12.09.11

Virginia Tech Shooting Makes Perry's Guns on Campus Stance Look Idiotic

The governor’s support of a new law permitting concealed weapons on Texas campuses warrants new scrutiny in light of the Virginia Tech shootings, though probably not by any of his GOP opponents.

Thursday’s shooting on the college campus stained by the deadliest campus massacre in American history is likely to bring new scrutiny to Rick Perry’s support of a controversial new Texas law that makes it legal to bring concealed weapons onto a college campus.

Perry signed the landmark law in June, just three months before he began his now flailing presidential campaign.

The carry-your-guns-to-class-law was praised by gun advocates as a new frontier in the right to bear arms.

Critics can counter with the fact that nine people have been murdered in campus shootings this year alone–and at least one person has been shot to death on campus in America each year since 1991.

Four years ago, the Virginia Tech massacre claimed the lives of 33 students and faculty. It surpassed previous campus bloodbaths like Columbine and the infamous rifleman who killed 16 people from the top of the campus tower at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.

Advocates of the law–versions of which are now being pushed in Virginia and other states–are careful to incorporate the obvious albatross of these campus shootings into their advocacy. Extending the logic of “an armed society is a polite society,” they argue that if one of the students murdered in Virginia Tech had been packing heat, they could have returned fire and saved lives.

In fact, the lead legislative backer of the Texas law explicitly made such a point when arguing for its passage this spring, before tacking it onto a school funding bill. “I don’t ever want to see repeated on a Texas college campus what happened at Virginia Tech,” said Republican state Senator Jeff Wentworth, “where some deranged, suicidal madman goes into a building and is able to pick off totally defenseless kids like sitting ducks.”

It’s an almost admirable bit of argumentative transfiguration: taking the blood of slain students and turning it into Exhibit A in the case for allowing more guns on campus. The problem becomes the solution.

If only life were like the movies. The reality of encouraging more guns on campus is bar fights backed up by bullets. Or, as Virginia Tech Professor Roland Lazenby wrote in the Daily Beast, “Schools are often places highly charged with emotion and conflict.  Only an idiot could posit that guns would somehow enhance the atmosphere.”

And yet, just such an idiot–to use Professor Lazenby’s framing–is running for president. After dozens of states rejected just such a measure, Rick Perry signed the bill into law over the objections of state college presidents and police officers. Local control apparently has its limits, especially when the gun lobby is concerned.

With the funerals from this latest Virginia Tech shooting still being planned, it is worth pressing this point at tomorrow’s debate in Des Moines. And yet, it is entirely possible that Rick Perry’s position will be echoed by his colleagues on the stage, all motivated by a fear of being out-flanked on the right.

The reality of encouraging more guns on campus is bar fights backed up by bullets.

For what its worth, I’m in favor of expanding concealed carry laws, even in cities like New York. Data shows that most gun crimes are committed with illegal, i.e., unregistered, guns–cracking down on licensed and registered handguns places the burden on the law-abiding citizen rather than the criminal in question.  But the ideological absolutism that infuses our current debates imposes a zone of unreason where any reasonable restriction on gun rights–whether a waiting period or background check or gun-free school zones—is seen as a slippery slope to National Socialism.

As conservative wise man George Will once said, “the four most important words in politics are ‘up to a point.’” It should be safe to say that restricting, not expanding, guns on campus are that point. It’s the responsibility of campus security to put down the occasional deranged killer, not classmates.