One of the current bills under consideration by our state legislature would allow people with “concealed carry” permits to carry weapons onto all of our college campuses. This is Senate Bill S.88, sponsored by Sen. Lee Bright (R-Greenville). If passed, any appropriately licensed “student, employee, or faculty member of a private or public college, university, technical college, or other post-secondary institution may possess a firearm on any premises or property owned, operated, or controlled by the institution.” Fortunately, it is still bottled up in the Judiciary Committee where our Sen. Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) serves, and it doesn’t appear likely to pass this year.
I mentioned this to a fellow parishioner at Church this Sunday, and she said that “Preventing firearms on campus should be a no brainer.” I agree.
I remember events of forty-five years ago this week, on Monday, May 4, 1970. That day, there was another in a series of anti-Vietnam War protests at Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. There had been demonstrations not only on the campus but also in downtown Kent, and Republican Governor James Rhodes had called out the National Guard to enforce order. The preceding day, on Sunday, Governor Rhodes had said of the campus protestors, “They’re worse than the Brown shirts, and the Communist element, and also the Night Riders, and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America.” The National Guard listened.
Over the lunch hour on Monday, there was another protest, this time on the square in the center of campus. There were several hundred students protesting there, as well as many other students crossing the square on the way to and from class. The protesters were told to disperse, but of course they didn’t. Guns were not allowed on that campus, and the only people who had them were the National Guardsmen – each of whom carried an M-1 rifle. At about 12:20pm, the National Guard deployed in formation about 100 yards from the students, dropped to one knee in unison, and fired what were later counted as 67 rounds of ammunition directly at the students. Four students were killed: two protestors and two students who had been walking to class. No fire was returned – students (and faculty) were not allowed, then, to have guns on campus.
The episode shocked the nation. “Kent State” became synonymous with overreaction against student protests. No Guardsmen were ever convicted of anything. More and more Americans opposed the Vietnam War as it dragged on, until we finally withdrew three years later. Governor Rhodes ran for the Senate that November, was defeated, and retired from politics.
Neil Young of the rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young wrote and sang the song “Ohio” about the event, a song that became one of several antiwar anthems in the early 1970s. Its repeated line stating “Four dead in Ohio” was one of those lyrics that stuck in the mind of all who listened to it. Four dead on a college campus was truly a tragedy. Had Ohio a law such as that now being proposed in South Carolina, the tragedy would almost certainly been compounded by more firing, both at and by the Guardsmen.
Campuses are much quieter now. They were also quiet both before and after the Vietnam War. They may – or may not – remain quiet in the foreseeable future. “The solution to bad guys with guns, is good guys with guns,” we are told by several spokesmen for bills such as S.88. The problem is, it is not always easy to tell which are which – particularly if you are a young student deeply involved in the issues of the day. I trust that Shane and the rest of our Congressional delegation of both parties, will continue to oppose guns on campus.