ross-merrill - August 9, 2016
Texas just passed a law allowing students age 21 and over to bring concealed weapons onto public university campuses. Proponents, including Governor Greg Abbott, say the law would prevent campus massacres like the one at Virginia Tech in 2007...or the one that actually took place at the University of Texas in 1966, which left 16 people dead. Critics say weapons on campus will increase campus violence and have a chilling effect on professors teaching controversial topics.
This is just the latest in a long series of odd, confusing, or extreme gun laws enacted by states around the country. Some have worked, some are on appeal, and some are just too new to judge.
The Hawkeye State passed a law in 2013 that allows blind people -- not just legally but completely blind -- to purchase firearms and carry them in public. This includes people who are not eligible for a driver's license. USA Today reported that, soon after the law was passed, "Polk County officials say they've issued weapons permits to at least three people who can't legally drive and were unable to read the application forms or had difficulty doing so because of visual impairments."
This was mostly a symbolic law, but it gives you an idea of the passion of some gun owners. In 1982, the town of Kennesaw, Georgia, passed a law requiring the head of every household to own a gun. The law was never enforced, and it included exemptions for, as Snopes puts it, "those Kennesaw residents who couldn't afford guns, couldn't use guns, couldn't legally own guns, or simply didn't want to have guns" -- so, basically, if you didn't want to follow this law, you didn't have to. The idea of the government mandating people to own anything, like, say, health insurance, remains controversial, so it's hard to see laws like this ever getting very far.
Texas isn't the first state to allow guns on campus. Tennessee, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho also have similar laws. Idaho's is odd because it bans guns in dorms. So if you live in a dorm, you can take your gun to class, but once the class is over, what do you do with your gun? Leave it in your car? Move into off-campus housing? If guns are "good" in classrooms, why are they "bad" in dorms?
Just a few months ago, Mississippi passed a law that allows people to carry guns into places of worship, with the goal of acting as armed security during services. The law also makes it possible for people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. That means everyone in a church (or synagogue or mosque) can legally be armed -- congregants, security guards, and the ministers themselves. Various states allow places of worship to make their own decisions about guns; the Mississippi law specifically grants people legal protection.
Some states allow teachers to carry weapons, but South Dakota was the first to pass a law that clearly authorizes teachers in K-12 schools to carry a gun. The law leaves the final decision up to the school districts, and even the state's governor figured most districts would probably choose not to allow guns. But the NRA supported the bill and lobbied for it, so it passed.
Earlier this year, South Carolina passed a law letting anyone with a concealed weapons permit take their weapon into a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol...or does it? Part of the law says that the person carrying the weapon can't actually drink alcohol in the bar, which seems pointless. And to make matters more confusing, Governor Nikki Haley said "This is not a guns in bars bill, it was never a guns in bars bill. It is illegal to carry and consume alcohol. It was yesterday, it will be tomorrow." But though the law allows the owner of the establishment to ban weapons on their property, the law most certainly does allow guns in bars. Either the governor is confused or something else is going on.
In 2013, Tennessee passed the "Guns in Trunks" law, which gives employees the right to bring their weapons to their workplace parking lot and keep them in a locked vehicle. To further protect employees, the state amended the law last year to make it illegal for employers to fire someone solely for bringing their weapon onto the premises. Employers can still ban firearms from their actual, physical building, but there can be cars full of rifles and ammunition just outside.
Arizona allows people carry concealed weapons without a permit, which makes it difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between a law-abiding gun owner and an armed criminal. To be fair, Arizona is joined by Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Interestingly, Wyoming is the first among all states in gun deaths per capita; Alaska is fourth; West Virginia is 12th; Arizona is 15th.
What are gun laws like in your state? Fire away in the comments.
Feature image by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register