Uncertainty in rights

Steven Weinberg, Nobel laureate and professor of physics at the University of Texas, has declared his intention to refuse to allow students to carry concealed firearms in his classroom starting this fall semester.  He claims that requiring him to accept guns would violate his academic freedom and right to free speech.

Weinberg is one of the great minds of modern physics.  He belongs to the generation of theorists who worked out the implications of relativity and quantum mechanics, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to the unification of equations describing electromagnetism and weak nuclear force.  Which is to say, Weinberg is among a small group of people who have shown us how the universe works.

And this demonstrates how genius in one area does not imply expertise in any other subject.  Weinberg’s excellence in physics apparently doesn’t spill over into an ability to understand the facts about going armed and about human nature.

In August of this year, Texas will allow carry license holders to take their handguns with them into college campus buildings, with a small exception made for designated sensitive areas—to be determined by a committee and approved by a two-thirds vote of the Board of Regents.  But as the saying goes, concealed means concealed, and it’s an important question to ask how on an open campus it would be possible to know who is or is not carrying.

Consider an analogy with physics.  One of the developers of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrödinger, proposed a thought experiment to illustrate the weirdness of the reality of small particles.  Imagine a cat in a box that contains a radioactive element.  This element has a chance of emitting a particle—in other words, in an hour, say, it may or it may not radiate.  If it does, the particle will hit a detector that will release a poison, killing the cat.  If no particle is released, the cat survives.  But until we look in the box, we don’t know which of the two possible outcomes has occurred.

Now substitute the classroom and students coming in.  Are they armed?  Unless somehow we’re able to observe—say by a search or by making them pass through metal detectors—their status remains uncertain.  And that has been true all along, though the ban on carry only increased the probability that someone who was armed would be a person with bad intent.  The new law merely takes away the legal impediment against good people being able to defend themselves.

But would the knowledge that students—and professors, let’s note—are armed affect the freedom of discussion that is necessary for colleges to function?  I’ve discussed this idea before.  Could a disgruntled student come in with a gun?  Of course.  Would a ban on carry stop that from happening?  No.  And even if it could, what prevents the student from using chairs, tables, computers, and other acceptable objects as weapons?

The attempt to impose certainty on a world of possibility is akin to the desire to reject the wonders of modern science in favor of ideas that are easier to comprehend.  Doing so creates an illusory world.  But reality has a way of forcing itself upon our consciousness, and it’s best if we face facts instead of trying to wish them away.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.