The blood was barely dry on the floor of Virginia Tech's Norris Hall before advocates on both sides of the gun control debate were spinning the tragedy. Some said it's a clear indication we need to further limit the access to these weapons while others used it as a call to arms, blaming the school's policy banning weapons on campus and claiming that some student or teacher could have prevented the massacre if they had a gun of their own.
Less than a week after 32 people were killed by Seung-Hui Cho, a bill was presented in the S.C. House of Representatives that would repeal a state law banning guns on school campuses. It would be easy to toss aside the bill as reactionary rhetoric with no chance for success if it weren't for the bill's 18 sponsors, including Majority Leader Jim Merrill (R-Daniel Island). Other sponsors include the original backyard gunslinger, Rep. Wallace Scarborough (R-James Island), along with Shirley Hinson (R-Goose Creek) and Converse A. Chellis III (R-Summerville).
State law currently prevents concealed weapons in a number of places, including schools, colleges, polling stations, police offices, jails, courtrooms, government buildings, day care facilities, churches, and hospitals. The bill proposes eliminating schools and colleges from that list. But don't go packing heat to biology class just yet, kids. State law would still limit concealable weapons to those who are 21 and over.
While enabling students and teachers to protect themselves may seem admirable, the concern from others, including gun advocates and federal and state law enforcement officials, is that you are also arming unstable people at a volatile time in their lives.
"We can't be a shining city on a hill when we're an armed camp," says Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control advocacy group founded by Bill Brady. As press secretary for Ronald Reagan, Brady was seriously wounded during an attempted assassination in 1981 and has since led the charge for stricter gun laws.
While Nevada has introduced legislation arming teachers, South Carolina has the privilege of being the first state to introduce legislation that would arm everybody on campus. Yes, even the kindergarten teacher. Predicting that we will not be the last, the Brady Campaign released a study last week titled, "No Gun Left Behind: The Gun Lobby's Campaign to Push Guns into Colleges and Schools."
"Arming students and teachers is a recipe for disaster and one that will have deadly consequences," says Brady spokesman Colin Weaver.
The study stresses that, recent events aside, violence on campus is rare. Throwing guns into the mix would impair school safety by increasing the potential of student violence and worsening the consequences of those actions and improving the chances for successful suicide attempts. And when something goes bad, and it inevitably will, there's well-established judicial precedent that the school will be held responsible.
Not only is there also a real concern regarding accidental shootings, there's the added fear that if additional students are armed, more students will fall victim to friendly fire or those with guns could be mistakenly ID'd as the shooter by police.
"I have my own concerns that, had there been a number of people in that classroom with guns, (there could have been) additional persons killed just as a result of poor judgement calls," Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Christian Science Monitor soon after the massacre.
During a panel discussion last week on campus safety in Oklahoma, embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also weighed in on the debate, saying that adding more guns on college campuses isn't the answer.
"We can't guarantee complete security," Gonzales said, according to The Washington Post. "We need to see what we can do as a government — on the federal level, on the state level — to ensure the safety of our students."
The House bill was sent to the Judiciary Committee and, considering the limited time left in this session, it likely won't be considered until next year. By that time, folks may be more apt to talk about cooler heads then cold, dead hands.