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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

This week Leonard Pitts ran a piece about gun control. My favorite columnist talking about an issue I feel strongly about – of course I was going to read.

According to Mr. Pittz,

You haven’t heard about the gun dorm? Well, back in August, the University of Colorado announced it was segregating students with concealed carry permits in dorms of their own on its campuses in Boulder and Colorado Springs. This, after the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that struck down the school’s ban on people bringing guns on campus. So, now a student 21 years or older who has a permit may be armed in the dorm or even in class, though not, for some reason, at a school event requiring a ticket.

Apparently the Denver Post wanted to do a story on the new dorms and so asked how many students had actually signed up to live in tight-quarters with other gun-carriers. It turns out none had signed up for the special housing. The paper “speculated on a few reasons for this: Maybe there are not enough students with carry permits who live on campus; maybe students with such permits find it more convenient just to sneak their guns into the old dorm.” But Mr. Pitts suggested a different reason. He thought that these college students, in a rare streak of good common sense, decided the college lifestyle, complete with high-stress, little sleep, and much boozing and drugging, may not be the best environment to introduce guns into. I’ve now spent as many years living, working, and studying on college campuses as I spent in K-12 schools (scary, I know) so I know that’s not an unreasonable fear.

I’m glad Mr. Pitts brought this issue up because I hadn’t heard of the Colorado law. (Interesting, since I’m pretty keyed in to this particular beat of the gun control fights.) He brings his usual passion and strong writing to bear on the issue, and it’s really worth a read if you like his stuff. But I have to admit – I was also a little disappointed with the direction he’s taking this. He talks about the gun dorm flop as an outbreak of students realizing if their roommates have easy access to a gun, that this puts them in greater danger.

This is a common tactic with fans of gun control because on some level it makes sense: fewer guns means fewer crazy people (and fewer non-crazy people just having really bad days) have guns. Which means less threat that the man on the bus or the customer who just walked into the store or the student in the next dorm down is going to start shooting at me. That line of thought makes sense, in the abstract, and the only way I know to shoot it down – pardon the pun – is to say that when “good” people have guns too it actually makes “bad” gun owners less likely to use their guns. Or it will help them address mass shootings because they’ll be able to shoot the shooter (or something) before he can kill so many people.

I’m not convinced guns work as a deterrent, and I sure don’t think they work to stop a shooting in progress. TV shows notwithstanding, you have to be a first-class marksman to shoot into a crowd and hit the shooter rather than a bystander, particularly when you’re being shot at yourself. It also makes it harder for those who are trained with how to handle this situation to see who the actual shooter is. Remember the Gabrielle Giffords shooting? Two bystanders pulled out their guns, and one almost shot the other. So in principle it seems like gun control laws out to decrease violent crime.

The problem is, social science doesn’t exactly bear out that line of reasoning. As Dan Baum argued over at Harper’s</a>, “the Centers for Disease Control – no friend of the gun lobby – evaluated fifty-one studies on everything from the effectiveness of gun bans to laws requiring gun locks, and found no discernible effect on public safety by any of the measures we commonly think of as ‘gun control’.” (Also see the note at the bottom of the piece, where a reader accuses Mr. Baum of misstating the CDC’s findings, and Mr. Baum replies.) To be fair, the belief that concealed-carry permits decreases gun crime has its critics, too.

My point isn’t that there’s no truth to be found on this issue. I absolutely believe that some combination of gun control policy, training for gun-owners, and rhetoric on the part of those trying to restrict gun ownership and carrying so you don’t put responsible gun owners – they do exist – on the defensive, that there’s some combination of those things that actually helps reduce gun violence, and violence generally. And I also absolutely believe that good social science can help us find that proper balance. I don’t think we’re there yet, and I don’t think the absolutist tones this discussion takes on in American politics helps anyone get there. But I do think, as Moulder and Scully put it, the truth is out there. And it would definitely be good to find it and act on it.

Here’s the problem, though: for me, gun restriction isn’t about my safety; it’s about the idea that I don’t have to carry a gun to protect my safety. Mr. Pitts says that Colorado students recognize they’re safer with fewer guns around and act on that fact, and he thinks this is a good thing. But what if the evidence pointed a different way? What if you could prove to me that if I just carried a gun and was ready to use it, that would be such a deterrent to crime, I’d take away the small chance I’d get shot at some point in my life? I live in a reasonably safe neighborhood and don’t put myself at risk, but there’s still a small chance that I’ll be shot at some point before I die. There’s even a small-but-still-there chance I’ll die from gun violence. If there was some magic bullet that could take away that chance, why shouldn’t I be all over it?

Because, quite simply, everything has a cost. I know what it’s like to shoot a gun, and that power was overwhelming to me. I don’t want to do it again. I also don’t want to bre told that to ensure my personal safety I have to give up my right not to be prepared to use deadly force against a human being. I realize that’s my choice and that’s my risk and I’m not necessarily asking other people to choose to live similarly. But I get irritated when news stories like this turn on the assumption that we’re all safer with less guns around. For me, the gun control debate is really about much more than that. One of the reasons I like living in a society so much is the assumption I don’t have to protect myself, that a combination of armed police and simple love-thy-neighbor spirit will fill in that gap without my having to arm myself.

Personally, I think Mr. Pitts is on to something. Whether or not gun control in general is the best way to fight violent crimes, I definitely think inviting stressed-out college students to arm themselves is a less-than-stellar idea. I’m also glad that he’s bringing this story to peoples’ attention. Still, I do wish he and other journalists writing about gun control would dig a little deeper on stories like this. It’s not just that I’m safer when fewer people own a gun, even if that sentence turns out to be true. It’s that I live a better kind of life when I go at it gun-free.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2012 10:13 pm (UTC)
Odd timing, that you should post this right when I've started serious training in gun handling and safety in preparation for applying for a concealed carry permit. I'm not sure I have much to add to your essay, except that I agree with your observation that firing a weapon at a target (much less at something living) is a profoundly unsettling feeling - one that I think everyone should experience at least once in their life. It tends to make one reflective (unlike Hollywood portrayals of violence, which are the exact opposite in terms of the feelings about violence they induce.)

As for the Colorado dorm - well, to own a handgun you have to be 21 years old, and the majority of handgun owners aren't interested in going to all the bother involved in obtaining a concealed carry permit (much less actually carrying). so I'm not surprised that no one signed up for that dorm. There are probably only two or three students on the entire campus who'd even be eligible for it in the first place, and when I was a college student, most of the older students preferred off-campus life to living in the dorms. So I don't think there are any lessons to learn there.
Dec. 12th, 2012 11:28 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting point about the ages. I don't think I'd realized you had to be twenty-one myself. I can well imagine that by the time you get to be twenty-one there wouldn't be many people living on campus. (I lived on-campus all four years, but I was a rarity.)

You know, the more I think about guns and violence, the more convinced I am that there aren't simple, easy answers to be had here. I am clearly uncomfortable having a gun, and I think I would prefer it that there not be guns around me as far as that's possible. But that is my personal conviction more than anything. What bothers me more than the actual guns is the cavalier attitude we take toward guns - like they can make us completely safe and secure and have no down sides. There seems to be a real mythology about guns in this country. I think if more people recognized the risks (both psychological and physical) that go along with that kind of power I would be more open to finding middle ground. I'm a pacifist myself, but that doesn't mean I think responsible gun ownership is impossible.
Dec. 13th, 2012 12:58 am (UTC)
It's a point that's most often missed by folks arguing against concealed carry being allowed on campuses. They visualize immature students in possession of guns - but the majority of undergraduates couldn't carry a handgun if they wanted to, as they are underage. In reality only professors, support staff, and graduate students would be carrying - and most of them wouldn't bother. Carrying's a significant hassle.

As for your second paragraph: I had an interesting weekend, which I thought about discussing in my LJ but decided against because I don't want to spook any of the folks on my Friends list. I spent all of Saturday taking a class about concealed carry - not the official state course you have to take to get the license, but one that's about the nuts and bolts of what's involved if you want to be both safe AND effective carrying concealed. The morning was spent in discussions about the legal and practical aspects of carry and how to fit it into your lifestyle, and practicing fast holster drills. The afternoon was spent doing realistic simulations of possible crimes - and this is where things get interesting.

There were five of us taking the class. We were all carrying concealed handguns (real ones, but unloaded and disabled so they couldn't fire). Each of us participated in one simulation as a student (although a few of us took part as actors in other students' simulations) - so, five simulations total. At the end of those five simulations, two students were "dead," and one (me) was alive but probably injured. And one of the two students who survived did so because he DIDN'T draw his gun!

Frankly, the simulation exercises taught me that most concealed carry folks who don't bother to take anything more than the state mandated licensing course are kidding themselves if they think they're going to be effective with their gun in a real emergency. It is unbelievable how quickly a situation deteriorates from normal to life-threatening, and how fast you have to be able to draw your gun if you're going to be able to fire it in time to save yourself. (And that was KNOWING you might be walking into lethal trouble!) I think such training should be mandatory for anyone who wants to carry, as it goes a long way toward knocking the Hollywood-inspired bravado out of a person. And anyone who owns a firearm, long gun or handgun, should take a course covering their state laws regarding the use of lethal force, and going over the actual consequences (legal and otherwise) of shooting someone. Guns aren't magic amulets; they're just tools which are only useful in a very, very narrow range of situations.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )



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