In reading Sen. Coghill’s recent My Turn piece entitled “SB176 provides protection,” it struck me that he and the other supporters of SB176 are exactly the kind of people Ronald Reagan warned us about when he said, “the most terrifying words in the English language are — I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
In this case, Sen. Coghill is offering to “help” Alaskans by authorizing students and employees to carry concealed firearms on University of Alaska campuses. As a person who spends a lot of time on the UAS campus, that is help I can do without.
The essence of Coghill’s argument in favor of SB176 is that is appropriate because it extends a right (to bear arms) that is “specifically protected in the Alaska Constitution.”
On the surface, this sounds appealing because most Alaskans would agree that protection of constitutional rights is of paramount importance. The problem is that just because a piece of legislation extends constitutional rights doesn’t mean it is a good idea. For example, the right of our state government to seize private property through eminent domain is constitutionally protected, but that doesn’t make legislation expanding it a good idea.
Rather than constitutionality, a more appropriate litmus test for evaluating legislative actions is whether they solve real (and not imagined) problems. As a corollary to this, I would argue that the legislative process should give extra weight to the opinions of those whose lives would be most directly affected by any proposed legislation. By these criteria, SB176 fails miserably. It is, at its core, a solution to a problem that does not exist. Moreover, the bill is deeply unpopular with those who would be most directly affected by it.
To his credit, Sen. Coghill makes a valiant effort to whitewash SB176’s shortcomings. To the necessity of SB176, Sen. Coghill cites a fatal shooting on the UAF campus in 1993 as “evidence the university’s ‘no gun policy’ doesn’t work.”
Really? By that logic, we can also conclude that having a police force in Fairbanks does not work. Police, like gun restrictions, are supposed to prevent homicides; therefore every homicide provides evidence that having police doesn’t work. Sen. Coghill goes on to argue that because some people likely (he provides no evidence) bring firearms on to UA campuses despite the gun ban, the UA no-gun “policy doesn’t work.” Again, by this logic hunting regulations and traffic laws don’t work because people poach and drive over the speed limit.
The real test of whether the UA’s no-gun policy works is the degree to which it creates a safe environment on UA campuses. I have been at UAS for more than a decade, and in that time no one has been shot on campus. During the same time, there have been a number of shootings in the larger Juneau community. This mirrors a trend across the state: UA campuses consistently have lower rates of gun violence than the urban areas surrounding them. In this light, the no-gun policy seems pretty effective to me.
In terms of those most affected by SB176, Sen. Coghill has given the bill a false air of legitimacy by enlisting the assistance of Hans Rodvik, a University of Alaska Anchorage student, to draft SB176. This makes it appear as though people associated with the UA system are supportive of SB176, which is far from the case.
While I don’t doubt some students favor the bill, support among UA faculty, staff and administrators falls somewhere between highly limited and non-existent. That Sen. Coghill and other legislators are disregarding the sentiments of those most affected by SB176 is particularly ironic given how loudly they complain when Congress ignores the will of Alaskans and exerts its constitutional right to restrict resource development on federal land in Alaska.
Sen. Coghill concludes by accusing the university of engaging in “emotional arguments, fantasy scenarios and scare tactics” in the debate over SB176. Apparently he forgot that earlier in his own piece he justified support for SB176 by peddling violent fantasies about a young woman who “needs her firearm to defend herself against an attacker who outweighs her by 120 pounds” and a vulnerable individual who is “attacked by a pack of predators.”
There is one thing Sen. Coghill and I agree on: The public should be seeking answers about SB176. However, while he feels the burden of proof in this debate lies with the university, I believe it is Sen. Coghill and other supporters of SB176 who need to explain to Alaskans why it is in the public interest to introduce concealed firearms onto campuses that are virtually devoid of gun violence.
• Eran Hood is an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Southeast.