Last Monday, the Virginia state Senate voted down Senate Bill 1132, a bill which would have allowed individuals — students included — to carry concealed handguns on school property after regular school hours.
The possibility of carrying guns on campus faced bipartisan resistance in the state Senate, with three Republicans voting to oppose the bill alongside 17 Democrats. Consideration of the bill proved especially timely: last Thursday, a shooting took place at the University of South Carolina — an apparent murder-suicide that resulted in two deaths. South Carolina allows concealed carry with permits, though it does not provide for concealed carry on campuses.
There is no obvious correlation between concealed carry laws and the incident at USC, but the ubiquitous nature of crime or accidents related to gun violence should give anyone pause when considering whether to expand access and acceptability of firearms. As Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, said, “Accidents happen and firearms can kill.” Why, then, increase risk at schools unnecessarily?
There is no obvious reason civilians need to carry firearms at schools — certainly not concealed ones. While preventing concealed carry may not necessarily deter crime (though it would increase penalties for criminals, which is possibly a deterrent), preventing concealed carry could prevent accidents. At least at our University, with an undergraduate population numbering above 14,000, the potential for a mistake — a student failing to turn on “safety” on his gun; a student mistakenly suspecting someone of being dangerous and responding by use of his firearm — could have grave consequences. At high schools, middle schools and elementary schools the danger of accidents is possibly even higher.
The fact of concealed carry being allowed after regular school hours seems largely irrelevant: at a large university, students meet with their clubs in academic buildings, and students live on the same property where they learn. Additionally, “regular hours” is hard to define, since some students have discussions early in the morning and late into the night. At high schools, middle schools and elementary schools where regular hours are more distinguishable, religious and multicultural groups often congregate in buildings once classes are over, and students who participate in after-school activities will likely still be at school. In effect, restricting the specific hours when concealed carry would be allowed would do little to mitigate the possible damage the presence of a firearm could do to students.
The state Senate was right to strike down SB 1132, and future discussion of guns on school property should reflect on the tumultuous and heartbreaking history of what guns have done on school property in the past. Access to guns is a heated debate, but this issue does not pertain to personal use of firearms: regardless of one’s position on gun laws, keeping guns away from schools — whose members range from young students to older faculty — is smart policy.