Seven to 10 people have been killed — perhaps more — and at least 20 wounded in a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., a largely rural area highly dependent on a declining timber industry. The shooter is reportedly in custody or dead.
At 3:30 p.m., we don’t know much more.
At times such as these, the call often goes out not to “politicize” such tragedies, out of respect for the dead. Well, baloney. Out of respect for the dead, we better politicize it, not in order to gain partisan advantage but because their deaths obligate us to try to stop such tragedies if possible.
I’m not going to argue that any particular change in gun laws could have prevented what happened in Oregon, in large part because we know so little. That would be foolish. However, we know that such shootings are going to become fodder for both sides in a debate looming in the Georgia General Assembly beginning in January. Under HB544, introduced last year, a person with a concealed weapons license would be able to carry a weapon, and I quote, “in or on any real property or building owned by or leased to any public or private technical school, vocational school, college, university, or other institution of postsecondary education.”
Any building or real property.
What does that mean? It means classrooms. It means administrative offices. It means the student union. The gym, the dormitory, the cafeteria, all of that.
It also means Sanford Stadium on a football Saturday at UGA. And Bobby Dodd Stadium at Georgia Tech. And basketball games. And concerts.
Won’t that be excellent? Imagine when Alabama fans descend on Georgia this weekend, and fans start yelling insults at each other? Imagine that the fans on both sides are armed — legally armed, with nothing that law enforcement can do to interfere.
What could possibly go wrong? And that’s just one example.
How would you like to be a college professor meeting a student who is demanding that you change a poor grade, and the angry kid shows up with a weapon strapped to his side. That weapon would be perfectly legal under HB 544. And unfortunately, that’s not an unlikely example. In St. Louis not so long ago, a student had an argument over finances with a financial aid administrator and shot the administrator. At the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2010, a professor who had been denied tenure stood up at a faculty meeting and killed three people and wounded three others, execution style.
Colleges and universities are different places. They often produce high-stress situations for young people away from home for the first time, often experimenting with alcohol and drugs and sex. Suicides are already too common. And if you introduce firearms into that volatile environment, you are asking for tragedy.
As we know, the counter argument will be that the legal presence of firearms on campus will make those facilities safer. But it’s interesting to note that the legislators who will make that argument next year will do so in a gun-free facility, protected by X-ray screeners and heavily armed state police. If they honestly believe that the legal presence of firearms makes people safer, why do they deny themselves that additional safety?
Let me ask this another way: How many of you work in an office, or a store, or a factory, somewhere where you interact with co-workers and customers? Do any of your workplaces allow your co-workers and customers to openly carry and display firearms?
No. Very few workplaces allow employees or customers to carry weapons. They know the numbers. Their insurance companies know the numbers. They don’t want workplace violence. They don’t want the intimidation that weapons can create. They don’t want the accidents. They don’t want somebody who just got a bad employee evaluation, or who just got fired, to have quick and easy access to a firearm. They know that a firearm in a place of business is far far more likely to cause damage than prevent damage.
And if we make guns legal on our college campuses, we’re going to expose thousands and thousands of university employees to a gun-friendly environment that most workers and employers would not find acceptable in a private business. It’s a matter of workplace safety.
Ask legislators. Ask members of the public. “Would YOU like to work in an office where a co-worker kept a loaded .45 in her desk, where another guy walked around with a gun strapped to his waist? Would that make you feel safe and comfortable, or would that make you deeply uneasy?”
In an AJC poll last year, 78 percent of Georgians thought campus carry was a terrible idea. That opposition reaches every part of the state, every demographic group and even every part of the Republican coalition. Men oppose it by a 2-to-1 ratio. Republican voters oppose it by a 3 to 1. South Georgia opposes it by more than 4 to 1. Overall, just 20 percent of Georgians think this is a good idea, and the question is whether that 20 percent will be able to ram it down the throats of the 80 percent.