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Last year, there were more than two dozen shootings on or near college campuses in the United States. This past Tuesday, that number went up with the fatal shooting of a student at Purdue University. Then yesterday, another shooting - fatal - at South Carolina State University. It will, of course, tick up again.

On the other side of the world, in Afghanistan, two university colleagues went out for a Friday night meal in Kabul. Before they could finish their dinner, they were killed in a suicide bombing followed by a hail of bullets. We're outraged at that attack, and at the senseless loss of life. We're safer here in America, we tell ourselves, from targeted violence. And we know that isn't true because increasingly, our halls of higher learning, and the football fields and parking lots and plazas, are targets.

Whether at Santa Monica College, where five people were gunned down, or the University of Arkansas or Maryland - all over the country, we find ourselves vulnerable to gun violence. But the issue of campus security is a contested topic. Colorado's legislature is trying to reinstate a ban to make colleges gun-free. Yet some states, such as Georgia and Pennsylvania, have been considering whether to make it easier to bring guns to college. Legislatures in Texas and North Carolina have passed laws that allow students who are licensed gun owners to keep handguns in their cars.

In Florida, a group calling itself Florida Carry is contesting state restrictions against keeping guns on campus. Florida Carry has been advancing its cause in the courts. It successfully argued that Florida students have the right to stash guns in their cars. This year, the group is pushing for students to be able to keep guns in their dormitories.

Somehow, that's not the college experience I recall. Pizza, beer - and bullets? Quite the combination; everyone armed and pulling all-nighters. In an opinion piece for "The Chronicle of Higher Education," the former provost of Idaho State University, Gary Olson, said there is no recorded incident in which a victim or spectator of a violent crime on a campus has prevented that crime by brandishing a weapon. And most surveys show that students and faculties think having guns on campus is a terrible idea.

Perhaps it's not about knowing who the bad guys are but knowing ourselves which offers our best protection; which is, after all, the fundamental mission of higher learning. And those kinds of insights can't really be learned at gunpoint.


LYDEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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