In January 2006, Virginia Delegate Todd Gilbert introduced House Bill 1572, which was meant to guarantee, with a few exceptions, that students with concealed handgun permits would be allowed to carry guns on college campuses. The bill died in subcommittee later that month. Like many schools, Virginia Tech had a policy prohibiting guns on campus, and Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker expressed pleasure at the bill’s defeat. “I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions,” said Hincker, “because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus.”
As we all know by now, the gun ban didn’t insure safety. Virginia Tech was the site of the worst shooting spree in American history yesterday. Thirty-two people are dead — not including the shooter, who committed suicide — and at least fifteen are injured. Mightn’t a law-abiding armed student have stopped the spree in its tracks? We’ll never know.
Perhaps some school administrators still think that declaring a “gun-free zone” makes a campus safer; that was what legislators thought when they started passing gun bans at high schools in response to the late-’80s youth-crime spike. But it’s likely that at the college level, fear of litigation plays a large role in shaping such policies. No school or business has been successfully sued following an on-site incident involving a gun, but according to David Kopel, director of the Second Amendment Project at the Independence Institute, “that doesn’t stop administrators from being scared.” Kopel notes that big business is afflicted by the same lawsuit-paranoia. “If you look in these corporate counsel manuals…you’ll find these things all over the place, saying that you should adopt a no-guns policy so you don’t get sued — when there’s really never been a case of a successful suit,” says Kopel.
The irony, Kopel points out, is that Virginia Tech may have opened itself up to a lawsuit anyway. Two people were killed several hours before the rest of the victims, and many have complained that the school didn’t warn people of the situation before the killing started again. “This interval and failure to warn, after having affirmatively disarmed them…I’m not a Virginia tort expert,” says Kopel, “but that strikes me as a good start” for an enterprising litigator. Perhaps the reluctance to release the news flowed from the same central-command instincts that led administrators to disarm their students.
To gun control advocates, the failure of an anti-gun regulation just proves the need for more anti-gun regulations. The Brady Campaign’s website had a newly designed “Donate Now” button referencing Virginia Tech almost immediately. It’s worth asking, though, if guns aren’t that different from information, and if it wouldn’t be better to loosen control over both.