Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't Close the Campus

There have been three basic responses to the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech. I will go through them by process of elimination. The first is to promote even more gun ownership. The idea here is that armed people will protect themselves by shooting back. Now, well-intentioned people can disagree, but my common-sense intuition is that this is not the right approach. More guns in student dormitories, for example, or in classrooms, is going to lead to more people getting shot. It is fantasy to imagine that if everyone is armed, no one will be shot, or even that less people will be shot. The second option is prevalent in the media coverage and commentary today, the day after the shootings, and is the main reason I am addressing this issue today. Many people want to respond by increasing security, and thus decreasing access, to college campuses. This has been done for many high schools and elementary schools, the commentary goes, so why not universities? As a career public university professor, I disagree. The state university (or any college, for that matter) is not the same as a secondary school. It is all about community access, to public lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, exhibits, extension courses, group meetings, demonstrations, blood drives, and many more kinds of events. Shutting the doors to the public with security checkpoints, locked gates, ID requirements and so forth is necessary sometimes (dormitories ought to have strict security, for example, but also laboratories and other facilities), but in general the campus should be as open as possible, and we should not capitulate to a violent few and lose the benefits that communities enjoy because of nearby universities. That leaves the third option: gun control. Compare our statistics on gun shootings with the rest of the world: it is worse only in a tiny handful of countries, Columbia is the only one I can remember hearing is worse. Obviously we have a problem. It is one thing to say that citizens have a right to own guns, another to say that obtaining guns and ammo must be easy. Making it harder to buy guns and bullets works to reduce gun violence, period. Let's hope we move in that direction.

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