Friday, February 22, 2008

Utah and Guns

When not being home to a cult which claimed until three decades ago that black people were subhuman, the state of Utah is also a place that encourages and allows its college students to secretly come to class armed to the teeth.

Utah Students Hide Guns, Head to Class

Salt Lake City, Utah (CNN)
-- The senior at the University of Utah gets dressed and then decides which gun is easiest to conceal under his clothes.

If he's wearing a T-shirt, he'll take a smaller, low-profile gun to class. If he's wearing a coat, he may carry a different weapon, he said.

He started carrying a gun to class after the massacre at Virginia Tech, but the student says he's not part of the problem of campus shootings and could instead be part of a solution.

Nick, who asked not to be fully identified so his fellow students wouldn't know he carried a gun, says he has had a concealed weapons permit for more than three years. But it was Seung-Hui Cho's murderous campus rampage that made him take a gun to class.

"Last year, after Virginia Tech, I thought 'I'm not going to be a victim,' " Nick said.

"My first thought was 'how tragic.' But then I couldn't help but think it could've been different if they'd allowed the students the right to protect themselves."

Days after another campus shooting -- in which five students and the gunman died at Northern Illinois University -- students at colleges in Utah, the only state to allow weapons at all public universities, are attending classes.

Nick says his gun doesn't make him feel immune from attack. "But I feel that I will be able to protect myself, and I'm confident in my training and my ability," he said.

His confidence is not shared by fellow student Griselda Espinoza, who recently transferred to the university. Some 28,000 students attend the school, as of the latest enrollment figures.

"I feel less safe knowing that a stranger sitting beside me in class may have a gun in his or her backpack," she said.

"The only people that should carry guns are trained officials."

University of Utah spokeswoman Coralie Alder stressed that although the school has become a poster child in the media regarding guns on campus, the debate is really a statewide issue.

"The university is following the law as determined by the Utah Legislature during last year's session, which allows concealed weapon permit holders to carry guns on university and colleges campuses, as well as other locations," she said.

Amanda Covington, Utah State Board of Regents spokeswoman, would not comment on the current gun laws on school campuses.

However, she said the regents are opposing a legislative proposal to allow people with concealed weapons permits to have the weapons visible in public.

"We are worried that it may affect their [students' and teachers'] willingness or desire to go to or teach a class on campus," she said.

The University of Utah, based in Salt Lake City, had prohibited firearms on its campus until that ban was struck down by the state's Supreme Court in late 2006. The institution, backed by all other universities in the state, is still fighting through federal courts to reinstate the ban.

But state legislators could be moving in the opposite direction, considering a bill to modify current law to allow people in Utah -- including students -- to carry loaded weapons openly.

Utah State Representative Curtis Oda said the bill, which he is sponsoring, is merely to clarify that people with weapons permits may carry a gun openly or -- with a concealed permit -- they may hide it for the sake of surprise.

He stressed that people with permits have gone through rigorous checks.

"When you see someone with a gun, you are looking at some of the most law-abiding people in the state," he said.

The issue goes beyond campus. Last year, a few miles from the University of Utah, a man walked into Trolley Square, a Salt Lake City shopping mall, and opened fire. Police were there in only three minutes, but the shooter had already killed five people and wounded four others.

"And not just shootings, but [serial killer] Ted Bundy did some of his crimes at the University of Utah campus," said David Seelly, a recent University of Utah graduate who says he carried a concealed gun on campus.

"If one of those ladies was a concealed-weapon holder, she could've stopped him before he did as much as he did."

To get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, people in Utah must, among other things:

· Be 21 years old

· Have no criminal record of violent, immoral or substance-related crime

· Be mentally competent.

Student Kevin Rechtenbach of the University of Utah said he was open to carrying a gun, but not certain that would solve problems.

"If acts of terrorism continue on campus, then I will have no choice but to carry a concealed weapon," he said.

"But you see, that is where the problem lies: Everybody will end up carrying concealed weapons, and everyday problems will be solved with guns rather than words or even fists."

The only places on campus that have restrictions are the dormitories. Students can request a roommate who doesn't carry a gun.

Private colleges in Utah, like the Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, do have more power to ban weapons on campus, but that, too, causes disagreement among students.

"I own some guns, and I wish I was allowed to have them at school," said Collin Barker, a BYU student. "I would just keep [them] in my car for target shooting."

Casey Matheny, from Plano, Texas, now studying at BYU, appeared indifferent to the debate over students carrying guns.

"I don't mind if they have one, I just don't want to know about it," he said.

Rob Morrison, a BYU student from Ontario, Canada, doesn't think that having guns on campus would necessarily stop a potential killer.

"The people that do it want to commit suicide anyway," Morrison said. "But it would give students a chance to defend themselves, and at Virginia Tech, it could have ended sooner than it did."

I must say, as a college professor the thought of having to bring a gun to class, so to consider which secretly armed student I might have to kill, never crossed my mind. It is this type of psychotic thinking that is part of the problem, not the solution to campus shootings. But for all of those who think college students everywhere should be carrying concealed firearms, let us review what your little precious ones, if packing heat, will be doing on these campuses on Friday and Saturday nights.

Yes, because for every one campus shooting that could be brought to a stop, a thousand more local parties and bars nights can end in a similar fashion, as well. Now, I am not against my students having fun. Actually, minus the rioting, I think it perfectly normal for young adults to spend ages 18-22 partying, drinking, toking (on perfectly legal substances, to be sure), and partaking in other consensual activities. It is part of the experimentalism and self-discovery of youth (like if you shotgun eight beers in a row, within three minutes, can you still stand up?). However, I have no illusions that over half of these young adults are responsible enough to be carrying a water gun, not along a real firearm, to class or anywhere else. And while no one likes to consider this I have seen enough of my students in morning classes on Fridays to know that they sometimes begin their weekend rituals on Thursday evenings, too.

Well, if my state or university ever allows these beer pongers to carry concealed weapons in my class, we are going to need protection--from logically half-crazed gun-toting students who are only a temper tantrum away from becoming otherwise law abiding, "moral," upstanding citizens (as Steven Kazmierczak
was before February 14, 2008) into homicidal shooters. It is ironic that we only consider mass murderers crazy when they kill, and not when they exploit the means by which we enable them to become murderers.


Anonymous said...

Here's what I don't understand. You say you're a college professor, which assumes that you're at least mildly capable of rational and reasonable thought, then you turn around and suggest that every "beer ponger" out there is going to do something stupid if they're armed simply by virtue of having a firearm available.

People who choose to arm themselves go through checks, training, and certification. Many police officers won't write CHL holders tickets because carriers are the "good guys." Your suggestion that they're nothing more than a "temper tantrum away" from mass murder clearly shows that your sense of rational thought has been damaged, and to me calls into question your ability as a professor.

Do your homework. Look at the statistics for concealed license holders. You'll find that the people you're irrationally scared of are also statistically the least likely to commit a crime on the planet.

If one of the OTHER kinds of people, the ones with delusions and suicidal fantasies, opens your classroom doors I'll bet you'll change your views on the kids who are going to save your life real quick.

TA said...

If people who legally armed themselves were so thoroughly treated to checks and certification (even though we still have states that permit people to purchase firearms at gun shows without proper checks or certification), then Steven Kazmierczak and Seung-Hui Cho (who legally purchased their firearms, in spite of their history of mental impairment) would never have acted the way they did. The problem is you cannot measure the intent of an individual buyer. You're substituting the act of arming one's self with measuring good intent. This is the necessary evil of the second amendment, I suppose, but I prefer to keep it privatized as much as possible, and away from places that are supposed to be insulated from unlawful intent with the cover of state-sanction.

As for the statistics, the limitation is showing anything beyond a correlation to real causation. One could easily manipulate the externalities of those same studies, since statistics without causation reduce researchers to cherry picking (something that is very common in my discipline, including the numerous validity problems with Mr. Lott's database). You could run a regression and reasonably assert there is no statistically significant correlation (in fact, an inverse relationship) between states with/without conceal and carry and crime rates. Now, does that mean allowing people whose intent you cannot measure when they legally purchase firearms, like Steven Kazmierczak, will then commit these kinds of shootings? No, actually, I am sure there are outliers, as well as exceptions, but then even if we accept that there is, no study exists to show that allowing people to arm themselves in schools would prevent mass school shootings (which is not the same as allowing people to conceal and carry in everyday life). Moreover, in terms of the issue at hand, allowing students to legally come to class with firearms means having a system that substitutes individual judgment with an act that carries potentially deadly consequences (it is worth noting the last two major campus shootings have been committed by students), which must be taken into consideration when trying to expand arming one's self into circumstances and places where it is not traditionally permissible (and it is not, as this story shows, since the students who do walk around with concealed firearms hide it from their fellow students [which means they know even in their own minds the qualms most people are going to have about this, not unlike having people walking around a church or other insulated institutions with concealed weapons]).

As for the students, I am sorry to say that as a professor, and having seen this firsthand over the past several years, most of them simply are not responsible enough as young adults to own guns, never mind carrying such weaponry to class (making it potentially easier to enable a budding Seung-Hui Cho to commit another campus shooting [and correcting for other possibly armed students with body armor, higher caliber weaponry, and the such, as is typical with many armed robbers of banks and other establishments in this country over the years]). If you doubt the prevalence of irresponsible youth, go to most college campuses in this country on a Friday and Saturday night. It's a harsh statement, but I cannot recall the last retirement home or gated community I went to that had so many of its residents high and drunk during "work" hours that you had to lecture, as a condition of entry, about the dangers of such behavior (and even force them to sign statements that they would not act this way [which most universities use to wash their hands, ignore the problem of alcoholism and drug abuse on campuses, and demur that they have done all they can on the issue]). If every college in this country conducted regular drug and alcohol tests on their students, it is not an exaggeration to say that close to a majority of the students would either be expelled from college or in jail. One could chalk this up to the cultural allowance we give to young adults in college to behave like this (and most students enter college expecting it), but you cannot simultaneously anticipate responsible behavior in such an environment (unless, that is, certification was accompanied with some regimen of regular drug and alcohol testing, which Mr. Madison never had in mind [of course, he would have opposed "checks" and "certification" too, which are contemporary inventions to rationalize the passage of conceal and carry laws]).