Friday, December 05, 2008

Mrs. Scholar's December column 

Barbara started off writing about a forum on guns on campus, but the focus seems to be her intro noting the relevance to what has happened in India. She concludes:
Gun control is part of �security theater,� in which we believe these measures make us safer without any compelling evidence (and with, quite possibly, good evidence to the contrary.) The contrary evidence is debated and vilified, but the surrender of Second Amendment rights is upheld as progressive and modern, while Mumbai mourns.
Consider the following picture and quote:

But what angered Mr D'Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. "There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back."

As the gunmen fired at policemen taking cover across the street, Mr D'Souza realised a train was pulling into the station unaware of the horror within. "I couldn't believe it. We rushed to the platform and told everyone to head towards the back of the station. Those who were older and couldn't run, we told them to stay put."

The militants returned inside the station and headed towards a rear exit towards Chowpatty Beach. Mr D'Souza added: "I told some policemen the gunmen had moved towards the rear of the station but they refused to follow them. What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera."

But of course Mr. D'Souza could not have a gun under India's inherited laws. And a camera would be all a student would have on a college campus.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Heller and universities 

Following onto yesterday's post, I note this article (permalink for Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers) that quotes university officials thinking the Heller decision on gun bans has left the door open to finding campus gun bans unconstitutional.
In elaborating on the decision, Justice Scalia wrote that the "court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

On the surface, that sentence appears to protect the policies of colleges and universities that prohibit students from carrying guns on campus, said [lawyer] Mr. [Robert] Clayton.

However, the Supreme Court ruling might leave open the possibility that a campus ban on firearms might be challenged on the basis that a particular campus was not a "sensitive" environment, he explained.

The word "school" is often interpreted to mean an elementary school or high school, so one line of reasoning goes that we can't be sure this is supposed to apply to colleges and universities. Another issue is where the school is located.
Even if they remain in place, campus gun bans may be less effective if cities are not allowed to enact tight gun controls, said Mr. White, because the majority of shootings involving students in urban settings occur not on college property but in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Would it be unreasonable to ask that universities keep a lockbox at the edge of campus (at a few different locations) so students would be able to pick up their firearms as they walked home from campus, even while continuing to ban them on campus? Does the Court intend to differentiate between rural campuses and urban, and if so how?

I sincerely doubt the higher education establishment will give up campus gun bans without a fight; I end up agreeing with this article that there is an invitation by the Court to bring the fight to them.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Throw the book (or video) at him 

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed this week (temp link; permalink for subscribers) discusses "survival training for campus shootings." Seems about time, yes? So what are they recommending?

...some campus-safety experts say colleges must better prepare those who do not wear badges. In April the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators published "The IACLEA Blueprint for Safer Campuses," in response to the Virginia Tech incident. The group recommended that colleges train students and faculty and staff members in how to respond to such emergencies. Among the training methods it recommends are residence-life programs, orientation sessions, and print and digital materials.

Although colleges everywhere have developed training programs for their employees, many stop short of asking students to think through how they might react if they heard gunshots in their building.

That's a mistake, says Randy Spivey. "Since Virginia Tech, there's been a lot of focus on law-enforcement response strategies and notification procedures," he says, "but very little on what to do if you're that person in the event."

"[R]residence-life programs, orientation sessions, and print and digital materials" to do what? Let's go to the taskforce report. I see twenty points, most of which deal with what the campus security forces should do. Under a heading "Prevention and Education Programs to
Address Campus Safety Risks" is point 19, as close as we get:
Faculty, staff and students should be trained on how to respond to various emergencies and about the notification systems that will be used. This training should be delivered through a number of delivery options, such as in-person presentations (i.e., residential life programming; orientation sessions for students and employees); Internet-based delivery; and documents.
Give them another training, it appears. So what is two paragraphs later? As an "ancillary issue",
IACLEA does not support the carry and concealment of weapons on a college campus, with the exception of sworn police officers in the conduct of their professional duties.
They follow this with a position statement (on page 12 of the report) making it clear they don't want students with guns, using the claims that students would accidentally discharge their weapons "where large numbers of students are gathered or at student gatherings where alcohol or drugs are being consumed, as well as the potential for guns to be used as a means to settle disputes between or among students." And, they argue, in a situation where an active shooter was present, the campus police could have problems distinguishing between the bad guy and the student with a permitted weapon acting in defense.

Instead, they want students to get training videos (watch the trailer and ask, do you want this in your child's dorm orientation?) and pamphlets. They also want (point 16) criminal background checks on all students, faculty and staff,and to have "behavioral assessment teams" including public safety officials to decide in advance which student is potentially a threat to campus (point 17). Qui custodiet custodiens?
Photo courtesy Joel Rosenberg, who really needs to comment on this.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Mrs. S writes about SCCC 

This month's column is on the protest of the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. Her view:
The counter argument: If students are allowed to carry concealed weapons, their lack of emotional maturity might lead them to draw the weapons when provoked by something trivial. But this argument rests in the mistaken belief that guns are completely stopped by a law or a sign. There are no metal detectors. Students and staff are on their honor to obey the ordinances. Someone who wants to cause mayhem with a weapon is not going to be deterred by a sign.
Thanks, by the way, to the many generous offers to take me to a shooting range. We're working out details for a safety class and practice shooting soon.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Stripping the empty holsters 

You remember our debate on campus here about the Empty Holsters campaign? At Tarrant County College in Texas, they made a much worse choice. FIRE reports:
On March 28, 2008, TCC student Brett Poulos e-mailed TCC South Campus President Ernest L. Thomas to describe an event he was organizing called an "Empty Holster Protest." Poulos had collaborated with Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC), a national organization that "supports the legalization of concealed carry by licensed individuals on college campuses." SCCC promoted a coordinated national protest for April 2008 in which students would peacefully attend class and perform other daily tasks while wearing empty holsters to signify opposition to state laws and school policies denying concealed handgun license holders the same rights on college campuses that they are granted in most other places.

In an April 10 response, Juan Garcia, Vice President for Student Development, "granted" Poulos's request to stage a protest on the South Campus, but changed the fundamental nature of the protest by banning the protesters from wearing empty holsters anywhere on the South Campus, including in the designated free speech zone. The South Campus free speech zone, according to Poulos, is an elevated, circular concrete platform about 12 feet across.

Poulos met with Garcia on April 18 and was told that TCC would take adverse action if SCCC members wore empty holsters anywhere, strayed beyond the campus's free speech zone during their holster-less protest, or even wore t-shirts advocating "violence" or displaying "offensive" material.
You can have your empty holster protest, but don't wear an empty holster? What kind of sense does that make?

The other issue in this, and the larger reason I'm posting on it, is the use of these free speech zones, which SCSU has. I had hoped that when the Code Pink protest in March had ended up having the students and their advisor apprised of the policy that both liberal and conservative students and faculty might come together and ask that this policy be eliminated, replaced by the sensible restriction to not permit the disruption of classes. So far, all we have seen is further questioning by students of the speech rights of preachers who come to campus. As the Tarrant County story makes clear though, the zones' existence permits a curtailing of free speech far greater than just a time restriction. Public expression zone policies are an invitation for censorship.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Empty holsters at SCSU 

This week many campuses are seeing students protesting their inability to carry a concealed weapon while at school. The protests consists of students going about their business while wearing an empty holster (and one that is clearly seen as being empty.) The group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus have organized themselves for a second such protest (the first occurred last October.)
The two purposes of an Empty Holster Protest are:

1. To represent to the public that students, faculty, and guests on college campuses are left defenseless or, metaphorically, with empty holsters.

2. To start a dialogue with students and faculty members who may not know the facts of the issue.
Last Friday, the campus communications office sent out a notice telling us that this was happening here, explaining the protest with the link I used at the top and this:
Participants will be wearing t-shirts and EMPTY holsters and handing out flyers. The national organization sponsoring the protest has made it clear that students are NOT to carry anything inside the holsters. Students will not carry signs or banners and have made a commitment to avoiding any disruptive behavior. Behavior outside the promised parameters may be reported to Public Safety...
I must say that last sentence worried me. I have no recollection of any notice on our campus letting people know to report "behavior outside the promised parameters". Those parameters are determined by the letter that the group is having all the campus chapters use. In short, they can wear the empty holsters and t-shirts (which are a little too expensive, so the students here have said they would eschew them) and can speak to people who ask about the holsters, but they would not approach any groups or hand out literature.

To its credit, the administration issued a statement Monday morning that clarified that the students' speech rights were to be respected, from President Earl Potter under an email titled "Peaceful Protest This Week":
I recognize that this protest comes at a time when our sensitivities to safety on campus have been heightened by recent events. Nevertheless, I need to remind us all that while individuals in a university community may disagree with the opinions expressed by the protesters, we have the responsibility to be tolerant of their views and must not retaliate against advocates for these views. We must remember that these students have the first amendment right to free speech and the right to protest within university guidelines which prohibit disruption or interference with classes or other university business.
The flow of campus email, which over the weekend had faculty and staff looking for ways to stop the protest turned to decrying the students' insistence that they be allowed to advocate for guns, because guns are bad, or that guns are only desired by people who wish to do us harm. (Of course, articles like Arthur Brooks' in last Saturday's WSJ fall on deaf ears. Mitch, by the way, has an excellent commentary on that today.)

Some of the early comments included (direct quotes):

These were before the President's letter, and all were thinking that somehow it could and should be stopped. Afterwards, the comments turned to:
I did not participate much in this discussion, as I realized how little I knew, but one would have to say that if the purpose of an Empty Holster Protest was to start a dialogue, they certainly got that. The question is, what happens after starting it?

Through students I knew on campus I was able to speak with two participants in this protest, Terrance McCloskey and Bill Jacobson. They agreed to meet me and another faculty member interested in First Amendment issues, Kathy Uradnik, in my office. McCloskey identified himself as a licensed firearms instructor, though so far he has taught only one class. Both came wearing empty holsters.
I placed the holster for my Treo alongside theirs; I then put my Treo in Bill's holster. It was a little small for the holster, but it was snug. As you can see from the picture, they are not obvious to anyone not looking closely, and any claim that they would be disruptive to the classroom seems a real stretch to me.

SCCC has advocated that each student group provide notification to the campus they are participating in the event. The SCSU students -- which they reported numbered "around 30" and included "a majority of the Student Government Association body" -- sent notices to Public Safety and to the student organizations group. They received a call about their "proposed" protest from administrative vice president Steve Ludwig, to whom they reported again that the holsters would be empty. They told me Ludwig expressed concern for negative emotional reactions to the holsters, which given the quotes above from faculty would seem well-founded. They also reported that they had a few students participate in the October protest as a test run. One student at that time had grabbed the holster Jacobson was wearing, "to check to see if it was empty." Other than that, there had been no reaction.

I asked if there was more reaction this time. Jacobson said that he had six people talk to him in the last two hours. McCloskey said he had not gotten any reactions today. They had had reported to them that one Public Safety sergeant had told a watch that they should be on the lookout and write up reports if any of the protesters got out of line, and one report was that a faculty member, well known to us, had started to approach them to talk but then backed away. Protesters are instructed not to approach anyone; I asked if they had literature to hand out if they were asked, but McCloskey replied that they had no money to print flyers.

We spent time reviewing other complaints and reactions. It is worth reminding people that the age at which one could get a permit is 21, so that some of the concerns of guns in the hands of "young people whose good judgment is not yet in full blossom" has been contemplated by the law already. We discussed restrictions on less-than-lethal alternatives like TASERs and pepper spray. Students can't carry TASERs either, Jacobson said, and the campus' student handbook extends the gun ban to "any other weapon."

Longtime readers of this blog know I do not own a gun. I haven't fired one since getting my rifle merit badge in Boy Scouts. I tried a handgun at that time, but not since. A couple of years ago Littlest wanted to learn about shooting a rifle, so we sent her to the classes and I went and watched her field class. She was 11. She was excited to try this, but she also was very respectful of a gun that day.

I share the fear many of my colleagues have of a handgun insofar as I am ignorant of their use. My conversation with McCloskey and Jacobson had one very strong impact on me: I was more aware afterwards of how little I know. I have no way of knowing, for example, how much a person trained to carry a concealed weapon would know about protecting the weapon from an attacker, the poise they have in dealing with intruders, the background checks one gets to be sure one is not a loony. I'm hopeful of changing that soon, to take advantage of one of my several invitations to learn how to handle and use a handgun. Not necessarily because I want a permit to conceal and carry -- how would I know if I wanted one? -- but in order to reduce my ignorance.

Which is why I got into this business anyway. Teaching in a university is supposed to put one in the ignorance reduction business. I suggest this as an antidote to the fear that the faculty above expressed: Yes, we should learn about campus safety and what we can do to increase it, but we should also overcome the fear that is borne of our ignorance about guns. We should practice what we teach.

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