March 12, 2011 in Editorial, Opinion

Editorial: Lawmakers haven’t proven need to allow guns on campus


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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Three years ago, some Idaho legislators decided that colleges needed their help in keeping campuses safe. Colleges didn’t ask for this help. Student and faculty weren’t clamoring for it. But lawmakers still tried to pass a law that would prevent colleges from banning guns from their premises.

It didn’t pass. The state’s campuses haven’t had any gunplay since then.

Nonetheless, lawmakers are once again trying to prevent colleges from setting their own gun policies. On Thursday, the House State Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would lift colleges’ bans on guns. Those packing heat wouldn’t even be required to have concealed-carry permits.

The response from colleges has been, “You shouldn’t have. We have this covered.”

The two reasons bill proponents give for taking this decision away from colleges are safety and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The safety concern stems from the mass shooting at Virginia Tech University in 2007. The premise is that if someone had a gun, the tragedy could have been minimized or averted. That scenario makes for a nice Hollywood script, but in reality much can go wrong when random people open fire. In a 2007 shooting at the University of Idaho, a student heard shots fired, grabbed his gun from his near-campus apartment and ended up being one of six shooting victims.

Campuses are relatively safe places, so colleges cannot be blamed for fending off the zeal to fix this “problem.” Weapons are routinely barred from places such as schools and taverns because they’re a bad mix. K-12 campuses have experienced gun-related tragedies, but their bans still make sense.

Yes, college students are adults, but with a large asterisk. Many of them are not mature enough to avoid binge-drinking, drug-taking and fistfights. Many students are also grappling with the psychological issues that stem from their newfound independence and the transition into adulthood. A significant number of suicides occur at this age.

As a Boise police lieutenant – and lifetime National Rifle Association member – told the House panel, “Conduct that most adults feel is risky, young adults feel is pretty fun. As a campus police agency, we feel strongly that adding weapons to this mix will mean our college students are less safe.”

As for the Second Amendment argument, all of the rights in the U.S. Constitution are subject to limits. You can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theater; you can’t bring your Glock onto campus. The Idaho bill even has constraints, saying that bans can remain in place at undergraduate student dormitories. In January, the Virginia State Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a George Mason University ban, saying it did not infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Before introducing guns into the mix of fraternities, parties, sporting events and young people coming of age, the Idaho Legislature ought to first demonstrate the need. Those closest to the issue – the colleges themselves – say there isn’t one.

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