed.
There is, then, little if any need for Wyatt Earps. The burden of proof is on the concealed-carry proponents to show that there is some tangible benefit to be gained before we change the healthy status quo at MU, and there just doesn’t seem to be one. Though the case might be different in other situations and places, allowing concealed weapons on our campus is to run some amount of risk without any reasonable prospect of a reward. And that’s my thimble spent.
Katy Steinmetz is a columnist and reporter for the Missourian. She moved to Columbia after spending two years teaching in Winchester, England, and one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has freelanced for a variety of publications, including 417 Magazine in Springfield, Mo., and the Guardian in London. Katy plans to complete her MU master's degree in 2010.