My introduction to firearms happened dramatically when I was about three years old. My mom had found a pit viper in our backyard; she called our neighbor, who walked over with a 12 gauge shotgun and unceremoniously blew it off the back porch.
At least half the people I knew growing up in Texas owned at least one firearm. However, that is not to say they were all “gun nuts.” Some certainly were: one family friend owns at least twenty firearms of various types, and has his own private shooting range on his land. That being said, there are in fact many different types of gun owners and enthusiasts. One might be an avid hunter who travels all over Texas and Oklahoma looking for the best game in the area. On the other side of the spectrum, my grandfather’s guns are primarily display pieces: a World War II-vintage carbine and an old 1800’s rifle that have not been fired in decades. But most gun owners I know fall somewhere in the middle: they own a pistol or a rifle or two that they shoot once every month or two, and hope they never have to use it to defend themselves. For me, owning a gun that you occasionally shot at the range or on a hunt, and kept around for self defense if you ever needed it, was normal.
I had to wait a long while before I actually got to shoot a gun, though. When I was fifteen, my dad, my brother and I went to the gun range and rented a Smith and Wesson pistol and fifty rounds of ammunition. None of us had ever shot before (my mom was the shooter in my family), so a range officer taught us the basics. The biggest thing that struck me from my first visit to the range was their focus on safety and the responsibility, both individual and collective of every shooter to uphold those safety principles. Before we fired a gun, we had to read through the range safety rules three separate times, and our instructor drilled into us the four principles of gun safety. At this point, I have lost count of the number of times I have gone on a shooting trip, but the responsibility I have to be a safe shooter and gun owner is something that has never left my mind. The Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms, but it also carries with it the obligation to use that right responsibly.
The culture surrounding guns at Dartmouth is quite different from the environment where I was raised in Texas. Almost everyone I know in Texas has at least seen and shot a rifle. Here at Dartmouth, there is a substantial portion of the people I know who have never touched a gun, or even seen one outside of a police officer’s holster. If I tell someone I own a gun in Texas, it is seen as normal, but most Dartmouth students are surprised to find out that I am a gun owner and store a rifle with Safety and Security, even though it is a College-sanctioned (and, in fact, quite common) practice.
Views on gun rights are also vastly different; there are some people like me at Dartmouth, who own guns, or have shot them, and are pro-Second Amendment rights. There are also those who are unfamiliar with guns, and perhaps a little afraid of them, but also curious to learn more. Finally, there is a group of people that condemns all firearms and the Second Amendment, despite not even having touched a firearm themselves.
The Dartmouth administration seems to fall more into the final group. Dartmouth is a gun-free zone. The language in the firearms policy on the Office of Student Affairs website is rather hostile: “All weapons are prohibited on the Dartmouth campus.” Firearms are banned at Dartmouth, excluding “hunting rifles/shotguns … registered and stored with the Department of Safety and Security.” Students are not allowed to keep handguns with Safety and Security at all. Personally, as an avid pistol shooter, finding out that I could not keep and use one for sporting purposes at Dartmouth was disappointing.
In fact, the process of registering a rifle or shotgun with Safety and Security is a thorough and stringent process. To store a firearm, one must possess a hunting license or a certificate of hunter education. To get one of those in New Hampshire, I had to register months in advance, pay a sizable fee, spend hours taking an online course that mainly covered gun safety and operation techniques I already knew, and take a class with the Fish and Game department in person. I was already planning on getting my New Hampshire hunting license, so the class was useful for me, but for someone only planning on going target shooting, learning about things like tree stands and bow hunting was redundant at worst, and a helpful reminder at best. That being said, when it comes to firearm safety, it is important to be as careful and thoughtful as possible. Any student who wants to go hunting would have to take the class to get their license in any case. Dartmouth naturally has the right to set whatever restrictions they would like on their firearm storage facilities; with such thorough regulation, however, it is disappointing that students go through such a process and are ultimately denied the right to possess handguns for similar sporting purposes, limiting the ability of legitimate gun owners to fully enjoy their hobby on campus.
In addition, the idea of Dartmouth as a gun free zone is one that raises a red flag amongst many Americans. Students do not store their rifles with Safety and Security for self-defense; it is purely for target shooting and hunting. Declaring Dartmouth to be a gun-free zone, however, seems similar to planting a sign in your front yard saying that your home is a gun-free zone. It is a public declaration telling the rest of the world that you are dependent on the limited resource of law enforcement for safety, which is certainly problematic in the world of today.
However, many people unfamiliar with guns seem to view gun-free zones as a place of security, and the proliferation of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens as the problem. In fact, concealed carry permit holders are the most law-abiding group in the nation—even more so than the police. Their overall crime rate is 1/6th that of police officers, and even lower for firearms-related violations. The police commit firearms violations at a rate of 16.5 per 100,000 officers; among concealed carry holders, that rate is only 2.4 out of 100,000. Guns in the hands of responsible owners hurt nobody—except for the criminals they defend against.
In addition, gun-free zones do nothing to deter terrorists and deranged gunmen. The facts speak for themselves: since the 1950’s, all but two of America’s mass shootings have occurred in “gun free” zones. In fact, some mass shooters specifically chose areas where guns are prohibited. Elliot Rodger, who killed three people in Santa Barbara, California, wrote in his 141-page manifesto that he ruled out certain areas to attack because he was too afraid someone with a gun would shoot back. The only people these gun-free zones are stopping are law-abiding gun owners from defending the public.
However, keeping guns privately on college campuses is still a problematic issue. The people have the right to own weapons and defend themselves, but those who choose to exercise that right also have the responsibility to ensure that they are in control of their firearms at all times. Not only do they need to make sure that another person cannot get control of their weapon, but they also need to always be in control of themselves when handling it. Dorm buildings simply do not provide a very secure space to store a firearm; the guarded Safety and Security armory, however, is a different story.
Ultimately, the case against gun ownership and the Second Amendment reflects a common difference between the ideologies of liberals and conservatives: liberals believe that more regulation and government intervention is necessary to protect the people from themselves, whereas conservatives believe in the rights of the individual and trust that the average person will have the responsibility to not abuse those rights. I commend Dartmouth for their relatively open policies towards student firearm ownership, and hope that those rights can be extended even further towards law-abiding student firearm enthusiasts, leading to an overall safer and gun-friendly environment at the College on the Hill.