by David Burnett
There’s been a lot of talk about revolution lately.
The term is rarely considered positive, and with the “Arab Spring” uprisings overseas, mention of the word likely makes readers think of foreign soils, violent turmoil and the furor of an anarchic citizenry.
Students of history know that extreme enough oppression can justify revolution—a cause such as the American Revolution.
In the modern era, however, tyranny and oppression often take a more subtle, piecemeal form, and opponents must respond accordingly—in the courts and legislatures that America’s original revolutionaries set in place.
A great example is opposing firearm prohibitions. The tide has turned in our favor as victory after victory continues to validate and restore the right to bear arms. In fact, other than courthouses and prisons, college campuses were one of the final institutions to generally maintain a blanket ban on defensive carry regardless of qualification.
Emphasis on the word “were.”
Thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteer students and graduates (in conjunction with the NRA as well as legislators, parents and concerned citizens nationwide), a quiet revolution has begun methodically rolling back these prohibitions, restoring freedom and self-defense to college campuses.
A New Kind of Revolution
Once the site of revolt and rebellion during the 1960s and ’70s, colleges are now the arena of a different kind of uprising.
In a July 2010 article entitled “Duck & Cover,” readers of America’s 1st Freedom were first introduced to Students for Concealed Carry (SCC), a grassroots, all-volunteer organization founded by students after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, when a psychopath shot 48 innocents and killed 32 before taking his own life. That tragedy was a wake-up call to many that feeling safe doesn’t equal being safe. SCC is composed almost entirely of college-age adults dedicated to overturning campus gun bans that leave them defenseless against attack.
Rather than chaos and conflict, students and advocates of “campus carry” chose respect, reason and rationality, turning to the First Amendment as their weapon of choice.
The group organizes a demonstration each spring known as the Empty Holster Protest, in which many students wear open holsters to class and post fliers around their campuses to promote the cause. The event spurs local debate, and regional and national media interest every year.
“Too often ‘no guns’ results in ‘dead kids,’” avowed then-CNN host Glenn Beck in 2008.
“Common sense dictates that responsible gun bearers should be allowed on campus,” declared a 2012 editorial endorsement from The Washington Times.
The movement has even stimulated discussions of gun rights in such unconventional venues as Glamour magazine, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Conan.
The debate even spilled over into international waters as publications from Germany, France, Ireland, Australia and Great Britain each explored the “crazy” notion of “arming school kids” and the broader context of gun laws in America.
Despite the disdain and ridicule from many in the media, the revolution is working. In July 2010, only 26 colleges in two states explicitly allowed campus carry.
Yet with multiple victories in the last two years, campus carry is now a reality on more than 200 campuses across six states:
• In July 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed S.B. 93 into law. The law, which took effect in November, finally allowed concealed carry in the state and made Illinois the last remaining state in the union to ban it. The law also removed carry bans on the grounds of state colleges and universities, though not in classroom buildings.
• At the same time, Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an opinion that state colleges and universities must go through a formal regulatory process before restricting campus carry, thus forcing many Virginia schools (including Virginia Tech) to revise their policies. “It certainly can be argued that [gun-ban] policies are ineffectual because persons who wish to perpetrate violence will ignore them, and that the net effect of such policies is to leave defenseless the law-abiding citizens who follow these policies,” wrote Cuccinelli.
• In September 2011, after United States Marine Jeff Maxwell was arrested for possession of a small derringer at Western Oregon University, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the Oregon University System’s blanket ban on campus carry, providing for lawful armed self-defense on nearly a dozen universities in the state. (Instead of an all-inclusive mandate against firearms, the colleges are now seeking to require all students and employees to sign away their rights individually before ever being allowed on campus.)
• In February 2012, Mississippi passed a law stating that persons with additional training could receive an endorsement on their handgun permit, which would then allow them to carry at otherwise forbidden locations such as college campuses. In theory, the “additional training” prerequisite should address the objections of anti-defense critics who claim guns on campus would be a “recipe for disaster” because citizens aren’t trained. These same critics are conspicuously silent when asked if they would consent to carry on campus by former military personnel—trained in the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.
• In March 2012, the Supreme Court of Colorado issued a ruling that struck down gun bans in Colorado, upholding campus carry and ending a years-long lawsuit between Students for Concealed Carry and the University of Colorado. SCC had previously won a ruling stating that unelected college authorities lacked the jurisdiction to usurp legislative authority and override state law. The victory carried repercussions for dozens of colleges and universities in Colorado.
• Finally, in May 2012, the Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that the University of Kentucky was wrong in firing medical employee and graduate student Michael Mitchell for having a firearm in his car. Though Mitchell possessed a Right-to-Carry permit, state law does not require a permit to have a gun in a car’s glove box. Colleges statewide are now barred from their previous habit of penalizing workers or visitors for carrying the means to protect themselves on their commutes to and from campus.
Needless to say, none of these “armed campuses” have become breeding grounds for violence.
What does persist are the tragic and bloody lessons of campus “gun free zones” that continue to play out in the headlines.
At the same time as this year’s Empty Holster Protest, a lone, armed man murdered seven nursing students at a small Christian college in Oikos, Calif. The college was a gun-free campus amidst the notoriously
anti-gun policies of California, and could not have more powerfully illustrated the fallacy of gun-free zones.
Virginia Tech—clearly distrusting its own “gun-free zone”—went into total lockdown on Dec. 4, 2011, after a perpetrator came onto campus and shot a police officer. In May 2012, a naked assailant with a gun was apprehended by police near the campus of Indiana University, and a café near the University of Washington became the scene of several other shooting deaths.
It’s ironic that victims such as Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre, continue to advocate the status quo—the same gun-free zones that enable attackers to prey with impunity. It’s also ironic that Goddard and others like him continue to be paraded as expert spokespersons on the occasions when gun-free zones fail—as if being the victim of a car accident would somehow make someone an expert on collision forensics.
It would make more sense if the media also listened to voices from the other side, such as the combat veterans who use their GI education benefits and find themselves disarmed in the process. “I felt safer in Iraq,” was the sentiment voiced by many service men and women on SCC’s Facebook page (Facebook.com/ConcealedCampus).
Or perhaps the opinion of rape victim Amanda Collins, who was disarmed by campus policies and unable to resist her attacker, who now sits on death row for murdering another rape victim (“A Fighting Chance,” September 2011 America’s 1st Freedom).
Or the opinion of Holly Adams, whose daughter Leslie Sherman was killed in the Virginia Tech massacre. Just weeks before Mother’s Day, Adams wrote, “I would give anything if someone on campus; a professor, one of the trained military or guardsman taking classes or another student could have saved my daughter by shooting [Seung-Hui] Cho before he killed our loved ones.”
Lessons on Success
Using all volunteers, no money and a Facebook page, how did a start-up group of students somehow MacGyver their way into a quiet revolution? What has made the public more receptive to allowing guns on campus five years after the worst mass shooting in American history?
Maybe it’s because the public sees the violence continuing and no longer accepts status quo solutions. Maybe it’s that Virginia Tech taught us we’re living in a new world where text alerts, video cameras and stickers on the doors are absurdly insufficient means of securing the lives of our sons and daughters. Or maybe it can be attributed to that peculiar kind of novelty that only liberty can bring.
Regardless, the lesson of a peaceful revolution is well-taken, and the diligent efforts of pro-self-defense students should earn our praise and our support.
David Burnett is a nursing student in central Kentucky, and serves as the press director for Students for Concealed Carry. To learn more about the group, visit www.ConcealedCampus.org.
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