Tragic events in Georgia shortly before press time have added an element of gritty reality to the topic of campus shootings. Scout Schultz of Georgia Tech was shot and killed on campus by police. He was encouraging them to fire at the time, armed with an unextended utility tool and, according to notes he left behind, attempting to end his life.

Both suicide and shooting are unfortunately not new events on college campuses, but the willingness of the police to fire into an ambiguous situation represents a host of evolving aggression that’s pervading many walks of life, including college campuses.

The college tradition of shooting your mouth off – and learning when and how to temper your explosions, perhaps channeling impulses into protests and demonstrations – has been taking a dangerously more literal turn as campuses nationwide reexamine open carry laws. With this reexamination comes a raising of the bar on what is considered acceptable use of force.

At least a couple of professors in different parts of the country have responded to new campus gun policies by wearing bulletproof vests to class. After all, who would most students rather shoot than a professor on display at the front of a lecture hall like a paper duck in a carnival booth? It wouldn’t be surprising if these professors started their flak jacket fashion statements on days they were handing back particularly rough exams.

The theory behind looser campus gun restrictions is that the best way to protect people from a lunatic with a gun is for everyone else to have guns too, with which they can shoot him (or, theoretically, her). Nevermind that the average gun holder is more likely to shoot themselves in the foot or behind than to save anyone from anything. Nevermind the training – both physical and emotional – that should come with carrying a potentially deadly weapon, and the fact that the untrained aren’t real likely to hit anything if they try.

Of course, that training doesn’t seem to help some in the police and quasi military organizations of our country to learn when to show appropriate restraint, as so many recent incidents, including the one at Georgia Tech, demonstrate. As gun control loosens up in academia, creating a more potentially combustible environment, police forces continue to up their weaponry game, in some areas now receiving military equipment and training. Park rangers, once trained to educate the leave-it-to-Beaver set and coddle little Yogi Bears are now trained in military-style hand to hand combat (which – don’t try this at home, kids – is decidedly ineffective against bears).

A cycle that increases acceptable violence in various scenarios either comes down from the top, or infects upward. If punching an obnoxious guy at a club is frowned upon, this lowest form of violence is less likely to happen. But if it’s considered okay (and at some shows we sure wish it were), it creates a foundation for higher levels of violence — thinking that makes it more okay to carry weapons at school. That makes it more okay for police to shoot first or wave around bigger weapons with bigger braggadacio, and ultimately that makes it seem more normal and appropriate for a nation to start throwing missiles around because, “You’re not the boss of me,” and for responding nations to make angry, overblown threats.

So don’t punch that punk at the rock show, unless you want to be responsible for starting World War III.

In RI, you can open carry long guns; we’re much more complicated when it comes to hand guns, and we’re not one of the states where large numbers of students are toting heat; but if we can prevent this sort of runaway aggression, who knows, maybe it will trickle up and incite some sanity at the national level. And if you don’t want to take that crap shoot, make sure you pile up a healthy stack of educationally appropriate guns in your nuclear fallout shelter (which, hint hint, it might be time to clean out and reorganize).

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