Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Tom Walton

NRA losing battle to allow guns on college campuses

THE NATIONAL Rifle Association is a lobbying colossus in this country, and it doesn't like to lose a political battle. Fortunately, the NRA is losing one that makes you scratch your head and ask yourself, "what were they thinking?"

What they were thinking is this: The gun lobby believes America's college campuses are dangerous places for your children to be and wants the states to enact laws that would forbid any attempts to keep guns away from university classrooms, research labs, office buildings, arenas, dining halls, and dormitories.

Yes, you read that right. The NRA wants to force the people who run our colleges and universities to allow guns on campus, a place most parents hope is a safe haven for their kids while they pursue an education. No gun left behind, you might say.

That's the bad news. Here's the good news: the NRA is getting shot down in state after state. So far in 2008, guns-on-campus bills have failed to gain any traction in 15 states where they have been introduced. It's truly an honor roll - my own little Dean's List, if you will - so let's list them: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. That's 15 tries and 15 misses.

What must be especially upsetting to the NRA is the defection of states and legislators the organization thought it had in its deep pockets. When guns-on-campus legislation was pushed to a vote in South Dakota, the state Senate rejected the bill with the help of "no" votes from six A-rated NRA senators. Same story in Indiana. The legislation lost by a vote in the Senate because 10 senators endorsed by the NRA went the other way and rejected the idea. Only one state, Utah, has ever passed such a law, which on some level doesn't surprise me.

Guns-on-campus has been an NRA agenda item for a long time but the organization cranked up its lobbying effort after the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007, when a mentally disturbed student opened fire in a classroom building and killed 32 students and faculty members, including a professor with Toledo connections.

I wish I could tell you that Ohio and Michigan have joined with all those other states in aggressively repudiating the idea of arming our college campuses, but the fact is that only two states still have pending legislation that could do just that, and their names are Ohio and Michigan. The good news is that neither legislature is in a hurry to act. If that's repudiation, I'll take it.

As you might expect, law enforcement officials charged with keeping the peace on our college campuses don't like turning them into armed camps either. Gene Ferrara, chief of police at the University of Cincinnati, had this to say to CNN not long ago: "I don't think the answer to bullets flying is to send more bullets flying. My belief is we ought to be focusing on what we do to prevent the shooting from starting."

Amen to that.

Gun violence anywhere is horrifying. Do we really want to prevent our universities from banning firearms from their campus communities? Like it or not, many college students drink. Often to excess. Do we want to put a beer in every hand and a gun in every pocket? Should sports fans be permitted to bring guns into a football stadium?

The answers seem so obvious. Even if only 21-year-olds were initially able to carry weapons on campus, pressure would mount to lower the age to 18. It just seems to me to be someplace we don't want to go.

The Supreme Court of the land agrees. Though the court narrowly ruled late last month that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is a personal right and not a provisional right linked to preserving public safety, the court also made clear that it was not messing with long-standing laws prohibiting firearms in what it called "sensitive places" such as schools and government buildings. Every building at a public university is a government building.

College students themselves think guns on campus are a bad idea. Toledoan Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, remembers an appearance before a class of about 150 students at the University of Cincinnati. She asked their opinion about allowing students to carry guns. All but "a handful" were opposed, she said. What about professors, she asked. This time the response was unanimous: no way. There was nervous laughter but a point was made.

I know the argument of the other side. When the Virginia Tech shooter opened fire, they contend, another student carrying a gun might have ended the rampage shortly after it began. But would another student have had the presence of mind, the skill, the coolness to prevent Cho Seung-Hui from gunning down so many classmates? Perhaps. It's also possible a shootout would have made the carnage worse.

What happened at Virginia Tech remains extremely rare; it could occur more frequently if guns abound. Cho had already been judged in court as mentally "defective," yet he was able to purchase the two handguns he used in his deadly assault. It seems to me that's a greater problem in Virginia than rules against guns on campus.

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