Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More on the Virginia Tech Massacre

From the Roanoke Times: http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/wb/xp-50658

The obvious objection that the typical gun-grabber would offer here is a reductio ad absurdum: "Do you really want to let ALL college students walk around carrying guns?!? You'd have Dodge City circa 1875!"

The reason I am inclined to give at least partial credit to this objection is that I have over the years developed a rather low opinion of the judgment and maturity of college students in general. This is not necessarily because 18 - 22 year olds are inherently irresponsible, although I will allow that maturity continues to develop through one's twenties. Rather, the college environment is one where the vast majority of students have very little in the way of responsible behavior expected of them and carry very few of the consequences for their actions.

Anecdote #1: When I was a student, our school football team beat the #1 ranked team late in the season. The game was "away," but of course much of the campus was watching the game on television. In "celebration," a mob of students threw an alcohol-fueled riot outside of our football stadium. They ripped up any flammable material available and built a bonfire in the middle of the intersection underneath the traffic light. (Casualty: one traffic light.) They further went through all the nearby dormitories discharing the fire extinguishers to ensure that they would not be available to anyone seeking to put out the fire. They then ripped up one of the goal posts from the stadium and tossed it on the fire. (Casualty: one goal post.) Police were summoned. (Casualty: one police car.) The fire department was summoned, but the rioters first would not allow the fire trucks to approach the fire, and then did their best to crimp the fire hoses the firemen were trying to use. The riot continued until well after our team arrived home.

What causes this kind of behavior? THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES!!! No arrests. No bill of damages presented to any student. No expulsions. All the costs generated by the rioters were born by GROWN-UPS! The most salient feature of college life is that ALMOST NOBODY IS PAYING THEIR OWN WAY IN THE WORLD. Their way is being paid by Mommy, Daddy, and Uncle Sam. For the few students studying engineering or the physical sciences, their studies might be difficult enough to absorb their energies. But for the vast majority of students, college life is four years of beer and circuses, an externally created and artificially maintained responsibility-free existence. Such an existence must surely have the effect of undermining the character of middle-class young people no less than the responsibility-free existence created by, say, AFDC undermined the character of the urban poor. Once upon a time, this effect was mitigated by college administrators by acting vigorously in loco parentis and rigidly structuring the lives of its students. Colleges have abandoned this role, substituting "tolerance" and "diversity" for virtue and discipline.

The institute at which I teach is fairly unique in still requiring our students to lead highly structured lives and enforcing that structure with multiple layers of oversight as well as significant penalties for infraction. But even this isn't perfect: last weekend, five students took it upon themselves to sneak out after curfew, break in to the school gymnasium through the roof, and throw a fairly low-key, non-alcoholic party in one of the squash courts. Now on the one hand, I have to admire the initiative and courage on display here. (To enter the gym the students had to drop from the ceiling into the swimming pool, a good 12 meter jump into the dark.) But on the other hand, these students are not paying their own way and will probably not be prosecuted as common vandals. (They will be disciplined in other ways, and required to pay for the damage to the roof.) This kind of thing doesn't happen very often, but the fact that it happens at all shows that even the most motivated young people in the nation are not yet quite GROWN-UPS.

So I don't claim to be a big fan of allowing the typical Virginia Tech student to walk around armed. This is not because he lacks the capacity to carry a weapon as a responsible adult but because in no other aspect of his life is he being required to live the life of a responsible adult, and therefore the potential for his misbehavior rises dramatically.

But the solution to this problem is not gun control. The solution to this problem is reforming higher education. Raise admission standards. Enforce behavior standards. Reduce or eliminate most government aid to education. Reduce or eliminate most on-campus housing. Reduce the student population to serious students studying serious subjects leading to marketable degrees. When students are paying their own way, and interact in their non-classroom hours with the real world, and are taught to regard their time at school as a monetary investment in their future earning potential, THEN I would allow them to keep and bear arms as a responsible citizen.

However, the prohibition on the possession of firearms by faculty is a gross violation of their constitutional rights and led directly to this tragedy. The administration of Virginia Tech may be beyond accountability in this regard, but I hope the voters of Virginia remember last year's failure by the state legislature to protect the rights of the VT faculty, and act appropriately.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin nails it.

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