In August,1966 a gunman named Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas-Austin with three rifles, two pistols, and a sawed-off shotgun. He fired shots at 43 people, killing 13. The shooting was the first on a college campus, and it hit the physical heart, the main pedestrian plaza of it. The story become the focus of a novel Monday, Monday, by Elizabeth Crook that was first published last year.
At the end of 1966, according to Texas Monthly, the Associated Press and United Press International ranked the shootings as the second most important story of 1966, behind only the war in Vietnam. The massacre would spur the creation of SWAT teams across the country. Because such tactical teams did not exist at the time of Whitman’s crime, many students had risked their own lives to fire back at the unseen sniper, or to help wounded strangers to safety. –Whitman was not gunned down from the crowd of private citizens; a police officer fired the shot that killed him.
This year, in the very city where Charles Whitman committed mass murder, the Texas Legislature passed a law allowing concealed carry on college campuses. Other states have these laws that allow college students to bear arms on campus, regardless of whether they are, or not, serving in the military or are commissioned as a police officer.
The wisdom behind concealed carry is that an assailant would not have committed a murder if everyone has a gun, that more people feel safe when everyone can fight back. The problem is that when everyone has more of anything, there are more people who know how to misuse it. This is more serious with guns than practically anything that anyone could buy.
I have some personal interest in this issue, having written a novel, Defending College Heights, the story of a murder on a college campus. In researching the story I read a great deal about the May 4,1970 shooting at a student protest at Kent State University. There shots were fired into a crowd. Students who were not involved in confronting the National Guardsmen on campus nor the university’s administration were killed or seriously injured. That day no private citizens fired stray bullets, trained soldiers did.
These are some of the dangers with concealed carry on a college campus.
• College students act irresponsibly having fun–and they could serious injure, even kill others, if they play with guns or if a gun misfires.
• Guns require care and attention. Those who neglect them risk serious injury. maybe death, to themselves or others. Take a look around any college campus and see the cars that some students drive. The more beaters you see, the more you should worry if their owners also had guns.
• College students who have not received military or law enforcement training do not have the mindset to aim and fire a gun at a human being as a means of defense.
• A scene akin to the 1966 shooting would be in a war zone. Most college students have never had the experience of being attacked in a war. They do not know how to act, when to remain calm, and the right moment to attack.
• There will need to be a process to certify college students as competent to use a gun. This would include mental and physical competence as well as marksmanship.
• The job of campus law enforcement professionals becomes difficult when students who have committed crimes also have the capability to fire a gun in their direction.
The numbers of arrests and crimes on campus would actually rise, not fall, as a result of students being able to carry guns. The bully who can shoot would have less fear of stealing from those who bear no arms, or would not be afraid to use a gun to intimidate. The less experienced gun owner could end up on the short end of an argument with a more experienced one.
This week I had read that one recent UT-Austin graduate had an appropriate response. Instead of carrying a gun on campus, she carried a sex toy. More than 4,000 people have signed up to do the same on the first day of fall classes next year as a protest against concealed carry. No doubt this women has received the types of looks that suspected murderers receive after they have been arrested. But that is precisely the point. Her protest illustrates how foolish this law is, as well as the foolish of the people behind it.
I have no objections to hunting for sport, even for colleges having extracurricular programs that allow students to learn to hunt or target shoot under controlled conditions with experienced trainers. The same is true for military training on college campuses; that is managed under controlled conditions, too. But I do not want to see college campuses become a real-life version of the Hunger Games, where the ability to kill becomes too essential to maintaining order.
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