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Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh on the issue of students being allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

HH: Whenever the subject turns to guns in America, and the chaos that can cause, I talk with a couple of law professors who you’ve heard here often, Eugene Volokh from the University of California at Los Angeles Law School, and Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, from the University of Tennessee Law School. Let me start with you, Glenn, your reaction to today’s shooting, and to the proposition, which my callers are urging on me, that college students ought to be carrying concealed weapons.

GR: I certainly think so. I actually have quite a few students who have permits to carry concealed weapons. One of them, in fact, was on the Springfield Armory National Pistol Team. And if they were armed in my classroom, I would feel enormously safe. And in fact, actually, after the Virginia Tech shooting, last year, one of those students came up to me and she asked if we could have class off-campus, because she’s not allowed to carry on campus.

HH: Now how widespread do you consider the ability to respond well with a weapon to be, Glenn Reynolds, among your students?

GR: I suppose it’s pretty significant. I mean, I haven’t surveyed them, but my advanced Constitutional law seminar covers the right to bear arms, and I take the class to the shooting range for that, and they seem to acquit themselves pretty well. I really don’t know how many have permits, because it’s only when they, you know, identify themselves to me that I know, but that’s a surprisingly large number.

HH: Eugene Volokh, what’s your reaction to the idea of college and law students carrying concealed weapons on campuses?

EV: You know, in principle, I think it’s probably a good idea, especially if you focus on 21 year olds and up. I also think it’s a good idea to have faculty do it. Even if you don’t trust college and law students, it’s a pretty fair bet that the faculty, for all we laugh at the university professors, but are generally a relatively sober bunch. At the same time, it’s important to realize that horrific as these events are, they represent maybe one in five thousand, one to two to five thousand murders in the country. So it’s like one, less than one tenth of one percent of all homicides. You have probably a ten thousand times greater chance of being killed in an auto accident than you do in a university or school shooting. The fact is that these are very rare things, and I’m not sure that it makes sense to make policy, even policy that I generally think is pretty good policy, based on such extraordinarily rare events.

HH: And let me ask you about that, Glenn Reynolds, do you think…obviously, they are statistically rare. Do you think their incidence is accelerating?

GR: That’s a very difficult question to answer. They appear to have happened more recent, more often in the last few years, but a lot of these things tend to be sort of fads. So you’ll get a wave of copycats for a while, until the novelty wears off, or really until the press quits covering them as much, and then they move onto some other fad. So I agree with Eugene that you shouldn’t make law based on rare events, and these are certainly rare events. I just hope that we would show such restraint with regard to other lawmaking in response to things like this.

HH: Now let me ask you both as well, do you think if there are pictures, as happened with Virginia Tech, left behind by a killer, that they ought to be aired on television, Eugene Volokh?

EV: Well, they surely don’t have to aired on television.

HH: Of course not.

EV: something depends on how much you think that those certain kinds of things, how much insight you think they give you into the criminal psyche. My sense is that most of them don’t terribly much, and my sense is it’s probably not a good idea to kind of glamorize these people by focusing so much on their details. At the same time, I do think that it’s a difficult judgment call, because the fact is this is a very important thing, and a very important kind of event, rare as it is. And to the extent that looking at what this person has said before gives you some insight into this kind of abnormal psychology, that’s potentially useful. I’m not willing to condemn out of hand those who would air it. But at the same time, my sense is it’s probably, on balance, more likely to encourage copycats, is my guess, than it is to enlighten the public. It’s a hard call.

HH: Glenn, this would probably be better directed at your wife, who’s made a study of this, but what do you think about that question?

GR: Well, I think that what you’re very likely to find is that this is a guy who had a history of known psychological problems, which were not properly addressed by the administration. At least that’s certainly been the pattern in outbreaks of violence at colleges, and for that matter, high schools as well. That’s just usually how it is. And again, you know, it is a rare event, and a lot of schools take the position that you know, lots of our students are crazy, but most of them won’t kill anyone. Even the ones who dress in black and talk about killing people generally don’t. But nonetheless, there are a lot of opportunities to intervene and prevent this sort of things in ways that generally benefit people, even if nothing winds up reaching the point of a mass shooting. And I think schools really don’t live up to their obligations in that regard.

HH: Now Glenn, does the University of Tennessee permit the carrying of permitted concealed weapons on its campus?

GR: I do not believe we do. I actually asked someone on the general counsel that question, and got two different answers.

HH: Oh, my goodness.

GR: So it’s not entirely clear, but it’s certainly not clearly permissible. And if it’s permissible for anyone, it’s permissible only for faculty and staff. It’s clearly not permissible for students.

HH: Eugene Volokh, does UCLA allow students, with the appropriate concealed permit, to carry on the campus?

EV: Well, the thing is in California, it’s very, very hard to get a concealed carry permit. So my guess is that the policy would be against it. I haven’t really looked into it, in part because it’s just so hard to get a permit, especially in Los Angeles County, that it would be a moot question.

HH: All right, I’ve been sent an e-mail by my friend Hal about the book, Rage Of The Random Actor: Disarming Catastrophic Acts And Restoring Lives. The guy’s name is Dan Korem, and he’s a profiler. He’s written a number of books in this regard. Eugene Volokh, do you trust profiling here? Or do you assume that it would be over-inclusive, rather than accurate to the degree that we’d want to adopt it?

EV: Oh, I mean, I think profiling has two different meanings. One is as I understand it, profilers who work for law enforcement are people who when you’re trying to track down a criminal, are trying to figure out who’s likely to be the criminal, and how likely to best get into his mind and so on and so forth. That may make a lot of sense. I don’t know science behind it, but it’s possible. There’s also the profiling that’s like airport profiling – let’s randomly stop people, or let’s stop people not randomly, but who meet certain kind of criteria. And the answer is that some degree of such profiling may make sense for investigations, but when it comes to like expulsion or putting someone in the loony bin or something along those lines, you’d need something a lot more than just general guess work, ooh, he seemed like a withdrawn, sullen type, and he wore a lot of black. I think that wouldn’t be enough, really, even to question people. That would be a pretty big waste of resources, but certainly not to say oh, you’re too dangerous, we’re going to lock you up.

HH: And not just a waste of resources, and not just for locking up, it could easily have, well, stigmatization, Glenn Reynolds, it could represent sort of the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to civil liberties on campuses.

GR: It certainly could, and I wouldn’t go too far. On the other hand, I think if you have a lot of students complaining about a student issuing threats of violence, and acting like he’s likely to carry them out, most universities don’t go far enough to look into this sort of thing, and I think under those circumstances, it’s worth it. Generally, whether it’s at the college or the high school level, the people who know whether a student is likely to turn violent are mostly the fellow students.

HH: All right, we’re just getting a bulletin that there are five dead on the Illinois campus shooting, five dead at [Northern] Illinois. Eugene Volokh from UCLA Law School, Glenn Reynolds from the University of Tennessee Law School, on a sad day, thank you for joining me.

End of interview.

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