Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Packing a pistol on college campuses?

The University of Illinois "quad" is the new battleground in the state's political fight over firearms. Should people be allowed to carry holstered firearms while walking amidst the students studying under a tree, lying in the sun, or playing frisbee? Photograph provided by University of Illinois.

Although it has been nearly 28 years, there are two moments I remember clearly from my “freshman orientation” session just before I began college.

One was the cute blonde sitting a couple of seats from me (who wound up having next to no interest in me whatsoever during the course of the next four years), while the other was the moment that we were all told that any firearms we might own were not allowed on the Bloomington-based Illinois Wesleyan University campus.

“DON’T BRING YOUR guns,” we were told. “You won’t need them here.”

That actually turned out to be the case, as the only violent crime I remember occurring in Bloomington, Ill., during my time living there as a college student involved the death of the Hendricks family, for which husband/father David Hendricks was tried, convicted, sent to prison, then later acquitted once the appeals courts overturned his conviction (It remains officially an unsolved crime).

The idea that I would have required a pistol in order to keep me safe is just downright absurd. The very real argument could be made that anybody packing a pistol on campus would have been a threat, instead of a protection.

And no, I don’t remember anybody, not even my fellow students who came from rural communities who had hunted in their lifetimes, actually bringing their shotgun – or any other weapon – to campus. A firearm would have been out-of-place.

SO IT IS from that perspective that I ponder the political people who seriously are debating whether or not people should be able to carry a pistol on their person when they’re on a state university property.

It is all part of the “concealed carry” legislation now pending in the Illinois General Assembly. A legislative committee dominated by rural members gave the bill its recommendation, and there is some belief (including reports by the Capital Fax newsletter) that the urban majority that controls the state Legislature is going to throw the “blue dog” Dems this one “bone” as compensation, of sorts, for the fact that we now no longer have a death penalty in Illinois and that the income tax is going up this year.

Of course, the key to reviewing the effectiveness of any piece of legislation is to study how many exemptions exist. The General Assembly may have approved a tougher Freedom of Information Act to make it easier for people to get public information. But they also have been creating many exemptions that some people now believe the FOI act to be weak and toothless.

So in the spirit of exemptions, the universities are saying they want to be exempted from the “concealed carry” act – should it become law.

THAT PERSON WALKING down the street with a pistol in a shoulder holster would find that his concealed carry “permit” would not be worth the cardboard it is printed on once he sets foot on university property.

That has the National Rifle Association upset. The Bloomington Pantagraph newspaper (the hometown publication for the communities that host my alma mater AND Illinois State University) reports that the NRA is determined to fight the idea of a total campus ban on weapons.

They want to create the image of some person bringing their child to college, and having to fight off a vicious attack – but being unable to because their holstered pistol would suddenly become illegal.

That last sentence creates such an absurd image that it ought to be readily apparent. About the biggest conflict I could see occurring on that college “move-in” day is a fight for the best parking spot while the family unloads junior’s belongings from the van or rented truck.

THERE IS SOME talk of political “compromise” on this issue, although the compromise being discussed comes across as ridiculous – allow the exemption inside university buildings, but not for the entire campus.

How many exemptions will be granted here?
Firearms proponents argue that many college campuses are extensive properties that dominate their host cities, and some are adjacent to major thoroughfares through town. In short, an outright ban could also restrict firearms possession and movement in their municipalities.

Which wouldn’t be the worst thing possible, if one looks at the issue rationally. But I don’t know how one says that the holstered firearm is illegal inside the university building, but becomes legal once one walks out the door.

Do we really need students walking across the quadrangle at the University of Illinois while packing “heat?” Would we require students who are carrying a pistol to check it in once they enter an academic building?

IT’S ALSO NOT like an exemption for academia is unheard of. The bill being considered by the General Assembly already exempts elementary and secondary schools, and childcare facilities, among other types of places. Does that mean that once a person turns 18, they lose the right to be protected from armed people?

This argument is more about scoring ideological points. The NRA types who are trying to push this down academia’s throat likely are more interested in telling university officials what they should be doing, rather than trying to do anything that would bolster campus security.


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