Just another day at a university in cowboy country fantasyland (aka the U.S.A.)

Do I feel lucky?

Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

H/t to @LeapingRobot (aka Patrick McCray) for drawing my attention to this thoughtful request from Boisie State’s Greg Hampikian, who asks the Idaho Lege, “When May I Shoot A Student?”  Published nearly two years ago, he explains:

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.

I think you get the sense of the Swiftian satire that follows.  (Swift’s essay on eating children is eerily appropriate to the problem Hampikian’s essay addresses, which is extraordinary deference shown to a minority of gun nuts in the population at the expense of the majority of us, who just want to go to church, school, the gym, and the mall without being shot.) My favorite is his imagining of the popularity of study-abroad programs for bad guys who want to wreak havoc in gun-free zones:

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.

Too bad Hampikian didn’t wait for the results of “expert” reviewers who, it was announced this morning, concluded that it was completely appropriate for Cleveland police officer Tim Loehmann to shoot a 12-year old boy holding a toy gun within two seconds of encountering him:  “Officer Loehmann’s belief that [victim Tamir] Rice posed a threat of serious physical harm or death was objectively reasonable as was his response to that perceived threat.”

Based on that “expert” opinion, it seems like the bar is pretty low for “objectively reasonable” when using deadly force by a trained peace officer.  The bar has got to be lower for armed civilians, right?  Next time you see a student reach into his or her backpack, keep that in mind.  We now live in a zero-tolerance society for personal fear, even for people who volunteer for jobs that occasionally mean they’re exposed to the possibility of “physical harm or death.”  That’s not what college professors or teachers signed up for, so it sounds like we should just embrace our fears, and let it guide our gun use on campus.  If you’re afraid, just light ’em up!  Fear is your best defense.

I had a conversation with my students last week about the murders at the community college in Oregon.  Then I went back to my office and heard about the two murders at two different campuses, Northern Arizona U. and Texas Southern U. that very morning.  It struck me that if we held a teach-in about gun violence every time one there was a mass shooting in the U.S. or gun violence on a U.S. campus, we’d never teach about anything else.

In 50 or 100 years’ time, historians will write about the terrible and needless epidemic of gun violence in an otherwise stable and prosperous country in the way they now write about lynchings of African Americans between 1880 and 1940.  They will point to the other developed nations with liberal gun laws like Canada and Switzerland that do not see the levels of gun deaths that the U.S. did at the turn of the twenty-first century.  They will quote the profiteering ghouls and insane ideologues who insist that the only solution we can ever consider is more guns, never fewer.

These future historians will wonder why the vast majority consented to be tyrannized by a tiny, addled minority of Americans.  They’ll also shake their heads in wonder at the piles of bodies of first-graders, high-school students, and college students who had to die before anyone did anything about it.  (That is, if we do anything about it and can ever put an  end date on this problem.)

13 thoughts on “Just another day at a university in cowboy country fantasyland (aka the U.S.A.)

  1. What I see in the international news about Canada suggests that gun laws are changing there, thanks to its apparently extremist PM.

    We had a gun scare on campus last week, an anonymous threat. This was a real surprise in a country with a very low gun violence rate (despite somewhat less restrictive laws than comparators). It scared a lot of students and angered a lot of folks I met around town that day. (“This isn’t the US after all,” was a common sort of sentiment, as was the opinion that the perpetrator must be from the US.) University leaders asked us to get our calm on, which faculty did. The event passed and we are back to more important things, like going to the pub to watch rugby and drink too much.


  2. The whole thing is beyond nuts. I got wrapped up in a homicide investigation in London while research touristing there years ago, and the most dangerous tool I saw or heard about was a rusty Universal Gym set that looked like it might collapse on an unwary fitness buff. I was tapped on the shoulder while walking down Tottenham Court Road by a white-shirted metropolitan police officer armed with what looked like a short wooden stick. He asked if I would “assist Her Majesty’s police” in a homicide investigation. Thinking I was about to be deputized I tapped my passport and agreed to join the force. I was soon in the back seat of a police van and driven over to a station house on Lamb’s Conduit, where we backed down a ramp into the basement. We were in the lads’ fitness room, where I saw the tilting Universal. I was recruited to be a face in an “identification parade,” i.e., a “lineup.” It was like the Group W. bench in that Arlo Guthrie Thanksgiving song. When they needed to do this they swept the local pubs for blokes who needed the eight pound compensation. I was given a few details about the crime, which involved a kind of Holmesian strangulation in the dead of night on a public street. The witness was on his way over from Wembley, and in the meantime we should just relax, just not try to use the weights. I realized to my horror that I had an undeveloped picture of the crime scene in my backpack, as while passing through a small street that morning I had photographed a sandwich board sign asking any witnesses to report on what turned out to be the crime in question. The recruiting officer assured me that even if I was fingered by the witness there was no way I could or would be implicated. He then must have realized to *his* horror that he had a Yank on his hands, because he went quickly upstairs, and the “Guv’nor” (i.e. the station commander) came down and took charge off the innocent pseudo-perpetrator. We talked about the impending Major League Baseball strike and things like that for half an hour until the witness showed up. All of us pseudo-perps, plus the actual suspect, were then lined up on folding chairs and the witness walked the row, hands behind his back, suspiciously stopping and staring into each of our faces for what seemed like minutes. He then went upstairs to file his report while the Deputy Guv’nor got out a small gunny sack filled with pound coins and proceeded to ration us out our allotted eight apiece, for all of about two hours of public service. I even got an official looking document thanking me on behalf of the Queen for contributing to the maintenance of peace and justice.

    What I didn’t see was anything likely to go off if a six year old kid played with it unknowingly. And as noted, even the crime was apparently a bare-handed phenomenon. After that, I’ve never felt vulnerable in any European or foreign city, even at night, even in Beijing, or maybe especially even in Beijing. I just hope they don’t start sending American bad guys to places like that.


  3. I waiver between extreme pessimism and increasing optimism. My grounds for pessimism are the fact that Congress refused to do anything after a fellow representative, Gabby Giffords, was gunned down in a grocery store while visiting with constituents in her district. What kind of assholes wouldn’t pass a gun control law in the wake of an attempt to assassinate one of their own? Oh that’s right, this was the same institution that refused to do anything about handguns after the Reagan assassination attempt. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the slaughter of two dozen preschoolers and their teachers did not seem to move Congressional dude-bros to take action either.

    Now my grounds for optimism are rooted in my study of history. All to often a minority sets itself up to dominate several veto points within our system of government. Right now the NRA and Second Amendment aPologists (SAPs) are astride several Federal veto points, namely Congress and the Supreme Court. But you know what, the longer this goes on the weaker their position becomes. You can only say “N0!” to a social problem for so long. This happened with Slavery, its happened again and again with Civil Rights, and it happened with Women’s Suffrage. All those things had to change sooner or later. They were morally unsustainable for the healthy society.

    Second, things never change, until they do and then it happens pretty quickly. In 1988, the Soviet Union looked as permanent as it had in 1950 or 1968. But by December 1989 the Eastern Bloc was gone. By December 1991 the Soviet Union had been dissolved. People had been trying to get the Soviet Union out of Eastern Europe since 1953, but it took decades of struggle on the part of a dedicated minority to make it happen. I cannot speak to US history on this, but it seems to me that Civil Rights had been a decades long struggle before it culminated in the Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s.

    The NRA and the SAPs seem to control the agenda, but I think their position is weaker than most people assume. They are a minority who has to make increasingly insane arguments to defend their position. They are sticking to an ultimately indefensible position, that they have an unlimited right to guns. But there is no such thing as an unlimited and unregulated right to anything. Existing Gun Control groups are loosely organized and have not really coalesced on a minimum program. The longer the NRA and the SAPs resist the reasonable legislation that has been proposed on an ad hoc basis, the more likely they are going to give rise to a Gun Abolition movement with a simpler solution: Abolish the Second Amendment.

    The legions of activists struggling for reasonable gun control laws are already out there working hard on this issue. The Gun Abolition movement awaits its Carrie Nation, its Frederick Douglas, its Vaclav Havel, its Jan Palach, and eventually its Abraham Lincoln.


    • Wow, Matt–you’ve really said it all here. I share your generally optimistic outlook, but wonder if I’ll live to see the change. Maybe our kids and grandkids will.

      Wouldn’t campaigning against gun violence be an awesome post-presidential career for Barack Obama? That kind of prestige and gravitas has never been put behind the gun safety movement. He’ll never convince the NRA types and the SAPs, and I think he could really use their fear and disgust of him to mobilize the majority.


      • Historiann, I think we’ll live to see the change. I give the whole thing twenty years. I look forward to hearing a job talk about it for a new position in our department about early twenty first century US history.

        I think anything that keeps President Obama away from education policy or higher education administration would be an excellent post-Presidential career trajectory. I’d love to see him or Bill Clinton appointed to the next Supreme Court opening.


  4. I agree with Matt L’s very astute analysis across the board, and have actually been thinking along the cautious optimism lines without the careful articulations of circumstance that he offers. The high-riders are skating on much thinner cultural and electoral ice than they doubtless imagine. Of course, if I was president, my trigger finger to hasten the day would approximate that of a four year old on his very first “deer hunt.” The executive order overturning Marbury v. Madison and stripping the Supreme Court of constitutional review authority would start the game, like shouting “pull” on a skeet-shooting yard. The inevitable impeachment imbroglio would soon follow, but I’d bet on even conservative Senate Democrats not wanting to go into that snake hole. Would it come to having to make the proverbial tanks roll? Hopefully not, but even that would be a great demonstration of how useless side arms and hunting weapons would be in allowing a citizens militia to protect our basic freakdoms. You could always put some of this basic democratic architecture back in place once the emigres were off to a big enough island. Marbury descendants would come out of the woodwork, demanding compensation with interest for whatever they were paying federal magistrates back then, as fractional additions to their several inheritances. This could be easily footed with the proceeds from the sales of NRA and other émigré property. On a busier class day I would have said “don’t get me started,” but instead, I think I’ll just stop.

    I do, I should say, have a good use for the abcessed gum-hole out of which the Second Amendment would come.


  5. Indyanna, you have a very low opinion of judicial review. Even if I evaluate Constitutional judicial review in the U.S. only by looking at its consequences, I’m very happy for *Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka*, *Lawrence v. Texas*, *Obergefell v. Hodges*, *Planned Parenthood v. Casey*, *New York Times v. Sullivan*, and a bunch of other Supreme Court decisions. We should value judicial review even if we think that the Supreme Court was wrong to rule in *Heller* that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to have a firearm in the home for self-defense.


  6. Well, I hope Matt L and Indyanna are right. I was talking about this with my mother today at lunch, and she said *she* wouldn’t live to see it. But I expect I will. My optimism has not been shaped by such an astute historical analysis as Matt’s, but instead on the changing public discourse. And I think the models for changing the situation will be different from existing models of gun control; I’m thinking about the meme on the book of the face (there are various versions) which compare guns and cars. But, we don’t (by and large) say cars can’t go places: we license the drivers, we check the operation, and we require insurance. My hunch is that some kind of system could be constructed (not in the current congress, needless to say) which is essentially market driven. Or else it will focus on ammunition and not the guns. That is to say, there is some creative thinking about different ways to accomplish the same end. And if we only ask people to carry insurance relative to the firepower of their guns, the gun owners just look crazier and crazier. And the insurance industry would be happy to offer insurance!


  7. EngLitProf, I think I was pretty much responding in the “Swiftian satire” dimension of the thread. There is “Citizens United,” of course, not to mention “Dred Scott,” but the scoreboard would go back and forth on these things pretty much since 1803. Still, the Supreme Court is skating on as thin ice as the NRA in its presumption of exclusive and perpetual control of that function, given that it is not mentioned or even implied in the Constitution itself, and founded on an appellate case substantively comparable in its gravity to a federal traffic ticket. I would in fact let the Court work its way out of its burrow in its own time. But theoretically, this necessary arbitration of “what the law is” could be exercised elsewhere, institutionally, or even be sub-divided against itself. Revolutionary Pennsylvania (1776-1790) lodged the equivalent governmental function in a specialized body appointed by a democratically-elected** legislature, and I think there are other examples of experimentation at the state level.

    ** More democratically-elected than any of the other states; not by our rhetorical standards to be sure.


  8. And now there’s this:

    Because even though trained law enforcement officers sometimes make bad calls with tragic result, putting a gun in my hand — or in the hands of a bunch of 19 year-olds — will make everyone safer.

    Hey, legislators! Why not *ask* us what would make us feel safer, instead of telling us? Or, here’s an idea: ask experienced police (actual beat cops and sergeants) what are the pluses and minuses of this brilliant plan?



    • Why don’t they ask us? Because this is not in fact about us or our safety.

      It’s posturing with their voters and throwing proffies under the bus AGAIN, backing up, and driving over us a second and third time. Teachers and proffies are the opposite of the gun nut/2A absolutist vote, so they don’t care if they actually endanger us further. (It’s a feature, not a bug!)


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