Lone Star Shooting

01.23.13

Lone Star College Shooting Proves Handguns on Campus Is a Bad Idea

Just in time for state Republicans’ push for handguns on college campuses comes a new school shooting, this time at Lone Star College. John Avlon on the Party of Stupid’s triumph of ideology over common sense.

The shooting at Lone Star College is a case study for why putting more guns on college campuses is a truly stupid idea.

But in an untimely triumph of ideology over common sense, Texas state legislators and conservative colleagues in Arkansas are pushing again for new laws that would allow handguns to be carried on college campuses.

Did any of these legislators ever go to college? It is hard to think of a worse idea than arming students who are—as the midday Lone Star College shooting reminds us—prone to feuds and fights that can easily escalate. Adding guns to that often alcohol-fueled mix exponentially increases the potential for avoidable tragedy.

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre clarified the contrasts Tuesday night, in a surreal self-incriminating rebuttal to the president’s second inaugural address, arguing that “Obama wants to turn the idea of absolutism into a dirty word … Just another word for extremism.” It is.

But the disconnect between fantasy and reality is a hallmark of the hyper-partisan debates we have today. When confronted with the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, only those embedded deep in the echo chamber could emerge with more guns in schools as the “solution” to the epidemic of gun violence in our schools.

Consider this: there have been four school shootings in the United States since Newtown: Taft Union High School in California; Hazard Community and Technical College in Kentucky; and the Stevens Institute of Business & Arts in St. Louis. That measurement is separate from the cops and firefighters killed or the more than 1,150 individuals murdered by guns across the country since Newtown, according to a tally by Slate and @GunDeaths. What more will it take to admit that we have a problem?

The reactionary impulse to look at school shootings and say the solution is more guns on campuses across America is a monument to idiotic group-think.

How about this reality check: American kids from kindergarten to eighth grade are 13 times more likely to be murdered with guns than children in other wealthy democracies, according to a study by the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the School of Public Health.

This isn’t subtle. It is urgent. And dealing with the problem is not inconsistent with respecting the Second Amendment. But it does require confronting facts. After all, as my former boss Rudy Giuliani used to say, “You’re always safest when you have the courage to confront reality.”

But the “Party of Stupid”—as Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has described as his Republican Party—seems unwilling or unable to confront the problem. According to one congressman who attended the GOP’s Williamsburg retreat, the issue of gun control did not even come up at the party conclave. “It might as well have been a trip to Mars,” he said. Except that we are actually exploring Mars right now.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry—who made the word “oops” immortal—is a vocal advocate of arming students and teachers on campuses, despite the strong objections of Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas system, who said guns “will make a campus a less safe environment.” It’s a statement that would shock only the Flat-Earth Society.

In the late 1990s, interestingly, the NRA was a vocal proponent of the gun-free school zones it now decries as big-government liberalism run amok. Here’s what the organization said at the time: “First, we believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools, period … with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel.” But sometimes politics changes principles.

I have no problem with increasing the number of concealed-carry permits, especially if the gun owners are trained to use their weapons responsibly. But the reactionary impulse to look at school shootings and say the solution is more guns on campuses across America is a monument to idiotic group-think, especially when confronted with the escalating body count.

Even in the romanticized days of the Old West, folks were often required to check their guns with the sheriff. And even Justice Scalia wrote in the Heller decision that “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” And the sainted Ronald Reagan backed the assault weapons ban in 1994.

But advocates of the Party of Stupid keep intruding on responsible civic conversation. The NRA’s solution—to post armed guards at every school—collided with reality at Lone Star College, which, like Columbine, had armed guards on duty. Likewise, when Perry looks at Newtown and finds blame in the “liberal media” for publicizing the Sandy Hook slaughter, and sees active attempts at solving the problem illegitimate. Instead he counsels only prayer.

By contrast, the Obama administration at least has started to enact some overdue executive orders. And there might even be hope for the Senate to pass a universal background check for gun purchases—something that 89 percent of Republicans even support, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.  But the professional activist class will pressure members of Congress to ignore their constituents.

The contrast on policy keeps being underscored by tragedies like Lone Star College. The alternative to sober, constructive constitutional action is denial, deflection, and death.