Managed comfort trumps physical security on campus

It occurs to me while reviewing the endless electronic reflection on the VT incident that the gun control crowd and their sympathizers don't offer any rational, realistic arguments against allowing students to carry on campus. I have yet to see one person actually volunteer a concrete reason why it should be disallowed. What we get instead are appeals to emotion based on perceived feelings of vulnerability.

From an otherwise decent article by Lila Rajiva:

However much we may support the second amendment, do we really want students packing heat in their book bags, as filled with alcohol, drugs and partying as most campuses are today?

From a VT administrator:

The writer would have us believe that a university campus, with tens of thousands of young people, is safer with everyone packing heat. Imagine the continual fear of students in that scenario. We've seen that fear here, and we don't want to see it again.

From a journalist:

Moreover, guns on campuses could turn smaller confrontations into major incidents. As drinking is a large part of university social life, a common drunken brawl could escalate into a deadly duel if firearms were present.

Many students don't get to hand-pick their roommates in residence; imagine the discomfort of sharing a small room with a stranger who keeps a gun under his or her pillow.

If there are guns in residence and around campus, violence could spread beyond the university confines and into bars and other nearby places.

What do all of these opinions have in common? Simple: they are examples of disarming people on the grounds of vague fears. We just don't like the idea of students carrying firearms. Students are unpredictable and potentially irresponsible, and that scares us, so let's take that idea off the table. Let's ignore the fact that guns are just as deadly to the bad guys as the good guys, and that shooting a bad guy is one very straightforward and undeniable approach to solving the problem.

Since we just can't imagine a campus with students packing heat - the very thought! - it's therefore out of the question. Because some students act irresponsibly, they're somehow different than other adults who act irresponsibly. The college campus is some sort of sanctuary where otherwise normal adults are treated like children and insulated from the real world.

However, as much as we like to think universities are special, utopian, open places for young people to explore adulthood, the rules of the real world don't change when the school's boundary is crossed. As this author argues in response to a resolution opposing student carrying, those who don't want guns on campus need to offer more substantive reasons to prohibit others from protecting themselves. Moreover, opponents need to take responsibility for their feelings instead of expecting that others change to make them more comfortable (all emphasis mine):

This resolution claims that because some people will *feel* unsafe knowing that others on campus might be armed, no one on campus should be armed. The resolution does not claim that allowing people to carry on campus will *actually* threaten the safety of others, or result in more crime. It cites no evidence that jurisdictions allowing concealed firearms have higher crime rates than those that do not. Instead, the premise of proposed resolution is how some people's lifestyle choice (carrying a firearm for self-defense) make others feel: if this choice makes people feel unsafe, then this lifestyle should not be tolerated.

If a *perceived* threat is a valid criterion for forbidding lifestyle choices, what other regulations should the college impose? To my knowledge, mace and pepper spray are allowed on campus. Many students take martial arts classes, often to learn self-defense, and, as an UGGS representative trained in martial arts told me, those highly skilled in a martial art consider their own hands and feet to be weapons. If enough people felt unsafe because someone near them *may* have mace or be skilled in a martial art, should the University enact prohibitions to allay these feelings?

These days, might people have a rational fear of Muslims and those who look as they are from the Middle East? If the presence of such people on campus makes other uncomfortable, should UGGS support legislation prohibiting such on campus? What about those prejudiced against blacks, who think they are all crooks? What about *their* feelings? Or is the University to encourage some forms of prejudice and stereotyping while condemning others?

Many people believe that listening to heavy metal, playing violent video games, and reading pornography, and hate literature makes people more likely to commit violent crimes. If enough people are uncomfortable with these goods on campus, should they also be banned, or should people take responsibility for their own emotions?

Isn't taking responsibility for one's feelings a major part of growing up - the kind of growing up that one does, at latest, while in college? The only reason to treat the university and college campus as a place where the rules are different is to promote a sense of insularity and paternalistic management that, as the VT incident demonstrates, is largely hot air. Even thought they're treated as children who party and cut up and need to be taken care of, the reality is that they are adults who cannot shirk their responsibility anymore than any other adult.

I simply do not see any campus firearms opponents offering concrete reasons why students shouldn't be allowed to defend themselves with weapons. Where is the substance to their arguments? Are we now prizing our emotional innocence over our physical well-being? Or are we just so drunk with the illusion of managed security, where we pay certain people to do the dirty work of armed defense for us, that we can't even acknowledge when the system fails? That's the argument Brad Spangler makes:

By allowing provision of security services only by establishment controlled sources, we are kept in a perpetual state of helpless infantile dependency - unaccustomed to notions of independence and personal responsibility the ruling class might find inconvenient. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is turned by the ruling classes toward the end of keeping the exploited classes in a constant state of anxiety. Like a monopolistic drug dealer with a safe turf protected by bribed cops, the product of security is doled out solely at the convenience of the people in charge, so as to keep the junkies enslaved. The result is a systematic inculcation of learned helplessness of the sort domestic violence opponents would surely recognize. Its impact on the oppressed is not confined to strictly the issue of arms and crime, as this security rationing induced helplessness shapes the overall attitude of the oppressed.

If gun opponents want to remain in this state of helplessness, where they prefer to stay dependent on "licensed", "trained" "professionals" (who will always react after the fact), then that's fine. They can live in their institutional fairy tale land where they don't ever have to endure the burden of living in the real world. For the rest of us, however, we're ready to start facing reality by taking responsibility for ourselves, our security, the security of those around us, and our ever-so-delicate sense of comfort.

Nobody is saying that guns are a panacea, but then again, neither is centrally managed security. But guns are deadly to the innocent for precisely the same reason they're deadly for the guilty. It seems to me that tackling the problem from both the centralized and decentralized positions is a good response, if actually being better prepared for a similar future incident is our goal. But if just feeling warm and fuzzy is the goal, well, why even engage in this debate at all - why not let the experts argue it? If you're just going to let others decide what's best for you, no matter the situation, why even speak up?

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Written on Thursday, April 19, 2007