No point to allowing guns at MU

Monday, April 13, 2009 | 12:43 p.m. CDT; updated 11:20 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 17, 2009

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.

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Ricky Gurley April 17, 2009 | 2:33 p.m.

I can't believe that anyone said this was a piece worthy of reading by lawmakers.

To sum up my opinion on this only takes a few sentences..

Katy says what would concealed weapons permit holders have to protect themselves or their friends from on campus? Wanna bet someone made that same statement before the Virginia Tech incident, Katy?

The bottom line is, the type of violence we are referring to here is senseless, it has no rhyme or reason, and it is unpredictable. So, the question is not a matter of will an incident like this ever occur here, but rather when it does will the students be prepared for it?

God forbid that an incident like this ever occurs again. But, IF it does, and a student were to manage to shoot and kill the person that was killing innocent students that day, after that person is shot and killed; if he had just 5 bullets left in the firearm he was using to kill innocent students with, how many of those bullets do you think could claim more innocent lives? Answer: EVERY ONE OF THEM!


(Report Comment)
Paul Ready April 17, 2009 | 6:23 p.m.


I'm disappointed in the conclusory way your arguments are presented. You act as if the idea that concealed carry permit holders are "Wyatt Earp" is unfounded. You mention a few editorial titles but leave out facts they likely mentioned in their text: Among states that keep such statistics, CC permit holders are 5-14x less likely to be arrested than the general population. In some places that figure is lower than the police. You'll be very hard pressed to find any segment of the populace with a cleaner record.

Where concealed carry is allowed, namely every public school in Utah, Colorado State University, and Blue Valley Community College in Virginia, there hasn't been even one negative incident involving a permitted student. No accidental discharges. No assaults. No thefts. No lost weapons. Nothing changed for the worse.

Gary Kleck, a criminologist from Florida State University, estimated that there were 3 million lawful defensive gun uses annually. 98% of them didn't involve pulling the trigger. Under the Clinton administration, that figure was estimated by the CDC to be 1.5 million. Using either number, there's still a gap on the level of several orders of magnitude between the number of people benefited and the number of people harmed (measured in thousands) annually with a gun. No matter how you slice it, guns on campus are more likely to help than harm. There's no scientifically, statistically sound reason to oppose this measure.

I encourage you to dig for real, tangible evidence to support your opinions. Don't shoot from the hip. You'll never hit the target. ;)

Paul Ready
MU SCCC Founder
MU Alum 2008

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 17, 2009 | 7:22 p.m.

For 139 years students at one campus of this so-called "university system" have been allowed to use explosives. The safety record has been to say the least admirable. One reason for that is that the students are carefully taught to use those explosives in a responsible manner, fully understanding the ramifications to themselves and others of their not doing so.

Are we now going to have a course, maybe three credit hours, at all four UM System campuses on the correct way to use firearms? Hopefully, that course will explain to our gun toting students that it's not cool to shoot first and ask questions later. Are we going to fire or downsize the campus police at all four campuses? After all, if the students are armed, why do we need the campus police except to write parking tickets.

This proposal is sheer lunacy. I am four square for the Second Amendment, but this is a gross perversion of it.

(Report Comment)
Mark Sanford April 17, 2009 | 7:25 p.m.

"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."

Isn't this the same tired old argument we heard ten to fifteen years ago, throughout the United States, about how the streets would turn into the Wild West if concealed weapons were allowed? We were told people with permits would shoot over traffic incidents, arguments with their neighbors and even because they were cut in line at the movies. None of this ever materialized yet here we see the same old fraudulent argument being trotted out again. The whole "people will become Wyatt Earp" argument is just plain silly and is quite simply not backed by any evidence, at all. Moreover, in a free society, we don't surrender our rights because there might be an accident.

There were no concealed weapons at VT and this demonstrates two things: those with permits obey the law, and psychos don't. Denying law-abiding students the right to defend themselves, and others, because of your irrational fears is extremely negligent, and hopefully the legislators in Missouri will reject your outdated and demonstrably false "argument".

(Report Comment)
Paul Wells April 21, 2009 | 12:50 p.m.

First off, I would like to state that all have a right to their opinions and the issue of campus carry is a touchy one. I am a college student and have a concealed carry permit from Florida because Missouri's law denies me the right to obtain a permit from their state because I am not 23. Let's take a second and ask ourselves though what is it that we are afraid of? Is it a law abiding citizen who carries a weapon and who may save your life? If so then we should probably fear the police and perhaps the armed forces as well. Students in college are adults. They are old enough to serve our country and carry a gun, old enough to buy one, even old enough to become a state trooper and respond to a tragedy like Virginia Tech. The author of this article suggests that one should carry something like pepper spray to defend yourself. Unfortunately, that is also prohibited on most college campuses as well. If we all knew when and where we might need a gun then we could avoid that situation and stay home. That’s not how the real world works though. Situations arise that we have no control over and I guess that all those who choose to be law abiding should also become defenseless and dependant on someone else to protect them. I think it's time for people who oppose the right of any law abiding citizen to protect their self to ask what is it we are afraid of? Is it is all of those out there who obey the law, or is it those who are bent on destruction and have no respect for anyone or the law. I personally will support any legislation that allows me and the law abiding the right to defend our freedoms.

(Report Comment)
Matt Finazzo April 21, 2009 | 2:15 p.m.

Paul your comments are great. As far as my own opinion, it seems to me that when presented with logical facts many intelligent people will at least listen, even if they don't immediately change their mind.

I think (again, I may be way off base here) that many people opposed to CCW on campus have some unbased fears, which I will attempt to examine:

1 - "What if the gun accidentally goes off while I'm in class!" Well, this is a certainly a legitimate concern. Let me start off by saying that the ONLY way this can happen (in any modern firearm; certainly not Grandpa's musket) is if said person is walking around, sitting in tight lecture-hall chairs cocked and locked (for the non-gun owners, "ready to fire.") A gun literally can't go off unless the trigger is pulled, so what you're really saying is you're afraid someone might accidentally pull the trigger with a round in the chamber. That said, I submit that trained, licensed CCW holders are *far less likely* to make than mistake than untrained, non-law-abiding people on campus. I know I would NEVER sit in one of those tiny lecture-hall chairs with a loaded weapon in my back pocket - I value my life too much.

2 - "What if someone has had a bad week and goes nuts?!" Again, someone could do that NOW. As long as you are 18 and pass the NICS (Google it - background check) you can legally purchase a firearm in Missouri. Therefore, I submit that allowing CCW on campus INCREASES the level of protection because there will be armed, trained people ready to STOP the untrained, unbalanced person who has had a bad week.

3 - "What about people who get drunk and own firearms? Won't this make it more risky they'll do something stupid/dangerous?!" Not any more than it already is. Again, as I said above, plenty of people legally own guns and (please verify the statistics; I don't have time) get hurt each year due to alcohol-related incidents. Bottom line, if you're at a party or somewhere and someone stumbles out of a room drunk with an AR-15 and starts blasting shells, do you want to be able to neutralize that threat or would you rather take your chances hiding behind a couch?

4- Lastly, allowing students to carry concealed does not mandate that they do so. Using a firearm for any reason other than defense is still a punishable crime. Additionally, just as MU would have the right to enact it's own policy prohibiting concealed carry, I assume that many residence halls would enact such a policy immediately - there is already a policy prohibiting students in residence from storing firearms in their rooms.

(Report Comment)
Jason Lockwood April 22, 2009 | 8:59 a.m.

I won't try to address all your points but consider this regarding your quote:

"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."

By allowing concealed carry on campus we will be removing one more potential target for a mass murder where the offender can all but guarantee that their victims will be unarmed. If, as you state a shooting on campus is an "extremely rare, hypothetical event" then why have legislation creating a gun-free zone (victim disarmament zone) to begin with?

Just food for thought.

(Report Comment)
Jim Hollis April 27, 2009 | 12:52 a.m.

Katy, the only way to reduce the benefit of throwing a thimble of tap water into the ocean is to toss an empty thimble. Well, you certainly succeeded with your empty facts, no logic....only flowery hyperbole. Your masters thesis will be in trouble with a similar performance.....unless you are presenting on some liberal social issue where facts are merely an inconvenience....such as anti-gun issues.

Do you support the Constitution and Bill of Rights? Or, like the current Administration, find the Constitution and Bill of Rights merely "inconvenient documents"? Do you recognize just those portions, such as the First Amendment (1A), that support your position? With your command of the English language, which words do you not understand in "...the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"? Whuih words exempt MU campus from that right?

Concealed carry is not intended to solve MU violations. Your hocus pocus illusion to detract, trivalize the issue by citing only murder/attempted murder is more liberal hyperbole. Do you think concealed carry may only be used against murder/attempted murder? What do you think VT's report stated the day before their tragedy? The day after? What about rape/attempted rape, assault, robbery at MU. Oops, inconvenient to your hyberbole??

I don't buy a $39/year service contract on a $300 computer monitor. I fix it or buy another, as I can tolerate the loss. I maintain insurance for losses which I cannot tolerate ... totaling $50,000 car; $500,000 home fire; $1,000,000 medical bills. Excercising my Second Amendment (2A) right is insurane for a intolerable loss of my life by an assailant...or loss of freedom by a tyrannical government.

Where does Katy Steinmetz, the MU administration, or politicans feel justified to deny MU students their right to excercise their 2A right? Why should one lose their 2A right by stepping onto MU property? You would object were it 1A freedom of speech on MU campus being debated!!

Should a Cho type crazy begin shooting students in your masters class. A Wyatt Earp just might be your only hope of writing your next fluff article. He might not save you, but at least you might have a chance. Replace Wyatt Earp with Sarah Brady, Nancy Pelozi, Chuckie Schummer or Barack Obama. You can bend over and kiss your ass good-bye, because they believe you should be denied your 2A right. Well, if it is Obama, you would have a great chance because of his concealed carry Wyatt Earp team (Secret Service)....what a hypocrite!!!

(Report Comment)
John Jones May 1, 2009 | 1:56 a.m.

I don't think you were around when the MU professor was stabbed and set on fire in the parking garage. Nor were you around when a Columbia Police Officer murdered a student. I do know you were around this fall when the robberies occurred on the running track. Yes, you are right booze is statistically the largest crime at MU, but the same is probably true in downtown Compton. As long as I’m around I hope drinking tickets always out number murders! I hope you are not working on a Masters in Journalism, as your current article as written is woefully lacking.

(Report Comment)

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