“Why does my right to defend myself end when I go to class?” The Individual Rights Paradigm and Concealed Carry on Campus

The question in the title relates to the idea raised by a number of YouTube users that campus gun bans violated their individual right to self-defence. The constitutional debate around the second amendment due to the Supreme Court’s ‘Heller’ case was briefly discussed in the post published on the 27th July 2015. This blog will return to this, advancing the argument about the ‘individual rights’ interpretation of the second amendment being entrenched in the notion of concealed carry on campus and self-defence.

To begin with, the Supreme Court ruling ‘Heller versus the District of Columbia’ passed in 2008 centred on an appeal by Dick Heller, a police officer who wanted to keep a handgun in his home for self-defence but was unable to do so due to a ban implemented in the District of Columbia following a sharp increase in gun crime in the 1970s. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled 5-4 that ‘the handgun ban violates the second amendment,’ with the five acceding judges maintaining it protected ‘an individual right to possess a firearm…for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home.’ The ruling, therefore, favours the ‘individual rights paradigm’ that the constitution circumscribes the rights of individual citizens to own firearms for self-defence; it has subsequently led to debates about whether other bans on owning and carrying guns ‘violate’ the second amendment. This then made its way into the concealed carry on campus debate, with the interest group Students for Concealed Carry maintaining that the concealed carry ban violated state-level legislation, the ‘Colorado Concealed Carry Act,’ and the state constitution’s right to self-defence. As it transpired, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favour of Student for Concealed Carry and this led to universities in Colorado allowing concealed carry on campuses.

A number of commentators on YouTube drew upon similar lines of argument, claiming that firearm ban on college and university campuses violated their constitutional rights and were denying them a chance to defend themselves. One YouTube user compared carrying firearms to having fire extinguishers in classrooms: a safety precaution in case an emergency was to transpire. These are examples of ‘dogmatic thinking,’ seeking to reinforce current ideological stances that the purpose of the second amendment is to provide protection against threats. (1) To support their argument, a handful of users referred to the Supreme Court ‘Heller’ ruling. Missing from YouTube discussions, however, is the fact that the ruling mandated that bans in ‘sensitive places’ like educational institutions still apply. Further to this, as discussed in the last blog post, the idea of guns on campus is unsettling for a number of YouTube users — the right to be safe is also another aspect of the constitution and something which must also be considered in all debates around this topic.

[Results from YouTube analyses and further reading about the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ‘Heller’ case informed the writing of this post. The next blog will completely wrap up this topic by critically assessing the idea that carrying concealed firearms will allow individuals to defend themselves and others against school shooters and other threats.]

  1. Lane, R. E. (1966) ‘The Decline of Politics and Ideology in a Knowledgeable Society.’ American Sociological Review 31 (5), 649-662.

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