An open letter to Greg Hampikian, Professor at Boise State University:
Students for Concealed Carry noted your recent op-ed in the New York Times on the subject of firearms in the college environment entitled “When may I shoot a student?” As you may be aware, Students for Concealed Carry is the only national gun rights group focused exclusively on the issue of the rights of law abiding adults possessing a concealed carry permit to be able to carry firearms while visiting a college campus. Thus, while your op-ed was not addressed to us and was written in an overtly facetious style, nevertheless we wished to address the substance behind your satire .
In call-response style, we address each of your concerns from your op-ed in turn.
BOISE, Idaho — TO the chief counsel of the Idaho State Legislature:
In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?
I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field.
While in the text of your article you refer to yourself as a biology professor, your biography attached to the end of the article notes that you are also a professor of criminal justice. Thus, even though you are not a member of the bar, we are truly shocked and dismayed if you honestly do not know the answer to the question you are posing.
The standard for the use of lethal self defense is, at its core, both intuitive and well established. Generally speaking and with some nuances, a person is justified in the use of lethal self defense against an assailant if the assailant possesses an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm to another. Nothing in the bill passed by the Idaho State Senate proposes to modify this standard with respect to campuses. A person thus may use lethal self defense force on a college campus under those circumstances that would be considered justified anywhere else in the State of Idaho.
The States of Colorado and Utah allow a licensed adult to carry a firearm on college campuses. The issues that have arisen in those states within the college environment are not fundamentally different than those from outside the campus. While every case presents unique facts that must be resolved as part of any criminal investigation or trial, to our knowledge the State of Idaho has not had any particular difficulty in applying the standards of self defense in cases that arise outside the college environment. It is therefore perplexing to us that you conclude without supporting evidence, either from Idaho’s sister states or via parallel from within the state of Idaho, that the State of Idaho would somehow have unusual difficulty applying the self defense standard if such an incident were to occur at a college.
I have had encounters with disgruntled students over the years, some of whom seemed quite upset, but I always assumed that when they reached into their backpacks they were going for a pencil. Since I carry a pen to lecture, I did not feel outgunned; and because there are no working sharpeners in the lecture hall, the most they could get off is a single point. But now that we’ll all be packing heat, I would like legal instruction in the rules of classroom engagement.
Nothing presently prevents any person from bringing a firearm into almost any college classroom nationwide; the law only prevents a person from doing so legally in many states. It is therefore illogical to assume that no person has ever possessed a firearm on any college campus you have either studied or taught at. It is likewise irresponsible to conclude that a person intent on committing an armed assault and willing to suffer the potential legal consequences would somehow be deterred by a college’s threat of expulsion for violation of policy.
The State of Idaho is a “shall issue” state. According to July 2012 study by the GAO, Idaho has issued 76,000 resident concealed carry permits, or about 4.8% of Idaho’s 1.6 million residents (1.6 million includes minors; the percentage would obviously be higher when considering only those of legal age). Thus, any time you go anywhere off campus where there is any appreciable number of people, there is a fairly good chance that someone has a concealed firearm. Have you dealt with these issues off campus? If not, why do you think this will be an issue on campus when it has not impacted your life off campus?
At present, the harshest penalty available here at Boise State is expulsion, used only for the most heinous crimes, like cheating on Scantron exams. But now that lethal force is an option, I need to know which infractions may be treated as de facto capital crimes.
The fact that expulsion is the harshest penalty is precisely the problem. Why on earth would a person intent on committing a crime of violence using a firearm or similar non-firearm based force care the least whit about the potential academic consequences?
I assume that if a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot?
No, you may not shoot a firearm under these circumstances, as you are not facing an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm. Additionally, when you are conjuring straw men arguments, you may wish to make them less transparent.
If two armed students are arguing over who should be served next at the coffee bar and I sense escalating hostility, should I aim for the legs and remind them of the campus Shared-Values Statement (which reads, in part, “Boise State strives to provide a culture of civility and success where all feel safe and free from discrimination, harassment, threats or intimidation”)?
Are the armed students in your hypothetical using their firearms in an imminently threatening manner in some way during their argument? Either way, the answer is addressed in our responses above. Incidentally, does this kind of thing happen to you now when you visit coffee shops off campus? If not, why are you projecting that it will happen on campus when it is not currently impacting your life off campus?
While our city police chief has expressed grave concerns about allowing guns on campus, I would point out that he already has one. I’m glad that you were not intimidated by him, and did not allow him to speak at the public hearing on the bill (though I really enjoyed the 40 minutes you gave to the National Rifle Association spokesman).
Student for Concealed Carry believes in the first amendment, including the right to speak and the right to petition our government for grievances. As you might be able to imagine, from time to time our side of this debate has been denied equal opportunity to present our arguments in various state legislatures or before various officials or bodies. If your side did not have equal opportunity to present argument, we do not find this in keeping with principles underlying our form of government, and having been there ourselves, we sympathize.
Additionally, Students for Concealed Carry has on occasion been denied our first amendment rights on college campuses via various campus policies, from being denied forming our own clubs in violation of our right of assembly, to being denied handing out informational material in violation of our freedom of press. When not denied entirely, we are sometimes cordoned off into “free speech zones”, far away from any potential audience. Our members students are occasional intimidated from expressing their views, sometimes by professors who sharply disagree with our proposed policy recommendations, and sometimes even by college administrators. Campus speech codes or similar policies from time to time prevent the full expression of political debate on all subjects on college campuses, where due to the fundamental nature of what a university is and should be, we believe these rights should be at their zenith.
The first amendment issues surrounding the firearms debate are troubling, as is anytime free speech is suppressed.
Knee-jerk reactions from law enforcement officials and university presidents are best set aside. Ignore, for example, the lame argument that some drunken frat boys will fire their weapons in violation of best practices. This view is based on stereotypical depictions of drunken frat boys, a group whose dignity no one seems willing to defend.
The problem, of course, is not that drunken frat boys will be armed; it is that they are drunken frat boys. Arming them is clearly not the issue. They would cause damage with or without guns. I would point out that urinating against a building or firing a few rounds into a sorority house are both violations of the same honor code.
To our knowledge there have been no issues with “frat boys” who possess a concealed firearms license discharging their firearm on any campus in a wanton manner. Students for Concealed Carry does not believe not believe that a law abiding person who has obtained a concealed firearms license should be denied that right because they joined a fraternity, a sorority, or any other student organization.
Students for Concealed Carry believes that it is irresponsible for a person to possess a concealed firearm while inebriated, regardless of any fraternal or other association the person may hold. In the state of Idaho, it is currently unlawful for any person to carry a concealed weapon on or about his person when intoxicated or under the influence of an intoxicating drink or drug. Nothing in the college carry bill purports to change that, nor would we support such a change. Those who make the decision to carry concealed and who obtain a valid permit tend to behave in a responsible way off campus, and we see nothing about the campus environment that is likely to change that.
Finally, your implication that a person who would be willing to violate a ban against public urination would be likely to use a firearm in a criminal way is beyond absurd and is a massive straw man. Urinating in public might result in a citation under the Boise City code. In contrast, reckless or intentional criminal misuse of a firearm will almost certainly result in felony or even capital charges, with the potential for life incarceration (or worse). The offenses are nowhere near the same magnitude in severity.
In terms of the campus murder rate — zero at present — I think that we can all agree that guns don’t kill people, people with guns do. Which is why encouraging guns on campus makes so much sense. Bad guys go where there are no guns, so by adding guns to campus more bad guys will spend their year abroad in London. Britain has incredibly restrictive laws — their cops don’t even have guns! — and gun deaths there are a tiny fraction of what they are in America. It’s a perfect place for bad guys.
If the campus murder rate is zero as you claim, then it seems on Idaho campuses that neither guns nor people kill people. However, we very seriously doubt that you can warrant that there is no threat or acts of rape or sexual assault at any of Idaho’s college campuses. Nor do we believe that you can vouch for safety of the night time commuting student who gets out of class at 9 pm, has to walk a half mile to her car, and then must travel home, stopping along the way at various business to run errands. Nor do we believe you can vouch for the safety of a person who has a restraining order against another person, both as they conduct their affairs on campus, and as they leave campus to conduct affairs off of campus. Disarming someone on campus additionally disarms them everywhere they might travel to and from campus, since they must leave their firearm at their house.
While the gun violence rate is low in the United Kingdom, their overall violent crime rate is far higher than that in the United States. Life in London is therefore not the scene of perfect tranquility that you imply. Travelers, inherently unfamiliar with their surroundings, are at increased risk due to their own naiveté . You may not be attacked with a gun, but there are parts of London, as their are parts of any city, that are unsafe for the unwary and uninitiated. As far as we are concerned, in the moment of a violent encounter that poses a threat to our lives or poses a threat of grievous bodily harm, it is irrelevant whether that threat is coming from a gun, a knife, or someone’s bare hands exerting raw power. It is deeply unfortunately that citizens of the United Kingdom are denied meaningful self defense options. We believe it would be sharply unwise to duplicate that practice on the college campuses of our fine country.
Some of my colleagues are concerned that you are encouraging firearms within a densely packed concentration of young people who are away from home for the first time, and are coincidentally the age associated with alcohol and drug experimentation, and the commission of felonies.
Once again, this reflects outdated thinking about students. My current students have grown up learning responsible weapon use through virtual training available on the Xbox and PlayStation. Far from being enamored of violence, many studies have shown, they are numb to it. These creative young minds will certainly be stimulated by access to more technology at the university, items like autoloaders, silencers and hollow points. I am sure that it has not escaped your attention that the library would make an excellent shooting range, and the bookstore could do with fewer books and more ammo choices.
The only thing that is being changed under this bill is where a person may legally carry, not who may legally can carry.
Many law abiding adults presently play video games, both on and off campus alike, and we are unclear how this fact is relevant to the issues at hand. Would your analysis change if the law abiding adult in question instead of playing video games for leisure was an active participant in a book reading club? If not, why are you mentioning this red herring?
Among other criteria, a person must be 21 years old to obtain a concealed firearms permit in Idaho, and therefore is not away from home “for the first time”. We are additionally unclear why in your view this age is particularly “associated with … the commission of felonies”. Since having either having been convicted of a felony or being an unlawful user of, or addicted to, any controlled substance is a disqualifying criteria against the issuance of a concealed firearms permit, any person with such a criminal or substance abuse record before they reached 21 would be disqualified from obtaining a concealed firearms permit.
Finally, we are unaware of any issues with previously otherwise law abiding adults who, once having obtained a concealed carry permit in Idaho (or any other state), suddenly embark on an escapade of felonies, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse, as you imply. We see no reason to believe this will change because law abiding adults are now legally allowed to carry in a new location. Are your students aware that you have such a low opinion of them?
I want to applaud the Legislature’s courage. On a final note: I hope its members will consider my amendment for bulletproof office windows and faculty body armor in Boise State blue and orange.
We would likewise like to applaud the Legislature, although in a non-sarcastic way. In 1986, there were eight states were “shall issue” for concealed firearms permits. In 2014, forty-two states were “shall issue”. For the last 28 years, gun rights supporter have heard the unsubstantiated fears that concealed carry would turn every dispute into the O.K. corral. It hasn’t happened, either in Idaho or anywhere else nationwide. No state that has adopted “shall issue” has ever changed its mind – the parade of horribles did not come to pass.
Students for Concealed Carry has since our existence in 2007 heard the same predictions of doom and gloom for college campuses as have been made since 1986 with respect to concealed carry generally. These predictions have likewise not come to pass in either Colorado or Utah, nor will they come to pass in Idaho.
Gang members or criminals do not ask for the state’s permission to carry a concealed firearm, and do so anyway. Law abiding adults who ask for permission are statistically significantly more law abiding than the general public, and by and large behave in a responsible fashion. They are not strangers; they are your neighbors, your colleagues, and your friends.
We challenge you not to let you allow yourself to become clouded by fear, uncertainty, and doubt when there is no basis for such pessimism.
We welcome any opportunity that might present itself to address these issues in any suitable forum.
Students for Concealed Carry