Guns and Porn, Oh My

Solutions in Search of a Problem

The Idaho Senate will this week – choose your metaphor – cock the hammer, reload or take aim at the increasingly controversial issue of guns on the state’s college campuses. The House has already passed the legislation, the Senate may think twice.

Boise State University, the largest Idaho school, where football tailgate parties are arguably even more popular than guns. has played the economic card by raising concerns that events on the campus may be impacted by a proposed state law allowing students, faculty too, to pack a piece to a concert, football game or poetry reading, not to mention biology class.

Idaho is racing Texas to see which state can get the campus gun toting legislation in place first. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said he’ll sign legislation working its way through, as Molly Ivins used to say, the Texas Leg. Perry is the same governor who suggested a while back that the federal stimulus legislation gives Texas a right to consider secession. Fully armed obviously.

The Los Angeles Times visited the huge University of Texas campus in Austin recently, a place with an awful history of gun violence, and found a mixed reception for the campus gun legislation. In 1966 a student gunman at UT climbed to the top of the campus clock tower and systematically killed 14 people. Ancient history, I guess, in an age when proponents of such legislation argue that having more guns on campus will actually improve safety.

One Texas professor told the Times he welcomed the proposed gun law and said he’d definitely consider taking his piece to class with him if it passes. Not a professor to argue with about a grade, I suppose. At another Texas school, Sam Houston State, a new research project found considerably less support among students. On a scale of zero being not comfortable at all and 100 being as comfortable as you can get, the Sam Houston students clocked in – or is it Glocked in – at 39. A similar survey at a Washington school produced a 33 comfort score. May just be that the students who are, pardon the expression, the target of this campus safety initiative aren’t feeling all that comfortable about how safe they’ll be in English 101. It used to be all you had to worry about was staying awake in class or understanding Milton.

In times of severe economic turmoil like those faced in Idaho and most other states at the moment, I’ve noticed a curious legislative phenomenon. With limited ability for legislators to think big about new buildings or highways, they tend to find solutions to problems that may not really exist. The gun legislation, stoked by the National Rifle Association in Idaho, Texas and a dozen other states, seems to fall in that category. College administrators, the State Board of Education and law enforcement leaders – those closest to the vibe on a campus – are universally opposed to the gun legislation that has only come forward because, well, the NRA says its needed to protect our Second Amendment rights.

As one Texas student said, college is already stressful enough, why add the prospect for even more worry by affirmatively introducing guns to the campus scene? State Representative Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise said it pretty well: “One can only imagine a college classroom or a campus administrative situation where heated arguments about strongly held political beliefs or disputes about grades or even parking issues result in the use of a concealed weapon.”

Meanwhile, Idaho legislators are also debating a bill to require more actions from public libraries to filter content on computers that library patrons – as in the tax paying public – utilize in vast numbers every day. Another solution in search of a problem.

Full disclosure, I am currently the president of the Boise Public Library Board, and we have long had in place a perfectly sensible policy about computer use. If a parent is concerned that a youngster might go where they shouldn’t on the Internet, we take steps to ensure that won’t happen. But, we also stay away from being the Internet nanny for adults who presumably are smart enough to make their own decisions about how to use a computer.

Both these pieces of legislation are in the one-size-fits-all category of legislating. Not content to leave it to local library boards in individual Idaho communities to figure out the best approach in their neighborhoods and unwilling to trust a college president in Twin Falls or Moscow to know enough about their campus environment to keep them as safe as possible, legislative solutions must be found to non-existent problems.

Guns and computers. Strange that in a largely educational environment – a college campus and a public library – some legislators want virtually unlimited access to one and to substantially limit access to the other.

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