On Aug. 1, 1966, former marine Charles Whitman armed himself with seven guns and more than 700 rounds of ammunition and went on a shooting spree, murdering 16 people in 90 minutes. The Texas legislature decided this month that in August 2016, exactly 50 years after the incident, college students all over the Lone Star State will be permitted to similarly arm themselves while on campus. The state has seemingly adopted the idea that, according to State Representative Jonathan Stickland, “an armed society is a safe society.”
Yet despite this win for “Second Amendment rights,” pro-gun lobbying groups such as Students for Concealed Carry are still referring to these new laws as only a first step, and promise to finish the job in 2017. Students for Concealed Carry took particular umbrage with regulations that allowed public universities, like the UT schools, to designate particular parts of campus as gun-free zones and allow private universities to opt out entirely.
What these gun advocates do not understand about the legislative process is that compromise is necessary, especially on hot-button issues. Gun control is a heated, national debate and has been for decades. In this scenario, where the political left and right are firmly divided, even in Texas, neither side is going to emerge with a clear victory. Moderate voters decide the majority of elections, so no state legislature will side conclusively on one side of an issue because of political retribution.
Furthermore, the Republicans in Texas who sponsored this measure have created a solution searching for a problem. There is no rash of campus violence sweeping Texas institutions of higher learning that more concealed weapons would stop. In fact, UT Chancellor Admiral William McRaven, a former Navy SEAL who commanded U.S. Special Forces during the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, has said that while he loves his guns, he does not want to bring them to colleges because guns will not make the campus safer.
McRaven has more experience in these matters than others in the debate. He’s been trained extensively to use a gun and has been shot. Most students in Texas have probably not undergone the same level of training that McRaven has as a SEAL. In a firefight, when adrenaline kicks in and heart rate increases, it becomes much harder to maintain the fine motor control necessary to safely and effectively operate a firearm. For that reason, police officers and military personnel train constantly, until muscle memory overrides human physiology. The requirements for a concealed carry permit in Texas — 21 years of age, no felony convictions and a four-hour course on gun safety — are woefully inadequate for preparing a person to handle a live shooter situation. Cops are trained to handle those situations. People with concealed weapons permits alone are not.
Texas legislators also don’t seem to understand how laws and criminality work. Representative Stickland told the New York Times, “the criminals aren’t going to obey the laws. It’s the responsible folks who we should be encouraging to protect themselves in the community they live in.” The representative is indeed correct; criminals don’t obey the law, and that’s what makes them criminals. But, arguing that “criminals won’t obey the law” is a terrible reason to oppose a law. Just because a law will not be universally followed does not mean the law should not be put in placed and enforced to the fullest extent possible. The U.S. has laws against murder, but in 2013, there were 16,121 homicides in the U.S., 11,208 of which were from firearms, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those murders do not mean that the U.S. should eliminate laws against murder. If Stickland is really worried that criminals are not obeying the law, he should write legislation to increase enforcement of current gun laws, rather than arm more people.
Legislators spent a good deal of time talking about personal responsibility, but “responsibility” and “college student” don’t always go hand in hand. From binge drinkers to excessive partiers to sleazy fraternities to rapists, American colleges contain pockets of irresponsible students. Introducing guns into this mix is a recipe for disaster.
Dan Morgan-Russell is a rising senior studying international relations, global economy.