February 18, 2008 in Opinion

Our view: Regulation of firearms should be left to schools

The Spokesman-Review
 

Julianna Gehant was a 12-year Army veteran who survived service in Iraq only to be cut down on a college campus. Stephen Kazmierczak killed five people and wounded 21 others during his rampage Thursday at Northern Illinois University. He then killed himself. The shootings brought back the horrible memories of last April, when a gunman killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech University.

These shocking massacres have provoked fear, despair and anger. A lot of anger.

After the Virginia Tech slaughters, gun-rights groups began urging campuses to rescind their bans on weapons for those with the proper permits. But colleges have held the line on gun bans, so legislatures around the country have been approached. Twelve states are considering legislation that would allow people with concealed-weapons permits to bring guns onto the campuses of public universities, according to USA Today. The Northern Illinois shootings are sure to intensify the debate.

Utah is the only state that allows permit holders to carry guns on public campuses. There’s a bill in the Washington state Legislature that would bar campuses from outright gun bans on campuses, but it isn’t likely to gain enough support. However, a similar bill in more gun-friendly Idaho might have a chance.

The idea is based on the movie-like fantasy that a calm, quick-thinking person could head off a tragedy or at least minimize it with a well-placed shot. Last May in Moscow, a University of Idaho student in an off-campus apartment heard shots, grabbed his gun and went outside. He ended up being one of six people shot. Three were killed. Then the gunman killed himself.

It’s human nature to focus on a specific event and wonder whether it could’ve been avoided. Likewise, it’s common to forget the bigger picture when grasping for solutions.

Lawmakers need to think of the overall consequences of introducing guns to colleges. Students who were killed at Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech were in classes and lecture halls. But that’s not a complete picture of student life. Most students are on their own for the first time. Some struggle with independence and responsibility. That’s why colleges are notorious for binge-drinking, drug use and disputes that deteriorate into violence. Check the log of any campus police department.

Introducing guns into the volatile mix at fraternities, dorms, parties and sporting events is plainly dangerous. Could armed students and instructors head off the rare campus rampage? It’s possible. Gunbattles could also make it worse. Or perpetrators could merely adjust their strategies to the new reality.

However, the chances of dying during typical college days would increase if guns were toted along with textbooks. This is a decision best left to individual schools.


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