How can we make college and university campuses safer? That is what Tallahassee legislators are appropriately trying to determine, particularly after a shooting last November at Strozier Library at Florida State University (FSU) that gravely injured two students and one employee.
In February, three were injured at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. Campus safety is important, but the legislation being proposed is not the answer.
Florida is one of 20 states that prohibit firearms on college and university campuses, but that could change. Tallahassee legislators are debating whether to allow adults, 20 years old and older, and who have concealed-weapon permits, to carry their firearms on Florida campuses.
That could include keeping the firearms in dorms. Proponents of the bills, which are supported by the National Rifle Association, argue that that armed students can thwart a mass murder before police can arrive at the scene, and that the Second Amendment lets citizens protect themselves from danger.
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Detractors say that the proliferation of firearms will only increase the danger on campuses in a state where guns kill all too frequently.
Both arguments are right and wrong; both sides are guilty of predicting circumstances and outcomes that are impossible to know in advance. It is a complex issue.
Proponents of the campus “conceal and carry” legislation are right that guns by themselves don’t kill, people kill. While firearms are sometimes used for evil purposes, by and large they are used for sport and security. There are almost 1.3 million Floridians with concealed-weapon permits; most are responsible and law-abiding citizens.
Armed and deranged people, mostly men, tend to look for unarmed and/or unsuspecting targets to kill. Perhaps if more people were armed, including students and professors, lives would be saved.
It is also true that mass shooters can be stopped on the spot by a bullet as was the case of the assailant at FSU who was shot by police officers.
Opponents of the legislation argue that the country is engulfed in a culture of guns and violence that breeds lawlessness. Universities and colleges should be a place of learning, not armed camps. Campuses tend to be casual environments with shared venues. Students with firearms, either in their backpacks or dorms, would be hard-pressed to keep them safe from others. It is also true that college is both exhilarating and stressful. There is little attention given to mental-health needs. Young adults away from home for the first time face many educational and social challenges at once. Alcohol and drug use is higher. It is the way it is.
Does giving students, faculty and administrators permission to carry a concealed weapon on campus provide for greater safety? If the answer were yes, the problem would be solved.
Reason and experience, however, do not take us there.
Gun violence on campuses is perpetrated by emotionally disturbed people who don’t care about the Second Amendment. Most plan the attack and seek to catch their victims off guard.
Perhaps someone who has a concealed weapon permit can intervene but are they trained to respond to a surprise attack? It’s possible but not likely. Can students ensure that their firearms will be safe in a dorm or backpack? Again, it would be difficult since campus living is a shared space. That is particularly important considering that suicide is the second leading cause of death on campuses.
Assuming that a legally armed student, professor or administrator tangles with an assailant, how will the police who arrive at the scene determine which of those armed is the good guy or the bad guy?
This is not an argument against the Second Amendment; it should be respected. This is an argument that the issue isn’t that simple.
If Florida were to approve this measure, it would become the eighth state to permit firearms on campuses, following Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon and Wisconsin. In the FBI’s uniform-crime report, Idaho and Utah ranked as some of the least violent of states, 44 and 45 respectively, while Florida is eighth in violent crimes nationwide.
The problem of gun violence isn’t as prevalent on college campuses as it is on our streets. That is where our children are in greater danger.