Monday, April 30, 2007

Concealed Weapons Permits and Campus Safety

Michael Barone has a well-balanced commentary on the politics of gun control in the current issue of U.S. News and World Report. His remarks are especially interesting on the topic of concealed weapons permits and campus safety. Here's his introduction:

The murders two weeks ago at Virginia Tech naturally set off a cry in the usual quarters -- the New York Times, the London-based Economist -- for stricter gun control laws. Democratic officeholders didn't chime in, primarily because they believe they were hurt by the issue in 2000 and 2004, but most privately agree.

What most discussions of this issue tend to ignore is that we have two tracks of political debate and two sets of laws on gun control. At the federal level there has been a push for more gun control laws since John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and some modest restrictions have been passed. At the state level something entirely different has taken place. In 1987 Florida passed a law allowing citizens who could demonstrate that they were law-abiding and had sufficient training to obtain permits on demand to own and carry concealed weapons. In the succeeding 20 years many other states have passed such laws, so that today you can, if you meet the qualifications, carry concealed weapons in 40 states with 67 percent of the nation's population (including Vermont, with no gun restrictions at all).

When Florida passed its concealed-weapons law, I thought it was a terrible idea. People would start shooting each other over traffic altercations; parking lots would turn into shooting galleries. Not so, it turned out. Only a very, very few concealed-weapons permits have been revoked. There are only rare incidents in which people with concealed-weapons permits have used them unlawfully. Ordinary law-abiding people, it turns out, are pretty trustworthy.
Barone suggests that many of the policy-related fears of concealed weapons laws have proved unfounded, even in liberal states (his example is Michigan and Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, who's one the Wall Street Journal's regular "whipping girls" on Michigan's allegedly disastrous fiscal policies). Here's what Barone says about about Virginia Tech:

Virginia has a concealed-weapons law. But Virginia Tech was, by the decree of its administrators, a "gun-free zone." Those with concealed-weapons permits were not allowed to take their guns on campus and were disciplined when they did. A bill was introduced in the House of Delegates to allow permit holders to carry guns on campus. When it was sidetracked, a Virginia Tech administrator hailed the action and said that students, professors, and visitors would now "feel safe" on campus. Tragically, they weren't safe. Virginia Tech's "gun-free zone" was not gun free. In contrast, killers on other campuses were stopped by faculty or bystanders who had concealed-weapons permits and brandished their guns to stop the killing.
Barone notes he favors sensible gun control reform, but read the whole thing for yourself. As Barone mentions in the introduction, The Economist's issue on the Virginia Tech tragedy made a big case for gun control. However, the Wall Street Journal's initial editorial about the tragedy warned against a gun-control overreaction, and noted that:

A better response than gun control would be to restore some of the cultural taboos that once served as restraints on antisocial behavior.
I'm not a big fan of gun control, but's the issue's coming to a head -- especially following the recent D.C. Circuit Court ruling nullifying Washington, D.C.'s, strict firearms ban. I'll be blogging more about the issues surrounding the Virginia Tech massacre in the weeks ahead.

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