Cornell and Crime II: Here There Be Guns

15 05 2012

If you want to have a spirited debate on campus, open the floor for a discussion for the provision of guns on university grounds. Stating the obvious here, but student-owned guns are prohibited on campus, and have been for over a century (CUPD officers are issued Glock semi-automatics, an effect of the Willard Straight Hall takeover back in 1969). Few things seem to do a better job of getting someone’s blood to boil, and not without due reason. I thought of looking at this because of this recent little piece from the Sun about a student being robbed at gunpoint in North Campus, and the ensuing “we should be allowed to have guns/are you crazy no we shouldn’t have guns” comment queue.

I mulled this over in my head a little while, thinking that this usually gets tied into some “good old days” argument about back when everyone could have guns and everyone was safer (and there was much less crime, everyone was good-looking, all the kids were above-average, and whatever else those rose-tinted glasses show). I decided to look at the Sun archives for some historical perspective.

One of the first things returned in the search was an article from 1930 – before the vast majority of us were even alive – detailing a series of armed robberies and the murder of a gas station attendant leading to a possible rise in gun permit applications (the only requirement be that you are a law-abiding citizen of “good character”). So much for those good old days. For what it’s worth, the CUPD was formed the following year, with a whopping two patrolmen on horseback, and no guns during day shifts (today, Cornell has six times as many students, and about 45 officers).

As for the case of responsible students, it’s not always easy determining which are and which aren’t – as these cases demonstrate. You have (in order) the hard-partying student, the student claiming self-defense, and the self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound (thought to be accidental, but could have been otherwise). In imagining a world where guns were okay on campus, I can see a clear case for pulling the gun rights of the first, a lawsuit waiting to happen with the second (the gun owner claimed he shot at someone who was leaving racist notes under his door), and another lawsuit waiting to happen with the third, if the family gets on the “my child’s university didn’t do enough to prevent this” train. There would be time, money, and a bevy of other issues involved.

On the other hand, as this Sun editorial from 1981 illustrates, there are some valuable reasons one can have for owning a gun, such as women protecting themselves against rapists, and it’s important to note that most gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens. From here we can get into a range of arguments, all of which are easily blown out of proportion. The passion people put into the guns argument is second perhaps only to abortion, especially with regards to the intransigence of its debaters.

So I didn’t write this entry to start up a gun control debate; that’s what news websites are for. The purpose of this entry is to show that there was no “golden era” for either party – no period where guns, or the lack thereof, made us so much safer. There will always be crime, there will always be grey cases in the argument of who is and isn’t irresponsible, and for the foreseeable future, there will be a gun control argument.

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One response

16 05 2012
Jason

Excellent approach in framing this discussion. Another common omission in this debate is the fact that there are hundreds of more modern and effective non-lethal defense tools like stun devices. If someone is truly concerned for their safety, these devices are a logical, and cost-effective alternative to owning a gun, which often turns into a liability.

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