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.