As state legislatures across the country gaveled their sessions to a close, it signaled the culmination of a long, unanimous rejection of one of the worst ideas in modern political debate - the notion that state lawmakers should force colleges and universities to allow students to take loaded, hidden handguns into classrooms.
All told, 34 independent efforts by the National Rifle Association and Students for Concealed Carry on Campus to pass guns-on-campus bills in 22 different states in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy failed miserably, notably with even ultra-conservative state legislative leaders who have been longtime reliable allies of the NRA opposing the idea. And the broad opposition included students and universities who felt under attack.
But in fact, it was the students whose voices ultimately prevailed in convincing legislators to reject guns on campus nationwide. Colin Goddard, who as a student at Virginia Tech University in April 2007 was shot four times, said that "the gun lobby used this event to further its agenda of introducing guns into every aspect of American society, adding now the learning environment. Instead, they could have used this example of how a prohibited purchaser got his guns, not on the streets and through the 'black market' but at a local pawn shop and over the internet, as a way of saying 'Hey, our current laws we have are inadequate and unenforceable'. It got students across the country motivated and made us speak out."
Now that most legislatures have closed, some of the students say they'll help join the fight to protect their colleges from one of the worst sources of gun violence: the unregulated sales of firearms at America's gun shows.
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John Woods, 25, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, is a member of Students for Gun-Free Schools. Woods was a student at Virginia Tech during the horrific shooting tragedy that killed his girlfriend and 31 others. "Keeping guns off of our college campuses is, of course, critical," Woods said. "But ultimately, students need to examine the root causes of gun violence in America. One of those root causes is that it's easier to buy a firearm than a car. An obvious way to protect students and Americans in general is to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Background checks on all private sales, particularly at gun shows, do just that, and in these days of text messages and out-of-pocket Internet access, that should be simple and inexpensive to implement."
The gun show loophole allows people who are not federally licensed gun dealers to sell firearms, at gun shows or literally out of the trunk of their car, without requiring buyers to pass a federal Brady criminal background check to determine if they are prohibited from purchasing guns. Thirty-three states allow such sales without a Brady check by so-called private sellers.
One of the key recommendations of the Virginia Tech Review Panel was to require background checks on all firearm sales, including those at gun shows. The panel wrote:
"In an age of widespread information technology, it should not be too difficult for anyone, including private sellers, to contact [federal and/or state authorities] for a background check that usually only takes minutes before transferring a firearm."
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"We need to do more to make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "We know that in this fight, America's young adults can make the difference between victory on this issue and continued delay."
"I think that many state lawmakers had to admit that America's college campuses are among the safest environments for students because they do not permit guns on their premises," said Andy Pelosi, president of GunFreeKids.org and head of The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus. "College students are joining the fight for a safer America and as history demonstrates, the important social movements in our country have always been fueled by young people."
The following states have rejected bills this year, last year or in 2007 to force colleges and universities to allow students to carry concealed firearms into classrooms: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.