at Virginia Technical University makes explicitly clear something that many of us had known all along: People are at their most vulnerable in those places that pride themselves on disarming
residents and visitors. I think it's time that those of us who care about our safety stop being so solicitous of rules that put us at risk.
As I write, I'm in the comfortable position of residing in a state that has a relatively liberal concealed-carry
law, and that is very accepting of open carry
of firearms. Where I live, it's common to walk into Wal-Mart and see people strolling around with guns strapped to their hips. Nobody bats an eyelash.
But I carry a gun much less frequently here than I did when I lived in New York City where doing so is essentially forbidden
In New York, I felt a sense of danger that I've never encountered in Arizona. The crime rate was high, I lived in a borderline neighborhood (Avenue B in the East Village -- since gentrified) and I worked the night shift for part of my residency there. I've never believed that the government has the right to disarm me, and I adhere to the pragmatic belief that it's better to be tried by 12 than carried by six. As a result, I almost always had either a pistol or a knife (or both) in my pocket as I traveled the streets of the city.
I actually pulled the pistol once, late at night on Avenue B. Two guys on the otherwise abandoned street made straight for me, cutting across the avenue at an angle. I pulled my gun and backed up. They both raised their hands and laughed. One said, "you got us!" Then they walked off.
Make of it what you will.
All of this time, of course, I acted in complete violation of city and state law. Had I been caught, the authorities would, no doubt, have thrown the book at me--they certainly did to other people in similar circumstances. It was a balance of risks; I felt that carrying a gun was a risk worth taking.
For students at Virginia Tech, carrying a gun is a balance of risks, too. The school has a policy against carrying weapons, despite state law allowing concealed carry for people who submit to the permitting process. the school has a track record of punishing people who violate its rule. So there's a risk inherent in carrying a gun in violation of school policy.
But if somebody had flouted that policy on Monday, a lot more people might have survived the day.
That's because criminals, whether mass murderers like Cho Seung-Hui, or simple street criminals of the sort that confronted me on Avenue B, never even consider abiding by policies against weapons. Such policies disarm only potential victims, not the people who prey on them.
Many people of a libertarian bent will agree with me that government officials--including the administrators of public universities like Virginia Tech--have no legitimate authority to restrict the rights of individuals. Laws against carrying a gun might carry risks for violators, but they are morally null and void.
But what if Virginia Tech was a private school? Many liberty-minded folks tell us that private parties have a right to set the conditions for use of their facilities; you either accept the conditions or go elsewhere.
In an abstract sense, I think that argument is correct. But I think it runs up against concerns about privacy--and triviality--that rightly keep us from applying the same principle to other areas of life.
If you stop by the home of a militant anti-smoker, for instance, you're certainly not going to light up in her living room--that would be rude. But you're unlikely to empty your pockets of smoking materials and lock them in the glove box before crossing the threshold. You respect your host's right to regulate behavior in her home, but you probably don't think that you should bother to extend your consideration as far as what you have lying inert in your pockets.
Likewise, if you visit the offices of a vegetarian organization, you're probably not going to start chewing on a piece of beef jerky in the reception area. But you're unlikely to trouble yourself over your leather belt or the ham sandwich sitting uneaten in your briefcase. You're not shoving these items in your hosts' faces, so even though they may be technical violations of house policies, they're not worth fretting over.
So why the big concern over carrying a gun where they're not welcome?
Guns have been stigmatized of course. But that's a political consideration. Objectively, there's no reason to treat them differently than an errant stogie or a ham sandwich. You shouldn't target shoot with a pistol where it's unwelcome, but I see no reason why you should unholster a weapon where it's officially proscribed any more than you should empty your pockets of other personal items just to satisfy a host's intrusive fetishes.
Besides, unlike a gun, a stogie or a ham sandwich is unlikely to save your life.
In the wake of Virginia Tech, we still have to balance the risks we face when we violate oppressive rules. But we don't owe those rules any special deference.
Labels: firearms/Second Amendment