One of the themes of The End of the American Century is the exaggerated and destructive aspects of "American Exceptionalism"--the tendency for Americans to see themselves as exceptional, different and better than other peoples and countries. This takes extreme form in the combination of individualism and violence in this country, which is manifested in the peculiar (and exceptional!) obsession with individual gun ownership. The prevalence of firearms in the U.S.--almost as many as there are people--contributes to some 30,000 firearm deaths each year, and a homicide rate that is far higher than any other industrialized country.
For people in other countries, the levels of violence and the prevalence of guns in the U.S. invoke both amazement and horror. Global opinion surveys show that the two most common negative characterizations of Americans by foreigners are "greedy" and "violent." They contribute to the growing disillusionment with the U.S. (and with American citizens) in other countries, and to the view of the U.S. as being violent both in its foreign policy and inside its own borders.
In recent years, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been pushing for the adoption of "conceal carry" laws in the states, and lately has been arguing for laws that would allow more guns on college campuses. They claim to see this as a way to avoid tragedies like those at Virginia Tech where a student killed 32 people in 2007. But few experts believe that arming students could prevent such a tragedy, and that it will simply lead to an increase in campus firearms injuries and deaths.
The NRA-sponsored bill in my state, Indiana, was introduced by a lifelong NRA member who wrote a letter to the Indianapolis Star arguing in support of the bill, Senate Bill 12. Below is my response to his letter, which appeared on the Star's website at the following link.
Nothing positive to gain from guns on college campuses
Posted: February 13, 2009
In his recent letter to the editor, state Sen. Johnny Nugent contends that "allowing guns will make our campuses safer." He is a sponsor of Senate Bill 12, which would "prohibit a state college or university from regulating in any manner the ownership, possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms or ammunition." Nugent believes that
"the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
It would seem, though, that the best people to ask about security and safety on campus are the campus safety and police departments. Nugent would find that they overwhelmingly oppose this measure, as would almost all faculty and staff on campuses (as I am). Butler University Public Safety Director is Ben Hunter was formerly an officer with the Indianapolis Police Department. When I asked Hunter his views on this, he wrote "I am against the idea of carrying weapons on campus" and continued as follows:
"As a lifelong supporter of responsible gun ownership, I can attest that educational institutions and employers should be allowed to regulate their buildings and properties. Having students, faculty and staff possibly carrying guns on campus could result in accidental discharges, a false response to a threat and untrained persons that create an operational danger for (police). Proponents of such legislation will often talk about how well trained persons can assist with these threats; the only issue is that their training does not come close to what police officers are required to undertake."
College campuses are already much safer than the community in general, with far lower levels of both homicides and suicides. Surely, this is due, in part, to the prohibition of guns by most universities. Probably the biggest consequence of allowing guns on campus would be an increase in the incidence of suicide. Suicide is already the third leading cause of death for Hoosiers of college age, but suicides are much less common on college campuses than off. Since the most common means of death in suicides is a gun, increasing the number of guns on campus will only make suicides more likely.
Before pushing this law onto colleges and universities, our legislators should consult with those who are most familiar with the situation: the public safety departments, mental health professionals, and the deans of student life. I can't imagine that any of them would want to see more guns on campus.