Are We Safe?

How far does the constitutional right to carry a firearm extend? How comfortable are you with having open carry on campus? Coming from the Northeast, these are questions I never had to confront. Guns required a permit and largely Democratic state legislatures never made any move to change that. Living 20 minutes away from Sandy Hook meant that gun legislation news usually centered on enforcing the law and increasing gun safety. Moving 1,000 miles away from home and stepping onto campus, I was confronted with a different reality. Recently, the Missouri state legislature voted to allow constitutional carry, which is concealed carry without a permit. Although Governor Nixon attempted to veto the bill, he was unable to prevent its passage. The implications of this law are massive. Criminals, charged with federal felonies, are now able to carry concealed firearms, for as long as someone is 21 and a Missouri resident, there is no limit on his or her right to constitutional carry.

Over the past decade Missouri has increasingly relaxed its gun laws to an unprecedented level compared to other states. In 2006, the legislature removed the requirement for background checks and purchase permits. Homicide rates increased. That being said, some experts cite the statistical adage: correlation does not mean causation. For instance, California increased its gun safety laws yet homicide rates still increased. A larger concern, especially in Missouri, is the effect on impoverished communities, where gun laws such as this can have disproportately detrimental effects. With easier access to guns and no laws requiring a permit for concealed carry, there is new potential for violent crimes and homicides in these areas.

I came from a bubble where gun safety laws were rarely even considered. The only stress was to be careful in the open space around my house during the fall, as there were often deer hunters. At Washington University, the student body is very geographically diverse and many students come from states where open and concealed carry are unquestionably legal. Yet it is easy to slip into the safety bubble that the University provides its students. While this safety is important, the school still resides in a city with high rates of homicide and violent crime. St. Louis has the highest homicide rate for a city over 100,000 in the nation. It is important to remember that a few blocks outside of this bubble is a very real world that may have just become more dangerous. This isn’t just a problem in Missouri. It’s a national epidemic. In 2011, 17 people died from terrorism and 11, 101 due to gun violence.

The scariest part of the whole passage is that there is no real scientific data to support either argument. According to federal law, the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention is not allowed to conduct any testing that would improve gun safety or research prevention methods. There is no data on the use of universal background checks or their effectiveness. Essentially, government decisions are made without proper evidence that would help solve the problem. Such large amounts of gun violence have no direct link. Some experts say gun laws reinforce it, others say they have no effect. Discussions of gun violence often lead to two extremes: either the government is taking all of our guns and we have no rights as citizens anymore, or we should all be allowed to carry military grade weapons. There is little room for the in between conversation of which policies protect every citizen and which policies are endangering the lives of others.

I am not used to having to worry about guns. I am not used to people regularly carrying guns. From my perspective, life is safer when there are gun safety laws—Sandy Hook was all the evidence I needed freshman year. I remember being in my biology class and my teacher started crying. I remember hiding behind the lab tables and hoping that the shooter’s next stop would not be our town. These are memories that prevent me from approaching the subject in an objective manner no matter how hard I try. I do know that we have a war on drugs, a war on terrorism, and, if I didn’t know better, I would think the U.S. has a war against its own people. People are shot every day and some parts of the country have slipped into the mindset that the only preventative action would be extreme, unconstitutional action. Discussion of potential solutions has halted and the blind movement towards looser gun laws is a striking image of what gun laws could begin to look like across the nation.

Gwen Byrne

Gwen Byrne '20 studiesin the Olin Business School. She can be reached at gwenythbyrne@wustl.edu.

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