The Arizona Desert Lamp

Why concealed-carry on campus matters

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 28 June 2009

Cannon for Sig EpA few days after Heller Day, the state of Arizona receives some good news from the legislature: the “deadly legal fiction” of the gun-free campus may soon come to an end. From the Sierra Vista Herald:

PHOENIX — Saying it will make people safer, state senators voted Friday to let people with concealed weapons permits carry them onto college and university campuses where they are now forbidden.

The 15-6 vote on the provision in HB 2439 came after backers said they believe that having people who are licensed by the state to have weapons should cut down on the number of massacres that occur on campuses. And Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, said that has happened in Arizona.

While this vote is promising, I am leery of this kind of consequentialist argument. Both sides use black swan events – the VaTechs and Columbines of the world – to draw conclusions that fit their own predetermined views on the issue. Both sides engage in wild rhetoric about stopping or starting crime, when in fact the limited case studies in Utah, Colorado, and Virginia have shown an essentially negligible impact on crime.

This is probably a result of the overall low ownership of guns by college students. According to a 2002 study [PDF], for every thousand college students in the Mountain region (Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Montana) there are an estimated sixteen students that own a gun for personal protection. Assuming this proportion holds for the UA (which is a dubious proposition, as Arizona’s overall gun ownership rate was the lowest in the Mountain region, according to this survey), there would be approximately 609 students – graduate and undergraduate – with firearms. Yet this number is too inflated, for considering it in light of this bill assumes that (a) every student that owns a weapon will carry it on campus; (b) every student that owns a weapon has a concealed-carry permit as well; and (c) none of these students are involved in a ROTC program.

Yet there is a bigger issue at stake at stake here, removed from crime-busting conceit; to steal from Randy Barnett, the presumption of liberty. The amendment that really needs to be discussed is not the second amendment, but the all-too-forgotten Ninth:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Arizona Constitution has a nearly equivalent passage in its Declaration of Rights:

Section 33. The enumeration in this Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny others retained by the people.

Underlying these passages is a profound declaration of a very libertarian principle: individuals have more rights than the state can ever possibly list. To institute a ban – be it on access to pornographic materials, the possession on public property of a gun by a concealed-carry permit holder, or marijuana by a patient with a prescription – the state must offer a compelling societal reason to suppress that liberty. Just as the defendant in a court of law is innocent until proven guilty, so an individual right exists until proven not to. (Ideally, such a “case” would be conducted under the same standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But we’ll take “compelling evidence.”) In this case, the prosecution against liberty has simply failed, resorting to little more than public hand-wringing, devoid of facts.

Even further, the right to bear arms is in fact an enumerated right. Justice Scalia delivered a lexicographical body-slam on the anti-gun “militia” interpretation in Heller v. DC, but more applicable to the state of Arizona is her own constitution, which reads (Art. 2, Sec. 26):

The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain, or employ an armed body of men.

We should not be surprised that the UA is actually using its lobbyists to fight against this bill, but it is nice to see the UAPD be so forthright about their argument:

University of Arizona lobbyist Greg Fahey said his school opposes allowing anyone to have guns on campus. And Fahey said he’s not convinced that rule should be waived for those with permits to carry concealed weapons even though they have undergone background checks, training in state laws and been shown to be proficient in the use of the gun.

“Our chief of police and the police of all three universities have consistently said that their experience is that having people with guns is just more of an invitation to have accidents, to have problems,’’ Fahey said. “And they don’t want anyone who’s not a sworn officer being armed on campus.’’ [emphasis added – EML]

Never mind that it was this same UAPD – to whom we are supposed to surrender our Section 26 rights – headquartered about 300 feet away from a drive-by shooting, back in 2006. Government is a monopoly, and it hates competition.

NB: This opposition, however, raises an interesting scenario: while the university insists that it needs as much money as possible from the state, it refuses to adhere to the provisions set out by that same state. Like a surly adolescent, it wants all of the parents’ money with none of the responsibility to household rules. A hypothetical then is raised: how much state funding is the university willing to sacrifice in order to maintain its “deadly legal fiction”? $1 million? $5 million?

Previous Lamp coverage of guns on campus can be accessed here, here, and here. Image courtesy of Flickr user SigEp NV Alpha ’03

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