Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Guns in Dorms (redux)

So apparently a hallmark this year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly is going to be the reintroduction of bad bills … about which I’ve written posts in prior sessions. A few days ago I wrote about the bill to require students to recite The Lord’s Prayer (Republicans Want to Require Indiana Students to Recite The Lord’s Prayer (Redux)). Now it’s time to re-examine the brilliant (sarcasm!) idea of allowing college students to carry guns on campus. This year’s bill, Senate Bill 97, has been introduced by Sen. Jim Tomes and Sen. Jim Banks (and now also co-authored by Sen. Greg Walker) and is much more detailed (and problematic) than the “simple” version introduced in 2009 by Sen. Nugent (and discussed below). So here is what I wrote about the 2009 version of this really, really bad idea. At the conclusion of my original post, I’ll offer some new thoughts on the 2013 version of the bill.

For every good bill introduced in the Indiana General Assembly, there are a handful of bad bills. And each year there are also a handful of bills that are so bad that they are just idiotic. Senate Bill 12 (authored by  Sen. Johnny Nugent, R-Southeast Indiana) is the winner (at least so far) of dumbest bill of the 2009 legislative session. The bill would add one new chapter (consisting of once sentence) to the Indiana criminal code:

A state educational institution may not regulate in any manner the ownership, possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms or ammunition.

When I first saw this bill I presumed that it was in response to the tragic events at Virginia Tech University and Sen. Nugent’s letter to the editor of The Indianapolis Star (in response to an opinion column opposing the bill) confirms that presumption. While I understand (well, kinda…) Sen. Nugent’s desire to allow college students to pack heat in order to protect themselves from nutcases who might be intent on violence on campus, it doesn’t take much thought to see why SB 12 is a really, really bad idea.

Let’s consider a few things. First, most students don’t live by themselves on campus. Thus, the gun, when not carried by the student, will likely be sitting in a dorm room to which many other people (roommate(s) and friends, for example) will have access. My freshman dorm room was often a bit like Grand Central Station and there weren’t many good hiding places. And remember that college roommates don’t always get along (I used a jar of gefilte fish when I needed a little privacy; my Korean roommate preferred to use his mom’s kimche). Fights among roommates (whether merely verbal or escalating to something more) are not uncommon. Add to this brew the fact that we are talking about young adults, many of them away from home for the first time, often under a great deal of stress (presuming that they are taking their studies seriously). Do we really want to introduce guns into that situation? Oh, I forgot to mention alcohol. Last time that I checked, use of alcohol (and even drugs) was fairly common on college campuses. And we know how well guns and alcohol mix.

And let’s go back to Virginia Tech for a moment. I suppose that the shooter might have been stopped had another student been armed. Maybe. But unless the other armed student (students?) really knew their way around their firearms, how much collateral damage (i.e., other students) would have been caused. Police officers undergo extensive training before being allowed on the street with a weapon, but virtually anyone can obtain a license to own a gun. If you are the parent of a college student, would you be comforted to know that your child might be protected from a crazed serial killer by other students with concealed weapons? Or, are you more concerned that those weapons will pose an even greater danger to your child than the rare serial killer?

And ask yourself this: Why limit this statute to colleges? Why not allow guns in high schools or hospitals or courtrooms? Maybe if the passengers aboard the planes on 9/11 had been armed, they would not have been hijacked (of course, the passengers defending the planes might have shot out windows and caused the planes to crash anyway…)! Maybe we should require everyone to have a gun! Yeah, that’s the ticket. If we all have a pistol on our hip, an assault rifle on our shoulder, a few grenades on our belt, and maybe a rocket launcher strapped to our back, no one will mess with us and we’ll be free of crime and violence forever! Of course one little misunderstanding could get pretty ugly, very quickly, but I guess that is the price that we should pay for safety, right?

Sarcasm aside, I think that guns are dangerous. They are supposed to be. But when it comes to college campuses, I think that students will be much safer in a gun-free environment. Sure, from time to time someone may come along with a means and motive to do harm. That, unfortunately is part of our society (of course, if that person had a more difficult time obtaining a gun in the first place…). But to address that rare occurrence by allowing yet more weapons is simply asking for trouble and yet more  violence. We should be looking for every opportunity to reduce the chance of gun violence rather than increasing that chance in order to reduce the isolated really bad instances of gun violence.

Please call your legislators (remember, you can check the Indiana General Assembly’s “Who Are Your Legislators?” page to learn who your legislators are and get their contact information) and tell them to oppose Senate Bill 12.

Now in 2013 we have Senate Bill 97 which covers far more than colleges and universities. It applies to all state agencies (but specifically includes colleges and universities) subject to a limited list of exceptions. Thankfully, those exceptions do address many of the most important places where guns just don’t sound like a good idea! Most. Not all. Interestingly, the Indiana Statehouse is included in the places exempted from the bill. But the bill would prohibit a college or university from a general prohibition of guns on campus or in dorms. And, for the reasons set forth above, that seems like a really, really, really bad idea.

But that’s not the only troubling aspect of SB97. Nope. This bill also gives aggrieved citizens the right to sue the State of Indiana and win damages. Most statutes that prohibit or require governmental inaction/action do not provide citizens a right to sue, or, if they do, they do not permit the recovery of damages. SB97 includes not just the “private right of action” for a citizen who has been “adversely affected” by a state agency (or college or university) that prohibited guns in violation of the statute, but also permits the recovery of damages and attorneys’ fees.

So just think about this for a second. Not only would this bill allow guns to be taken onto college campuses, but the authors of the bill are so enamored with that idea that they’re willing to force the State of Indiana to pay money in case a state agency were to try to keep guns away. The State could be forced to pay a citizen for, you known, trying to protect other citizens. Talk about a good use of the State’s resources! (Sarcasm, again.) I’m curious, though, whether Sen. Banks, Sen. Tomes, and Sen. Walker are similarly willing to put the State’s money at risk in the event that a person is injured by a gun at a state agency or university that didn’t do enough to protect the person who was injured by that gun?

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