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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Reinventing the Second Amendment: HB 1261 Exercise in Rhetoric, Not Public Safety

Oops -- there goes my NRA rating....

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:

  1. Reiterates rights already guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 6, Chapter 24 of the SD State Constitution;
  2. Allows legislators to roll out their cowboy rhetoric about protecting their kids and stopping bad guys;
  3. Give the NRA and Second Amendment Sisters an opportunity to claim a great legislative victory;
  4. 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:
  1. SD Politics Heppler notes that Glenn Reynolds views this legislation as "civil rights progress."
  2. SD Moderate expresses skepticism.
  3. Northern Valley Beacon offers agreeable reply and suggests the legislature direct its attention to another valuable instrument of self-defense... and BS-removal.


  1. "My preferred method of self-defense is "duck and run."

    People tried that at Virginia Tech, and look what happened to them. If one person had a firearm other than the bad guy, that whole deal could have been put to an end in a hurry, before several more people were killed or injured.

    Restrictions on gun laws only keep honest people honest. The bad guys will always get the guns they want, no matter what law is on the books. Why not allow law abiding citizens their right to bear arms?

    With the exception of an airport where security is tight, do you think geographic gun restrictions will prevent violence? If you believe that it will, you live in a naive world.

  2. O.K., I might not just duck and run; if I get a clear shot, I might chuck my stats book at the shooter.

    I'm not advocating any restrictions; I'm just saying I don't feel a compelling urge to carry a gun (or have the disposable income to buy and maintain one right now). But HB 1261 isn't getting rid of any restrictions; it's just political hot air that lets the legislators talk tough and ignore big issues. And I'm still wondering: what does HB 1261 actually achieve that can't already be enforced under the federal Second Amendment and SD Article 6, Chapter 24?

  3. Ah, but according to Regents Policy, you can be expelled or fired if you carry on campus without the permission of the University President, concealed carry permit not withstanding.

  4. Right -- so carry your weapon on campus, get cited, then take the Regents to court and argue Second Amendment/SD Article 6 Chap. 24. NRA gets a nice court victory, Regents get constitutional egg on their faces.

  5. Am I missing something or is the blaring reason why this bill is so ridiculous just too simple for some people to see? The argument here is not about being able to pack heat under your winter coat while on campus for protection. We live in South Dakota, the pheasant hunting capital of the US. Not to mention the numerous other types of wild game that we hunt in SD; where do you think all thousands of state (as well as out of state) hunters that go to college as a student or professor are going to be storing their firearms when going to school?

  6. The real issue here, that I believe folks may be missing, is that the SD Board of Regents do not have the authority to usurp the 2nd Amendment or the SD Constituion, and the legislature is correcting that error of judgement on their part. Further, it is a tragedy to force incoming freshman into the dorms, and then create a policy to restrict firearms on campus, de facto restricting their rights with respect to self-defense in what would be their "new" homes.

    HB 1261 does not legalize guns on campus. It simply restricts the SD BOR from removing that right. (Of course, it will de facto allow citizens to arm themselves on SD campuses.) As for letting the court system take over and score a victory in what will be a lengthy and costly fashion, blah! The legislature is going pro-active to save the time and money on what is obvious.

    AND, as for the issue of protection in the event of a crazy student, I agree with 'wp finley.' Even if one couldn't stop a shooter in the event of a tragedy like the VT shootings, allowing the students (AND FACULTY) of having the potential option for defense with a weapon is infintely more desirable than having them unarmed as a result of some policy created by a group of unelected folks (who were appointed to lifetime positions by the Governor).
    As a former Staff member of a SD college would lived on campus, I do not feel as though I would have even mentioned that I had a weapon, and I do not think I would ever have had to use it. That does not give anyone the authority to take that right away from me, and I did not own a firearm at the time.

    There is no reason, no reason, that a reasonable people should be restricted from protecting themselves. No reason. And the very idea that the BOR (and I have met them, all.) should take on the "responsibility" of protecting students, staff, and faculty by disarming them is utterly ridiculous. They will not be the shield I "duck" behind if I was in a position of danger. Simply put, I do not put my faith in T. Tad Perry or Harvey Jewitt, I put my faith in my experience trigger finger and my .40 Magnum Research 'Baby Eagle.'


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