One of the strange developments in American colleges over the last decade, thanks to the increasing number of campus shootings, has been the growth of the “campus carry” movement.

The idea behind this, at least in theory, is the familiar line: the best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Or, as Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, sponsor of a bill to legalize firearms on college campuses, told the New York Times earlier this year:

If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.

Yes, “those young, hot little girls.” While this weird sexual objectification is sort of puzzling here, it’s actually pretty middle-of-the-road for these guys. Because in the campus carry movement, it turns out, it’s really, really hard to go too far. Campus carry isn’t an NRA thing. Indeed, a lot of NRA members are sort of uncomfortable with it. According to this fascinating article at the Trace, a Bloomberg-backed news outlet devoted to violence prevention :

On April 17, 2007 — one day after Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho systematically shot and killed 32 people and injured another 17 before turning one of his guns on himself — college pupils in several states formed Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, as the group was originally called. Before then, no one had seriously pressed for arming college students and professors.

SCC’s message didn’t resonate with the majority of Americans after Virginia Tech. And it still doesn’t, despite how the issue flares up with each new school shooting. Over the past several years, the NRA and other gun-rights groups have scored a series of legislative victories in states across the country, including the passage of Stand Your Ground and concealed-carry laws. But campus carry is the rare steady loser. Of the roughly 70 bills introduced in the past five years to loosen university restrictions on firearms nationwide, barely any have passed.


But it doesn’t matter. Because it turns out that changing state laws isn’t really what campus carry is for. Sort of like with those enthusiastic people who stop you on the street asking if you’ve “got a minute for the environment” (your actual money never really helps the environment) the ostensible goal here doesn’t have anything to do with the real desired outcome. From the article:

If the political will for campus carry isn’t coming from legislators who generally favor gun rights, then where is it coming from? Much of it can be traced to a small, well-trained campus network working under the guidance of a longtime conservative organizer in Northern Virginia — who seems more concerned with whipping up a youth movement than with what happens on statehouse floors.

Campus carry gets its funding, and intellectual focus, from the fringe Gun Owners of America, a group that makes the NRA look pretty liberal.

GOA was funded in 1975 by Larry Pratt. Pratt’s views are, well, unusual. His belief, according to the article, is not “simply a practical prescription for more guns to cure crime, nor is it ultimately to respect gun owner’s constitutional rights.” These views, if troublesome for gun control advocates, make some theoretical sense to the average American citizen. But that’s not GOA. No, Pratt “believes a righteous Christian citizenry needs its armaments to prevent a secular government from further alienating them from the kingdom of Christ.”

Under this belief system, ladies and gentlemen, having a lot of gun deaths in America isn’t even really a problem. GOA and SCC exist to drum up support for really crazy gun causes later on.

Aware that Americans are actually generally trending more liberal on virtually all issues—the persistent, irritating problem for the GOP —this group aims to fix that, to drum up support for conservative causes among young people and “act as RINO hunter,” remove legislators from office who weren’t sufficiently committed to the “righteous Christian citizenry needs its armaments to prevent a secular government from further alienating them from the kingdom of Christ” philosophy.

The NRA doesn’t really like the group, thinking it’s sort of crazy. (Because, you know, the idea of students toting guns around as they go to class is freaking insane).

But they’re warriors, and they act for a movement.

Several months after voting no on the [Idaho] campus carry bill, [State Sen. John] Goedde was upset in a primary election by a local conservative activist who said she would have supported the measure. It was precisely the scenario Pratt and his cohorts imagined: Smoke out the moderate Republicans and replace them with true believers.

The real point here isn’t to pass campus carry laws, or even get rid of Republicans who are insufficiently pro-gun; it’s just to get rid of any Republican who isn’t really, really conservative. Anyone who appears to have a reasonable perspective on guns, like those who believe maybe we should have some limits on where people can have them, is then forced to admit such a perspective, and seem like a waffling RINO. As Pratt put it: “The RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] need to be humiliated. They need to be driven out of public life.”

Yes, this is a real political campaign. And it really matters in local elections. Pratt says that the goal is to multiply the number of such people in public office: “The Rand Pauls. The Ted Cruzes. The Steve Stockmans of the House.”

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer