Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The New Big Shot on Campus

Many say that the efforts of gun control advocates over the years have created an off-setting overreaction, one that rapidly became a social movement with major political overtones, enabling the National Rifle Association to become the most powerful lobby in the United States. Few politicians survive its focused attacks, and no GOP candidate can resist embracing the NRA’s entire policy without sacrificing his or her political career.
Well-funded from its loyal membership and America’s gun manufacturers, the NRA’s distorted interpretation of the Second Amendment – one that completely ignores the “well regulated militia” phrase in that Constitutional provision – has become a most basic plank of the GOP. There have been many laws enacted of late that expand the rights of residents to carry and use weapons. From “stand your ground” to the ability to carry a concealed weapon. The latest mass killings were just this past February 20thas eight people were randomly gunned down (six killed) in Kalamazoo, Michigan and four family members shot to death in Phoenix, Arizona on February 23rd. No real sense of outrage, really. Serial killing as usual, it seems. We’ve become inured to such horrific events.
Assault weapons, oversized magazines and even silencers have become a “fundamental right.” Even as 300 million guns are scattered about the country, weapons bought and sold at unregulated gun shows have been funneled to drug cartels, and serial killings/mass shootings (many involving schools and children) have increased in recent years. After each one of these deadly events, gun sales have skyrocketed in anticipation of strong gun control legislation that never comes. President Obama’s executive orders attempted to force background checks into the loopholes have been met with GOP pledges to undo these efforts the second a Republican president were to take office.
Some rural conservative states, like recalcitrant teenagers testing the limits of parental authority, have even moved to allow their citizens the right to carry their guns in some very strange public places. “A new Texas law requires public colleges and universities to adopt policies that will generally allow concealed carry, which has been prohibited on the flagship Austin campus. The law allows private schools to keep their prohibitions, and the most prominent among them, including Rice, Baylor and Southern Methodist, have said they will do so, but public universities were not given a choice.
“‘I do not believe handguns belong on a university campus, so this decision has been the greatest challenge of my presidency to date,’ the university president [UT, Austin], Gregory L. Fenves, said in an open letter announcing the policy. ‘I empathize with the many faculty members, staffers, students and parents of students who signed petitions, sent emails and letters, and organized to ban guns from campus and especially classrooms. As a professor, I understand the deep concerns raised by so many.’” New York Times, February 17th. But state law required even the prestigious University of Texas to toe the line. The law kicks in on August 1st.
The vision of heated intellectual debates, often found in the classrooms at the best colleges and universities in the land, punctuated with gun fire, is scary, to say the least. The very notion of college-level tenure was created to make sure that professors be free to speak and challenge conventional thoughts and theories. But worrying about a possible concealed weapon or looking at a gun slightly protruding from an student who is obviously not pleased at any statements that might conflict with his or her preconceived beliefs (justified or not) would seem to be a strong a deterrent to articulating contrary theories and beliefs. Whether from a fellow student or a professor. I cannot think of a more chilling threat to free speech.
“Faculty and student groups had called on the university to develop a policy that would comply with the law, generally allowing concealed carry, while prohibiting weapons in classrooms… But Dr. Fenves, like the panel he appointed to draft the policy, concluded that it could not be done. ‘I cannot adopt a policy that has the general effect of excluding licensed concealed handguns from campus,’ he wrote, and ‘a classroom exclusion would have this effect.’
“A national group called Students for Concealed Carry, which advocates allowing guns on campus, said the university had gone too far, violating the intent of the law. The group said it would go to court to challenge parts of the new policy, particularly a passage allowing university employees to ban guns from their offices, and another one requiring that a semiautomatic handgun be carried without a round in the firing chamber… ‘President Gregory Fenves chose to punt the issue to the courts rather than stand up to a cabal of fear-mongering professors,’ the group said in a statement.
“About 5 percent of Texans older than 21 are licensed to carry concealed handguns, but Gary Susswein, a university spokesman, said the university had no way of knowing what the numbers were for staff or students. ‘Under state law, we’re not allowed to ask people if they have concealed carry licenses,’ he said.
“Texas, like most states, allows ‘open carry’ — that is, not concealed — of firearms. But the state law allowing open carry, which went into effect this year, prohibits the practice on college and university campuses.” NY Times.
The world looks at the United States as a nation of gun-crazy cowboys, generally reducing our political credibility on the global stage. But unlike Europe, where neighboring nations have been on-again, off-again friends and then enemies, we live fairly isolated from the rest of the world, sharing a common border with two traditionally friendly nations. This isolation, combined with the pioneer rebellious values of the 18th and 19th centuries when our gun laws were born, has generated a notion of “self-defense” and a right to resist authority with violence found nowhere else in the Western world.
Here’s where UT sits now, according to the Times: “In some cases, the policy reiterates what is already in state law, barring concealed carry in bars, polling places and sporting events.
In other places, it outlines restrictions specific to the campus, that gun-carriers will have to learn and work around.
No guns in dormitories, with a few exceptions. This is less significant than it appears: More than 80 percent of the universitys students live off-campus, and a person must be 21 or older to get a concealed carry license in Texas, so most undergraduates would be excluded, anyway.
Concealed firearms will be allowed in common areas of dorms like dining halls and lounges.
Concealed carry will be banned in staff or student disciplinary hearings; in laboratories with dangerous chemicals, biological agents or anything explosive; in any laboratory or other facility that houses animals; and in any facilities that provide patient care, including mental health counseling.
People who work in campus programs for children younger than college age will be prohibited from carrying handguns while taking part in those programs.”
Strangely, I don’t even think a series of shootings on campus will reverse this law, and I suspect that even some of these minimal rules will be challenged in court. How do you feel about this law?
I’m Peter Dekom, and it is morbidly fascinating how obsessed so many of us have become with having a handy way to kill our fellow man at our side at all times.

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