As someone who teaches in a university, I occasionally worry that my school might someday be the subject of the kind of attack we saw last year at Virginia Tech or last month at Northern Illinois University. As I have pondered that dreadful possibility, it has crossed my mind more than once that, if there were a crazed gunman roaming the halls of the Villanova Law School and shooting my colleagues and students, the man I’d want on the scene is my current student Jeremy Clark. A former captain in the 82nd Airborne who served three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Jeremy is a formidable fellow. He’s even more formidable, however, when armed with his 9mm semi-automatic Glock handgun. Since he has a permit to carry the Glock in Pennsylvania, being in the near vicinity of Jeremy Clark is usually a pretty safe place to be.
But although Jeremy carries his Glock everywhere else he goes (you may have stood next to him in the mall and not realized he was packing), he is not permitted to carry the gun on campus. Villanova, like Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, is a “gun-free zone,” and so the university’s policies prevent even individuals licensed by the state to carry firearms from carrying them on campus. Impressed by the fact that gun-free policies did not deter the shooters at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, Jeremy has become a leader in Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. See the news story about him in the Philadelphia Inquirer here. (Jeremy is also a contributor to First Things—see his Daily Article on Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael Murphy here.)
Most of the arguments against allowing faculty and students to carry concealed weapons on campus strike me as quite weak. We are not talking about passing out guns to drunken frat boys. The only persons who would have guns on campus are the few individuals who are already licensed by the state to carry guns everywhere else. Such people already carry their guns to shopping malls and supermarkets and Little League games, and none of these places have turned into the OK Corral. There is no basis for thinking that people with concealed carry permits, who are law-abiding and sensible everywhere else, will suddenly become trigger-happy lunatics when they walk onto a college campus.
Indeed, if it makes sense for a university campus to be a gun-free zone—that is, if it makes sense for the university to forbid on campus what the state permits everywhere else—then this can only be because there is something peculiar about a university that makes normal, law-abiding people with carry permits considerably more dangerous on campus than they are everywhere else. Some places really are like this—bars, for example, where people tend to become intoxicated—and so concealed carry permits generally do not extend to such establishments. But there is nothing about a university classroom or cafeteria that would make it especially likely to be become the locus of gunplay.
Put another way, the state has made the judgment that allowing certain individuals to carry concealed weapons in public is consistent with public safety, but the university is saying that this judgment is wrong as applied to the hallowed precincts of academia. Unless the university can articulate a convincing explanation as to why a college campus is significantly different from other places when it comes to firearms policy, however, I don’t see why the university should substitute its judgment for that of the state government concerning what conduces to public safety.
In fact, I think what we really have here is a case of the university disagreeing with the public policy of the state. The university is by and large run by people who, if they had their druthers, would not allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon anywhere. But, having lost that argument in the public square, university administrators have been reduced to imposing their views where they can—on campus. The difference in view between the people of the state generally, who have acted through their elected representatives to allow certain individuals to carry concealed weapons, and the university administrators, who think that that decision is profoundly foolish, is really a philosophical or ideological difference of opinion.
For my part, I think university administrators would do better if they left public safety concerns to the state and its law enforcement agencies and stuck to academics. They have no real business second-guessing the state’s laws on gun policy. And if the state of Pennsylvania thinks Jeremy Clark should be able to carry his Glock wherever he wants, that should be good enough for the university.