MSSA comment in re MSU's proposed University Firearms Policy.
MSU's revised policy of November is HERE.
MSSA's comment on the November revised policy is below and as an MSWord file HERE.
MSU's proposed policy of June is HERE.
MSSA's comment from July as an MSWord file HERE.
Montana Shooting Sports Association
P.O. Box 4924
Missoula, Montana 59806
firstname.lastname@example.org - http://www.mtssa.org
November 20, 2007
Leslie C. Taylor - "Taylor, Leslie" <email@example.com>
211 Montana Hall
Montana State University
Dear Ms. Taylor;
Greetings from Missoula.
This is the comment, for the record, of the Montana Shooting Sports
Association (MSSA) upon the proposed new firearms policy being
considered by MSU. For introduction, MSSA is the primary
organization in Montana asserting the rights and prerogatives of gun
owners in Montana, is affiliated with the National Rifle association
and associated with Gun Owners of America and the Citizens Committee
for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
We wish to begin this comment by saying that we grant that the intent
of MSU with this proposed policy is to make the MSU campus safer for
faculty, staff and students and we commend that intent. We do
agree that it is time to revisit MSU firearms policy in light of what
happened at Virginia Tech. We also believe, for the reasons
stated below, that the proposed policy will have the opposite effect,
that the policy is poorly-considered, not well crafted, and that the
policy as proposed will actually make MSU students and employees more
vulnerable to malicious attack on campus.
We note that the proposed policy, as written, effectively asserts a
universal ban on handguns on campus (except, perhaps, for campus
security). Although handguns are the tool of choice for self
defense from sudden and life-threatening attack, the proposed MSU
policy would theoretically deny everyone on campus this important tool
of self defense.
We ask that MSU focus academic and scientific rigor on examination of
this question, an issue that should be resolved through careful and
rational thinking, avoiding false assumptions, false deductions and
subsequent false conclusions. We ask you to set aside emotion and
emotional arguments and instead look at the facts available, an
approach that would be appropriate for an institution of higher
Finally, we ask that MSU include as response to this round of comment
all of the comments previously submitted in June and July to the
similar policy revision proposed then.
A. Comment on proposed policy
1. Constitutional problems -- self defense.
For good reason, the Montana Constitution reserves from government
interference the right of every person to bear arms for his or her own
defense and for the defense of others. MSU is a subdivision of
Montana state government and subject to the rights the people of
Montana have reserved to themselves from government interference in the
Declaration of Rights at Article II of the Montana Constitution,
specifically at Article II, Section 12. Just as MSU could not
legitimately prevent faculty, staff or students from voting in
elections, receiving a jury trial if accused of a crime, or exercising
their freedom of speech, MSU may not prohibit them from exercising
their right to defend themselves, nor prohibit the tools for self
defense, as reserved in Article II, Section 12. The Montana
university system is not exempt from restrictions imposed on
governmental entities and actors by the rights Montana citizens have
reserved to themselves in the Montana Constitution, notwithstanding
that MSU may genuinely believe it has good reason to deny
2. Flawed logic -- gun bans do not inhibit criminals.
It has been demonstrated beyond rebuttal that jurisdictions in which
peoples' ability to defend themselves is unfettered the denizens of
such jurisdictions enjoy a reduced level of victimization. See More Guns; Less Crime
by Professor John Lott. Conversely, those places in the U.S. with
the most severe restrictions on the ability of people to protect
themselves impose on people the highest levels of victimization.
Someone intent on a Virginia Tech-type incident at MSU -- a person
determined to commit murder or multiple murders -- will not abandon his
plans simply to avoid violating a policy MSU has adopted. To
think otherwise is delusional. The only thing a gun banning
policy will accomplish is to insure that this madman has a pool of
defenseless victims to kill -- that he will encounter no effective
resistance as he carves a swath of death through the MSU campus.
Elaboration upon this point is in order. This policy revision
appears to have been sparked by the horrendous mass murder incident
earlier this year at Virginia Tech. People who decide to commit
mass murder invariably expect to die as a part of their killing spree,
either at their own hand or at the hands of others. A mass
murderer does not expect to survive. A mass murderer chooses to
violate the strongest prohibitions of our society -- the fundamental
religious and moral prohibition against taking innocent lives, the
prohibitions against murder inherent in our constitutions and laws, the
prohibitions against using weapons offensively, the forfeit of their
own life, and more.
This proposed policy is dependent on the essential assumption that a
person determined to murder others and to violate all of these strong
prohibitions will get to the edge of campus, realize what he intends is
against MSU policy, and abandon his plans for carnage so as not to
offend campus policy. Unlike the irrational White Queen, we are
unwilling to believe six impossible things before breakfast. We
reject this essential assumption, without which the whole policy makes
3. Liability and responsibility for protection.
Let us assume that MSU has some level of responsibility for the safety
and well being of people on campus. MSU would not, for example,
allow an attractive or dangerous nuisance to exist on campus, such as a
building with no fire exits. If MSU were to allow a hazard such
as a lecture hall with no fire exits, and a fire were to occur where
lives were lost because of the absence of fire exits, MSU would be held
to have been negligent and liable because of this negligence. The
same principle applies to preventing people from possessing the means
to defend themselves from unlawful attack, especially when such
possession is protected from MSU interference by the Montana
Constitution. We believe that MSU will incur significant
liability if it denies people the means to protect themselves and fails
to protect them, individually and actually, to the same extent that
they could protect themselves were they not disarmed.
4. Persons not students, faculty or staff not subject to MSU policy.
MSU has little or no authority over persons who are not faculty, staff
or students. MSU may fire employees and expel students who
violate MSU policy -- not much of a threat to a madman who is
determined to kill others and die. MSU has no real authority over
persons not employed or students at MSU.
It is very unlikely that a person determined to kill others can be
stopped by anyone not armed. It takes an armed person to stop an
armed killer. That's exactly why we have armed police.
However, the police will not arrive until theoretical madman has
already killed some, perhaps many. Meanwhile, the proposed MSU
policy will only guarantee that a killer will have defenseless victims.
I am accepted in state and federal courts as an expert concerning self
defense, firearm safety, use of force, and other related topics.
If MSU were to adopt the proposed firearms policy, as is, and if there
were a Virginia Tech-type incident on the MSU campus (notwithstanding
the policy), and if I were engaged by the attorney for the next-of-kin
of a non-survivor of the incident asserting negligence by MSU, it would
be my testimony and expert opinion that MSU contributed to the demise
of the victim by having prevented the victim from effectively defending
himself or herself.
While this comment is critical of the proposed policy, this comment
would be incomplete, I believe, if no improvements or alternatives were
suggested. So, after the following discussion, we will offer MSU
some alternatives that will actually help insure the safety of all
persons on campus.
1. Concealed weapon permittees.
A majority of U.S. states, including Montana, have adopted
mandatory-issue concealed weapon permit laws (called "shall-issue"
laws). There is now a vast amount of statistical data available
about the various effects of this public policy direction taken by most
states. Two important points become clear from examining
The first is that states which adopt shall-issue CWP laws confer upon
their citizens a noticeable, in some cases dramatic, reduction in
interpersonal, violent crime -- shall-issue CWP laws confer greater
safety for all. If predators know that some of their potential
victims are armed, but they don't know which ones, there is less
predation. Professor Lott's research determines that the rates of
crimes such as murder, assault, rape and robbery fall on the order of
20% in states that adopt shall-issue CWP laws. Most important,
the crime of multiple or mass murder (like at Virginia Tech) decreases
on the order of 80% in states which adopt shall-issue CWP laws (except
within "gun-free" zones, like MSU proposes).
The second point established by the data is that people who have taken
firearm safety training, passed a criminal records background check,
offered references, photo and fingerprints, and been screened by local
law enforcement, all in order to obtain a concealed weapon permit, are
statistically the most safe and law abiding group identifiable.
That is, CWP-holders have a lower incidence of violence, of
law-breaking, and of misadventures with firearms than nearly all other
identifiable groups, including police officers, military personnel and
2. "Gun free" zones not safe.
As alluded to above, so-called "gun free" zones do not prevent
criminals from having guns in those places. It is the chosen
vocation of criminals to break or ignore laws -- that is exactly why
they are criminals and are called criminals. "Gun free" zone laws
and policies only insure that law-abiding people cannot defend
themselves or each other in those zones. Such zones might as well
be called "guaranteed defenseless victim" zones, as these zones only
increase the safety of predators and madmen, but not of other law
abiding people there. "Gun free" zones artificially create the
most fertile possible ground for criminal activity. Further, "gun
free" zones neutralize the societal benefit and criminal deterrence
generated by shall-issue CWP laws.
3. Police - no duty to protect.
The courts have held that police have no duty to protect any
individual, but only to provide a general level of protection to the
community. If police are called, they have no duty to respond or
to act. If there were a Virginia Tech-type incident on the MSU
campus, police might or might not respond, or might respond to the edge
of campus and hold there, waiting for a madman to complete his mayhem,
as Bozeman police did recently when responding to an incident at a
local convenience store. This makes it practically incumbent upon
every individual to be able to provide for his or her own protection,
essentially a responsibility of every citizen. Police protection
is a dangerous myth. The actual work of police is to bring
violent perpetrators to justice, when they can. Police are the
cleanup crew, no matter how much individual police officers would like
to be able to interdict individual crimes.
4. Trustworthy citizens.
The Montana Constitution mandates and the Legislature has concurred
that the majority of citizens are decent, law abiding people, to be
trusted with possession of firearms for self-defense. One would
hope and suppose that MSU selects exemplary people for faculty, staff
and students, people who may even be a cut above average Montanans
concerning responsible behavior. Montana law allows persons 18
years or older, and having met other statutory requirements, to obtain
concealed weapon permits. In Montana's near two-decade experience
with this public policy, there is no -- zero -- data to suggest that
young and eligible persons with CWPs have misused their CWPs.
Further, federal law allows persons between 18 and 20 to be legally in
possession of handguns with parental consent. While gang-related
and criminally inclined youth have been known to abuse these rights,
the remaining 99% of the population has not. If Montana people
generally are responsible and lawful, and MSU denizens are at or above
average, and if all Montana people (exempting felons and mental
incompetents) are trusted to possess firearms, then it just makes no
sense to distrust and disrespect MSU personnel to the extent indicated
by the proposed policy.
5. Montana culture.
Montana has a long and honorable culture of safe, appropriate and
effective use of firearms, beginning with the Lewis and Clark
expedition and continuing today. Firearm possession is very much
a part of Montana culture. MSU seeks to deny this culture for
faculty, staff and students. MSU might as well insist that Jews
attend only Christian services, that Asians must eat nothing but steak
and potatoes, or that no student may wear a cowboy hat or cowboy boots
on campus. Such insensitivity to culture is surprising coming
from MSU where cultural tolerance should be embraced.
6. Mass murder.
While it is laudable for MSU to seek to prevent a Virginia Tech-type
incident on campus, scapegoating firearms misses the mark. In the
largest mass murder in U.S. history airplanes were the weapon of choice
when terrorists flew them into the World Trade Center in New
York. The next largest mass murder in history also happened in
New York City when a vengeful person threw an ignited quart bottle of
gasoline into a crowded nightclub. Firearms are not the
problem. People who would kill other people are the
problem. When these madmen are armed, it takes another armed
person to stop them.
7. Seat belt analogy.
People wear seat belts because it is prudent and it enhances safety for
the seat belt user. As a motive for seat belt users, it is never
said that they are exceptionally paranoid and unusually fearful of
getting in an auto accident. It is also never said that seat belt
users get into their cars in the hope of being able to crash into
something. Wearing seat belts is just prudent. Actually,
very few people actually need seat belts. Only those very few who
become involved in an accident need belts, and then, once the accident
begins, it is too late to buckle up. The motivation for those who
carry a firearm for personal protection is the same. Relatively
few actually need a firearm. These people are not highly fearful
- paranoid - of being victimized. They simply choose not to be
victims. Nor do these people get up in the morning hoping to find
something to crash into (or shoot at). But, like the auto crash
victim, when a person becomes victim of predatory crime, it is then too
late to buckle up (or go home and get a firearm).
8. Note about "dangerous chemicals."
The proposed MSU University Firearms Policy declares that:
"Weapons are prohibited on campus, except as follows." The policy
defines "weapons" to include "dangerous chemicals." The proposed
policy then offers exceptions to the general ban, but only for student
housing and campus security. It would probably be wise for the
administrative and legal staff to consult the departments of Chemical
Engineering and Chemistry and Biochemistry, and various other research
entities on campus, before invoking this blanket ban and unexcepted ban
on "dangerous chemicals" throughout campus. It is a near
certainty that these departments and entities have plentiful stocks of
what must fit the definition of "dangerous chemicals." Under the
proposed policy, MSU will need to engage in a comprehensive process of
inventorying stocked chemicals, make determinations about which ones
might be "dangerous" if misused, and un-stock and properly dispose of
"dangerous" chemicals. Otherwise, MSU will be forced to engage in
selective enforcement of its policy. Selective enforcement is a
9. Note about ROTC.
According to pictures posted on the MSU Website, the ROTC department
uses paint ball guns, banned under the proposed policy, for
training. The ROTC probably also possesses real firearms.
Since the proposed policy, as is, has no exemption for ROTC, again one
must imagine significant changes at MSU, or selective enforcement of
the proposed policy. There may also be an issue about the effect
of MSU contracts with the Department of Defense for ROTC.
10. Utah. The State
of Utah overtly allows citizens with CWPs to exercise their CWPs on the
campuses of the state university system, including students and
employees. It would be no more disingenuous than MSU's proposed
ban to state that Utah universities and colleges have not had a single
incident of mass killing since legislative adoption of this
policy. Certainly, there has been zero incidences of CWP-holders
having misadventures with or involved in misuse of firearms on Utah
campuses under this sensible and tolerant Utah policy.
11. Thought experiment.
Allow me to conduct a thought experiment for the reviewer.
Suppose you, your spouse and/or children are being stalked by someone
known to have violent intentions -- someone likely to kidnap, rape or
kill. Would it make you more or less comfortable about the safety
of yourself or your family members to post a sign in your front yard
asserting "No guns on these premises"? This is a very close
analogy to what MSU proposes with its effective ban on handguns and
severe restriction on long guns -- to leave the MSU family exposed to
and unprotected from the violent stalker, and to announce that vulnerability.
12. Drafting of the proposed policy.
Having been involved in drafting legislation for over two decades, I am
sensitive to the difficulties inherent in drafting clear yet effective
policy. While admitting that this is a difficult topic about
which to draft clear policy (because the underlying concept is flawed),
the currently proposed draft has some genuine drafting problems.
Comment based on policy iteration posted at:
a. Use of the word "weapon".
"Weapon is defined by dictionary.com as: "1. any instrument or
device for use in attack or defense in combat, fighting, or war, as a
sword, rifle, or cannon. 2. anything used against an
opponent, adversary, or victim: the deadly weapon of satire." One
may suppose other definitions will substantially agree.
The problem with using the word "weapon" as a keystone for the proposed
MSU policy is that whether or not something is a weapon depends on how
it is used. For example, the second example used by
dictionary.com acknowledges that words can be used as a weapon, yet all
use of words is not necessarily use of a weapon. Also, although
firearms may be used as a weapon, much, perhaps most, use of firearms
is not as a weapon. Firearms are used widely for shooting
competition, such as trap or skeet, where no weaponization is involved
or intended. Some people collect firearms for historical value,
such as most included in a recent and excellent Museum of the Rockies
exhibition. Some people purchase firearms as a store of value and
hedge against inflation.
To repeat the logical content: Not all things capable of being
used as weapons are always weapons, and not all things described as
weapons in the policy are necessarily weapons. So, a word or
phrase should be chosen as the keystone for this policy that doesn't
seem as overtly pejorative as "weapons".
b. Use of the word "explosives".
This is another illusive term. It is understood that dynamite is
not wanted in student rooms, but there is much else that is
explosive. Probably more buildings have been damaged or destroyed
in the U.S. from propane or natural gas explosions than from
dynamite. Should propane and natural gas be prohibited
also? Propane is used as the propellant in common products, such
as hair spray. These can explode with incredible violence if
heated. Another common agent that can be very explosive is flour
-- common, ordinary baking flour. Fuel-air bombs using flour are
applied effectively in warfare to utterly demolish large
buildings. Flour dust explosions in grain silos can be among the
most devastating of explosions. So, is flour an explosive?
Certainly, under the right conditions. Is flour in student
quarters prohibited by the proposed policy? Maybe; maybe not.
c. Pepper spray.
Pepper spray is classed as a weapon "(except for small, personal
protection dispensers) (sic)." What is a "small, personal
protection dispenser"? Is it the size of canister recommended by
the Montana Department of fish, Wildlife and Parks for bow hunters to
carry in bear country? If so, how is that size defined?
d. Family housing.
A plain reading of numbered paragraph 2 seems to allow loaded shotguns
and crossbows to be stored in family housing, but not unloaded rifles.
e. Transport. In
numbered paragraph 3, there is no provision for a student to transport
any way other than in a vehicle. Is a student expected to drive
his vehicle into the housing unit or dorm storage facility, or will he
or she be disciplined for carrying a firearm from a housing unit or
dorm to a vehicle in a parking lot? Also, the semantics of this
paragraph are very confusing, especially the "onto and off of campus"
language that seems first to say that a firearm may only be transported
"off of campus with the immediate intent of proper storage on campus"
(sic), but then contradicts itself and says something different.
Taken together, it appears that whomever drafted this policy was 1) not
very familiar with the issues involved, and 2) not very focused on the
drafting process. By pointing out these drafting problems we do
not suggest that fixing these problems will turn a flawed policy into a
MSSA recommended that:
1. All persons who have a concealed weapons permit valid in
Montana be exempted from the proposed University Firearms Policy;
2. any student, staff or faculty under the age of 18 who wishes
to be in possession of a rifle or shotgun on campus must provide MSU
with written parental permission consenting to that possession;
3. any student, staff or faculty who is 18, 19, or 20 years old
and who wishes to possess a handgun on campus must provide MSU with
written parental permission consenting to that possession (required by
4. the MSU policy require that no student may keep a firearm in
his or her dorm room unless with the consent of his or her roommate(s);
5. MSU provide secured storage in each dorm for firearms students
do not wish to keep in their rooms, and that an adequate system be
devised to both prevent unauthorized access to such storage and to
allow students to retrieve stored firearms at any reasonable hour;
6. discharge of firearms anywhere on campus except at an approved
shooting range and except for self defense be strictly prohibited
(which won't inhibit a madman but will promote safety, and which is
already covered under state law if MSU is within the Bozeman city
7. a criminal records background check be run on all staff and
faculty and that any who are not legally eligible to possess firearms
be reevaluated for employment; and
8. suitable self defense instructors be recruited and engaged to
offer classes on campus both about the safe and effective use of
firearms, and about how affected persons can without firearms and most
quickly neutralize a threat to themselves and others (not relying
totally on summoning police and waiting for them to arrive to hopefully
do something effective).
I would be happy to converse with either of you by phone or email, or
collaborate further about how MSU can craft a reasonable and effective
policy to enhance the safety of all persons on campus. Please
call or email me if you care to pursue this.
Cc: Senator Joe Balyeat, Bozeman
Representative Roger Koopman, Bozeman