Mass-Shooting Gun Control Debate — Campus Edition!

Two days before a madman and his wife shot 14 people to death and injured at least 20 others, Rice University President David W. Leebron announced that the private institution was opting out of the Texas campus-carry law. 

Not every state allows guns on campuses, so Texans on both sides of the gun control issue have the privilege of pissing each other off even further by bringing education into the mix.

Public universities, like the UH and TSU, aren't able to opt out of the law, which goes into effect in August 2016 and will allow students with a concealed handgun license to bring their guns to campus. However, state schools can designate gun-free zones on campus — it's just not clear yet how far they can go. 

And now, in the wake of the San Bernardino tragedy, people seem to focusing on just that peculiar phenomenon: mass-shootings. Wednesday's bloodbath was immediately placed in a sort of pecking order — it was described not just as a terrible mass-shooting, but the terrible-est mass shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre three years ago. 

These unbelievably tragic incidents grab headlines and spark much national handwringing and debate — mostly of the knee-jerk variety. Trayvon Martin aside, single-fatality shootings seem to evoke the same attention only when the shooter is a peace officer, even though they're far more common. 

Those types of shootings have a common thread: the shooters always claim they were in fear for their lives. That fear-factor is a remarkably vague concept. In January 2014, off-duty Houston police officer Juventino Castro shot and killed an unarmed 26-year-old because he was in fear for his life. A Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was in fear for his life when he shot an unarmed teenager who was several yards away and walking in the opposite direction. Charleston police officer Michael Slager was in fear for his life when he shot an unarmed man in the back, as the man was running away from him. 

Those police officers supposedly received special training and had at least some experience on the streets, and if they felt their lives were threatened in those situations, how sharp is the average armed citizen's threat assessment capability? 

We'd certainly fear for our lives if someone pointed a gun at us. And we might be afraid of a royal ass-kicking if a big bully confronted us. But we don't think we'd fear for our lives if an unarmed person was running away from us. But apparently, for even some highly trained police officers, it's terrifying. 

So that's why we think Rice's recent announcement on campus-carry shouldn't just be viewed through a mass-shooting lens, but in more general terms: Is it a wise idea to increase the number of firearms among a specific population (students) in a specific geographic location (campus)? 

Given the fear-factor-fluidity, we don't think it is. If an unarmed person can make an armed person fear for their life, imagine two armed students with Juventino Castro-style threat assessment abilities bumping into each other on the quad. For that matter, imagine them walking in opposite directions. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 19 states do not allow students to carry concealed guns on campus and 23 states allow each university to decide. Texas is one of eight states that allow campus-carry because of state legislation or court ruling. 

Senator Brian Birdwell, who had sponsored the campus-carry bill, sought a State Attorney General's opinion on how far public schools could go in restricting guns. In his letter to AG Ken Paxton, Birdwell wrote, "If a public college were to adopt a rule that prohibits the carrying of concealed handguns by Licensees in college classrooms, it would effectively force such students to leave their handguns in their personal motor vehicles, or in their dormitories or other residential housing. Since students go to college to attend classes, this would effectively prohibit a student from carrying their handgun on campus."

We totally agree with Birdwell: Students do go to college to attend classes. And a student shouldn't have to worry if, while sleeping through Biology 101, he's somehow making the armed student two rows down afraid for his life. Students at private universities won't have to worry about it.

And we don't see how that would make them any less safe. 
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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow