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21.5.08

Public, liberty best served by concealed carry on campus

Unfortunately in politics there’s no meter that filters out emotional advocacy from critical, rational thinking in debate about issues, and the issue most muddied in this session of the Louisiana Legislature by that tendency has been the idea of permitting concealed handguns on college or vocational-technical campuses courtesy of state Rep. Ernest Wooten’s HB 199.

Some oppose the bill because they do not understand the research behind the issue nor the common sense. The title of John Lott’s seminal work on the issue basically says it all: More Guns, Less Crime. In his follow-up The Bias Against Guns and in other scholarly articles by himself and others, he makes the case airtight and demonstrates the flaws in critiques of that view. Simply, when handguns are permitted to be carried concealed by qualified, licensed owners crime decreases because prospective criminals are less likely to believe they can bring overwhelming force against potential victims.

Yet, from the testimony given by college police official and administrators, they appear not to grasp this basic truism about human psychology. Campus police generally oppose the measure because the focus of their concern is inappropriate: they are concerned about having a monopoly of force in any situation and this measure legally reduces that if the possessor of a handgun decides to use it illegally (regardless of whether they have possession of it legally, which this law does not address). A better set of priorities places public safety above police safety, which allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons, as research and common sense shows, accomplishes.


Some police and administrators object that even in extreme situations where citizens must come to the defense of the campus, they are not “trained” in those situations or, worse, may mistakenly believe such a situation exists when it doesn’t. But that argument fails logically because there’s no conceptual distinction between a campus and, say, a movie theater, shopping center, public auditorium, etc. There’s nothing different between a campus and almost every other public gathering place except that the campus is a state institution, and there is no compelling reason why they should be treated differently than these other locations (unlike something like a courthouse where prisoners and their confederates may wish to incite violence). Either the state should allow weapons anywhere that an overriding public safety concern doesn’t exist, or nowhere; there’s no theoretical justification as to why campuses should be treated differently.

Regrettably, emotion as well as an inability to think critically does come into play such as in remarks by outgoing Commissioner of Higher Education Joe Savoie. In public testimony Savoie argued against the bill because he quoted some isolated sources (whose work generally has been funded by anti-Second Amendment rights groups) that argued concealed carry laws don’t save lives. But what he didn’t reveal was that practically no scholar argues that more guns increase crime. (A useful, if dated, survey compiled prior to Lott’s second edition of More Guns, Less Crime and prior to his publication of The Bias Against Guns is here.) That being the case, why not err on the side of liberty and allow it?

With his slanted argument that reflects advocacy rather than scholarship, Savoie also makes Louisiana academicians look bad when he uses an inane analogy to distract from the real issue:

Savoie said bill proponents argue that “the best defense is a good offense” when it comes to legislation in the wake of college school shootings at Virginia Tech, LSU and Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge. “That’s the same as saying more cars on the interstate will help reduce accidents,” Savoie said. “It just doesn’t make logical sense.”

Of course not, because it’s the wrong analogy. Savoie is trying to argue, with his references to past episodes were gunmen were able to murder on campuses that prohibited concealed carry because no one nearby had a gun, that more guns create more carnage. But the purpose of a gun is to bring force against somebody else, while the purpose of a car is to get somewhere, not to use it against other people with cars. This syllogistic apples-and-oranges comparison that is attempted to be passed off as wisdom adds to the embarrassment heaped upon Louisiana higher education that it would have such a muddled thinker as its leader.

The worst that can be argued about HB 199 is it will expand liberty and not affect homicidal rampages on state campuses, but more likely it will make campuses safer. The bill deserves passage; otherwise, legislators are derelict in their duty to protect the public that elected them to office.

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