March Madness in many state legislatures in the West has nothing to do with basketball — it's another onslaught of measures to allow guns to be brought onto college campuses. And if that's not madness, then I'm the point guard for Butler University.
This past week was a mixed bag, as the Arizona Legislature (apparently unfazed by the shooting that nearly killed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and did kill six others) voted to allow guns on state campuses. But in Texas, senators are cooling their heels at the moment on a measure to bring guns to campus, after easy House passage.
Closer to home, some lawmakers in the Idaho Legislature were eager to join the rush. A bill easily passed the House, only to fail in a Senate committee where one Republican member's son had been shot and killed at a college kegger several years ago.
Utah already allows guns on state campuses, and at least nine Western states are considering similar laws, with Arizona now the closest to enactment. Gov. Jan Brewer has the final say there.
News reports from states where this is happening tell us that college faculties, administrators, and security forces all oppose these laws. But seemingly the people who actually work on campus have no voice against those who want to make a point and show "liberal intellectuals" who is running things. It gives an entirely new meaning to "in loco parentis."
College and university faculty are frequent targets of the far right, and anti-intellectualism seems to be a mantra of the right wing of the Republican Party. Putting faculty in the gun sights of any angry and disturbed student is a direct act of intimidation, and the vast majority of citizens need to stand up and call the bullies out.
Make no bones about it, these laws have nothing to do with safety. The idea of allowing a bunch of testosterone-prone young men (and it will be young men) to carry weapons on a college campus is the least-safe thing one can imagine.
Any professor or staff member on a college campus can relate stories of young people who became distraught and confused because of events in their lives: The breaking of a romantic relationship, a failing grade or blown exam, bad news from home are but a few of the things that upset young people trying to graduate from childhood to adulthood.
Normally these things are talked out with friends, professors, or counselors. Add a gun to the mix and there is potential for danger to everyone nearby. The professor who must tell a young student that he or she is failing a class or won't make it in a desired major field has enough on the plate without wondering if the student is packing a pistol.
Thus far, the rush to arm everyone able to stand upright (discounting keggers) is a regional thing that has yet to impact the "Left Coast" where we live; but this sort of nonsense casts a pall that goes well beyond individual states and campuses. The reputation of all Western states suffers by this sort of recklessness.
Imagine the job of a department chair or dean trying to recruit faculty in one of these gun states; how to strategically slip in the news to a brilliant scholar and teacher that he or she may expect one or more students in a lecture or seminar — or office hours — to be carrying a loaded weapon? Would you want your young son or daughter in a dormitory where a roommate might show up with a (legal) loaded gun in one hand and a beer in the other?
Yes, violence can and does occur off-campus, in houses, and bars; but a campus is a sanctuary of sorts where physical intimidation has always been off limits and a free and open mixing of young people in a nonviolent atmosphere leads to learning. There is plenty of swaggering and bullying in our society without expanding it to campuses.
With the U.S. Supreme Court holding an NRA majority and the right wing of the Republican Party in control of the U.S. House, individual states are free to roam at will to satisfy the always-increasing demands of the gun lobby. It ought to stop at the campus gate, before we have a shootout in somebody's Red Square.