James Werrell

‘Campus carry’ bill is a threat to S.C. students

A few weeks ago, a student at Rock Hill’s Northwestern High School was suspended because he had accidentally left a pocket knife in bed of a pickup truck he drove to school. This month S.C. Rep. Steven Long, R-Spartanburg, introduced a bill in the House that would let people a few years older than that high school student legally carry guns on the state’s college campuses.

Do you detect a disconnect? Although Northwestern reinstated the student with the pocket knife, public schools across the state are concerned enough about the safety of students that they bar students from possessing anything resembling a weapon, and the penalties are stiff if they are found with a sharp object or, God forbid, a gun of any kind.

And yet proponents of Long’s “campus carry” bill insist that the more students toting guns on campus, the safer everyone will be. Long said his bill would deter shootings, sexual assaults and other crimes on college campuses and at sporting events.

Under the bill, anyone with a concealed-weapon permit would be permitted to carry a gun on campus. Eight other states have passed similar laws, and another 24 states leave that decision up to individual colleges.

Long, a freshman legislator who graduated from USC Upstate only two years ago, asserts that “students are vulnerable on campus. They have no means to defend themselves.”

Aren’t college students supposed to defend themselves with witty retorts?

I saw fist fights in college, but they were extremely rare. I shudder to think what might have happened if either combatant had been armed.

Most college students still are in the process of maturing. They can be reckless, impulsive, violent, careless and subject to mob mentality – behaviors often fueled by alcohol. And some of our state lawmakers want to add guns to the mix? That seems crazy to me.

Trained professionals often have a very hard time hitting the right targets when adrenaline is running high, what’s going on around them is confusing and it is hard to tell who is shooting at whom. College kids – even those who trained enough to get a concealed weapon permit – are likely to be even more erratic.

That means you could send your child off to college only to have him or her shot by a well-meaning fellow student who misses his intended target, picks the wrong person to shoot at or fires a bullet that ricochets off the side of a building. So, who poses the higher risk, the criminal or the would-be good Samaritan?

We need to dispense with the myth perpetrated by the NRA that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Too often, it’s impossible to tell the difference, and even good guys with guns can be hazardous to your health.

We seem to be constantly eroding the boundaries for guns. In South Carolina, permit holders now can carry guns into bars and restaurants. What’s next? The workplace? Public buildings? The Legislature?

Ideally, college campuses should be weapon-free havens where students are free to disagree and debate strenuously without fear of being attacked. While some violence might be inevitable, guns only intensify the risk.

Concealed carry advocates often argue that the possibility that the ordinary people might be armed helps deter criminals. Personally, it just makes me uneasy.

When the good guys, bad guys and in-between guys start shooting at each other, I don’t want to get caught in the crossfire – especially on a college campus.

James Werrell is opinion page editor for The Herald.