On July 1, 2011, the Oregon Court of Appeals struck down a law preventing guns on state campuses, thus opening the door for licensed gun holders to exercise this right even on once heavily regulated property. This ruling has caused a maelstrom of controversy across the country, with extremely clear splits appearing between those who support less control over guns everywhere, and those who believe that guns simply cause more crime.
This controversy, although not directly affecting Stanford campus, has caused some to think more about Stanford’s policy of completely banning guns. As reported by the Palo Alto Weekly, Stanford has experienced quite a rise in crime over the last few years, with sexual assaults alone more than doubling from 10 in 2009 to 21 in 2010. Should we be concerned with this steep rise and take action or continue with the status quo?
According to the Stanford Police, there is no need to implement a gun policy that could act as a deterrent to this sudden spike in crime. Chief Laura Wilson, in response to an email question, identifies “intoxication, not force or fear, [as] the factor that makes the assault illegal.” She identifies a situation that she believes would arise if Stanford were willing to bet on the maturity of their students and allow guns on campus.
Her situation follows like this: “It is a Saturday night and a female is alone in her dorm room. At 2:00 AM, someone begins pounding on her door. She reaches for the firearm she has in her bedside drawer. A male enters her room and she shoots him. He eventually dies.
“The person who died is a Stanford student. He had consumed too much alcohol at a fraternity party. He thought he was knocking on the door of his room but was too drunk to know he was 1 mile away from his dorm. The female student will be investigated for possible criminal charges. The family of the deceased student is also suing her for wrongful death of their son. Her family is forced to mortgage their home in order to defend her against the civil suit.” While this situation certainly has happened without the shooting and thus has validity, I believe it skirts the issue of true gun reform.
First, what if this student is drunk to the point that he is breaking into her room with the intention to steal or otherwise harm her in some way? Is it better to have a student simply be defenseless? In addition, according to California state law, guns have to be locked up with a bolt through the chamber, and not loaded. If Stanford instituted true gun reform, students licensed to carry a gun would have to obey these stringent safety measures, making sure that accidental shootings such as the one described above would not happen.
Further, if we allow students the right to defend themselves, then that defense would become well-known and possibly act as a deterrent to future criminals. Sebastain Gould, a senior who spent two years fighting in Afghanistan, describes the situation: “People who are willing to break into cars, break into dorms, obviously have no qualms about bringing guns with them as it stands. I don’t think students having guns would make criminals want to bring more guns with them. I honestly think it would act as a deterrent.” If we truly want to do something about the rise of crime on Stanford campus, perhaps this would be a way to disincentive crimes like robbery within the bounds of the school.
This hypothetical gun policy might make people feel better about their own safety in the future, but what about feeling more secure generally on campus now? Many students I have talked to about this issue have the same reaction: “I would not feel safe on campus if students had guns.” This position, on the surface, makes a lot of sense.
If you believe the students who possess guns are immature and unable to control themselves then I see the issue of allowing students to have guns. But let us take a step back and think about the process of actually procuring a gun. You need a license, a background check, a Handgun Safety Certificate, and you need to prove that you actually know how to load and shoot a gun safely. In addition, if Stanford implemented a more pro-gun policy on campus, they could place additional requirements, such as a mental health exam, to fully make sure that the student was responsible enough to have a gun. Having a pro-gun policy on campus does not mean that every inexperienced student would have a gun placed in their hands; it simply means that those students who are able to carry a gun in the real world would be trusted to do so on Stanford’s campus.
Even in the philosophical sense, students should have the right to protect themselves. Should we as students give up our rights to take control of our own safety, something we can do off-campus, just because we choose to be educated at Stanford? It also seems incongruous that Stanford does not trust its students with guns. Stanford students are the next generation of leaders; many will go on to positions of power in government, positions where decisions they make will affect the lives of millions of people. If we can be trusted with this sort of responsibility right out of college, then how do we not have the maturity to exercise our right to carry guns for our own protection while in college?
Gould spoke about this issue as well, saying that “If you are going to trust the students here with governmental positions in which their decisions put people’s lives at stake, you should be able to trust them with firearms because they are going to be using tools that are even further removed from actual killing than firearms [in the future].”
Stanford students are responsible enough to live their own lives, lives that are perfectly legal the minute they cross Stanford’s boundaries. Stanford should strongly consider a more reasonable gun control policy, not only for the sake of deterrence of crime, but to make it clear that students on campus are not children, but adults that can make their own decisions.