A little political discourse bubbled up along with the vegetable chowder at the Second Street Diner last night. Some friends of mine mentioned their surprise that there had not been any apparent public outcry over HB 1261, the bill floating through the South Dakota State Legislature that would guarantee the right to bear arms on our Regental campuses.
I'll admit, I hadn't been paying much attention to this bill, because it struck me as another exercise in legislative silliness. The Regents requested a different bill, HB 1086, that would have made it a Class 1 misdemeanor to carry a firearm on campus. It wasn't enough for our legislators to simply kill this bill; Rep. Thomas Brunner (R-29/Nisland) felt the need to rustle up a counterbill, HB 1261, that guarantees your right to bring your gun to the DakotaDome:
Section 1. No public institution of higher education may regulate or restrict the right to carry or possess a firearm in accordance with state law. No public institution of higher education may expel, dismiss, or penalize any person who carries or possesses a firearm in accordance with state law. However, any public institution of higher education may require that any firearm in a campus dormitory of a public institution of higher education not in a person's immediate possession be stored in a locked gun safe.
Section 2. For the purposes of this Act only, the term, public institution of higher education, means any public postsecondary educational institution under the Board of Regents or any public postsecondary technical institute under the Board of Education.
My friend Russ should recognize that this is utterly unnecessary legislation. Following is an exhaustive list of all this bill achieves:
- Reiterates rights already guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 6, Chapter 24 of the SD State Constitution;
- Allows legislators to roll out their cowboy rhetoric about protecting their kids and stopping bad guys;
- Give the NRA and Second Amendment Sisters an opportunity to claim a great legislative victory;
- Show those egghead Regents who's boss.
This legislation does about as much good as my standing on the corner and saying I like the Second Amendment (and I actually do). As Jim Shekelton, legal counsel for the Board of Regents, points out, this legislation does little if anything for public safety:
If other people exchange gunfire with a madman in a classroom or sports arena, more people could be hurt or injured in the crossfire, Shekleton said. When law officers arrive, they might mistakenly shoot the wrong person if several people in the room are holding guns, he said.
"A free-fire zone is more likely to do more harm than good," Shekleton said.
The best way to prevent mass shootings on campuses is to improve the response when students or others exhibit disturbing behavior, Shekleton said. Last year's shooting at Virginia Tech was caused by a breakdown in identifying and handling a disturbed student, he said.
"By the time the weapon is drawn, it's too late," Shekleton said.
[Chet Brokaw, AP, "House Panel OKs Bill Allowing Guns on Campuses," Rapid City Journal, 2008.01.30]
As Dr. Newquist, a former soldier and professor, points out, even the military puts strict regulations on when and where its trained personnel can carry weapons:
As a soldier, when I was not on maneuvers during which time our weapons were super-glued to our persons, our weapons had to be locked up in the armory, and they were not allowed in the barracks rooms. When on guard duty, we had to sign out our weapons and ammunition, which had to be checked in after each tour. (We were generally issued three rounds for guard duty.) [David Newquist, "Required for Class: Textbooks, Notebooks, and an AK-47," Northern Valley Beacon, 2008.01.23]
I've spent a lot of time on our public campuses. The only time I have ever felt a significant threat to my safety was back in 1991, during the SDSU Hobo Day riots. But even then, my Hansen Hall compatriots and I didn't lock and load; we just stayed inside and kept an eye on the doors. I also recall one cowboy carrying his baseball bat and a sufficiently mean look in his eye to ward off any rioters (or KSFY news crews).
Call me naïve, call me unmanly, but, free as I am by the laws of our great nation to get a concealed weapons permit, do some target practice, and swagger about with a gun under my jacket, I've never felt a compelling urge to carry a firearm. My preferred method of self-defense is "duck and run." And my preferred focus for education policy is supporting research and educational opportunities, not phony rhetorical exercises for legislators.
Alas, as Dr. Newquist points out, our legislators have different priorities:
With all the issues we have to face in education, it is reassuring to know that our legislators are so involved with improving the campus environments so that students can focus and concentrate onl their academic work. And with the state education officials concerned with things like regional higher education centers, research labs, laptops (computers, not dancers), and substance abuse, it will be good to have kids parading around with fire arms to elevate the intellectual dialogue and maintain the purpose of the higher education institutions [Newquist].
HB 1261: when you absolutely positively have to dodge the real issues and play macho games on the public dime, it's the bill for you.
Update 2008.02.03 07:50 CST: More takes on HB 1261: