Guns on campus
Let?s get some things straight: I don?t own a gun; I have never fired a gun; and I don?t plan on ever doing either.
Every discharge of a firearm is part of a tragedy. Some are based on the harm they cause; others, the harm they prevent. I believe students have the right to protect themselves from harm.
At present, campus policy prevents students from storing or carrying any firearm or deadly weapon on campus except with specific exceptions made by the chief of campus police. There are three basic reasons a student would want to have a weapon on campus. The first is if a student wanted to store a rifle for use in off-campus hunting. The other two are for handguns: attacking and defending. It is understandable that people would be wary of allowing students to carry deadly weapons freely around campus. Professors might fear that entire classrooms would be filled with students armed to the teeth and ready to fire at the first instructor who gives them a grade they don?t like.
Aside from that, professors would also be allowed to carry weapons, these students have little preventing them from carrying out these actions now. Pennsylvania is a ?shall issue? state. I?m over 21, I?ve never been convicted of a felony, and I?m fairly sure I could pass the safety requirements. Except in the City of Philadelphia, the sheriff of my home county is required in these conditions to issue me a permit to carry a concealed firearm.
Professors might think that the University?s policy protects them from a classroom filled with weaponry. They should consider how many students would bring guns but for the policy. At institutions that allow them, only about one in 20 students carries a weapon of any type. Most students willing to refuse a professor?s request not to bring weapons into the classroom would refuse to follow the current policy anyway. Assault with a deadly weapon is a felony in the first degree in Pennsylvania; faced with those charges, no one is going to care about violating a University policy.
I am not advocating violence against anyone. The fact is, crime happens. Over the last few years, our campus has seen aggravated robberies and the occasional sexual assault. To suggest that weapons are a catch-all solution to these problems is foolish, but the Pennsylvania constitution states quite prominently that citizens have the right to defend themselves using weapons. Felony charges far outweigh anything the University could do to a student who exceeds his rights. The University?s policy therefore only seriously affects students who legally protect themselves by using a registered weapon.
Parallels can be drawn to the school shootings that have occurred around the country. In the last few weeks, we have watched as one tragedy unfolded in a school in Minnesota. A student murdered his grandfather and his grandfather?s companion, then took the weapon to school and killed a half-dozen of his classmates before killing himself.
I am not so presumptuous as to assume that other students? carrying weapons could have prevented any of these school shooting tragedies, except possibly by deterrence. If the school?s paranoia had not prevented them from arming their security guard I believe there is a good chance tragedy would have been averted. School shootings at the high school level occur in spite of similar zero-tolerance weapons policies. The state should not permit minors to arm themselves, but additional responsibility is often afforded college-level students over high school ones; this issue should be treated no differently.
Another consideration is training. No one should ever handle a loaded weapon without proper training; it is one of the basic requirements for owning a gun. Carnegie Mellon should never tolerate an improperly trained student?s owning or operating a weapon, because the state does not. But this cannot excuse CMU?s not accepting gun ownership by properly trained individuals. Protecting students from some guns by prohibiting all is directly opposed to the University?s usual handling of such issues. For example, the University permits alcohol for those legally allowed to consume it ? albeit with some restrictions. Similar restrictions could easily be enacted, such as a requirement that weapons be locked up when not in use or the creation of specialized living areas like those now offered as ?substance-free environments.?
Obviously, were Carnegie Mellon a public university, the situation would be quite different. Public university firearms are more numerous; as agents of their respective states, they are effectively required by law to permit legal weapons on campus. George Mason University in Virginia, known for its conservative student body, recently was petitioned to allow weapons on campus. The State of Utah has concealed-carry laws approximately equivalent to Pennsylvania?s, and its attorney general has ordered its public colleges to change their policies to permit guns, in compliance with state law.
As a private institution, Carnegie Mellon is not required to respect a weapons permit like these public schools, but it has never offered a reason other than nebulous claims of safety. The University makes known quite well that it aims to preserve our First Amendment rights ? as they should ? but not our right to self-defense. The federal constitution can be debated about whether or not it merely means weapons in militias; Pennsylvania?s constitution clearly states that the right to bear arms in defense of oneself shall not be abridged by the state. From the standpoint of the academic integrity the University claims in First Amendment matters, they should accept the balance of our rights.
Carnegie Mellon has established a weapons policy in the interest of protecting all who come to its campus. I follow the policy and respect University officials for doing what they think is best. But because the policy is only preventing legal uses of items deemed acceptable by Harrisburg, it carries no weight.
If the University cannot adequately protect us from the maniacal use of firearms, students should be permitted to carry theirs for protection.