Ray Boyer and The Safest Way

Pandering to fear and ignorance is far easier than trying to think hard or, harder still, explain something thoughtfully.  The limit may be one’s ability to explain well, but more often it is the ability and willingness of others to listen, to think, to care about anything beyond their transitory self-interest.  And when it comes to self-interest, there is nothing more likely to trump reason than safety.

So when North Dakota State University Police and Safety Office Director Ray Boyer decided to ban its budding fencing club from campus, the pitch was easy:

“What is more at issue is a society that has been conditioned to violent and often deadly behavior as a result of individuals’ use of weapons on campuses and in schools, that has led to a public reporting of these incidents with an expected police response to use deadly force to end the threat.”

“When the public sees someone displaying a sword in public in a hostile manner with another individual, it is reasonable for me to believe today that they would call police with an expectation that police respond with equal or greater force.”

“Sometimes the safest way is simply to have no weapons, real or perceived, on campus.”

The first explanation was that fencing used “weapons,” and NDSU had a zero-tolerance weapon’s policy that specifically included “sabers and swords.”  Of course, the foils, epees and sabers used in the Olympic, NCAA and USA Fencing sport are only called “weapons” out of tradition. It’s a very traditional sport, and one very dear to me personally. They can’t actually be used to stab anyone, and are exceptionally safe.

But that’s not the real reason, as Boyer makes clear.

Sometimes the safest way is simply to have no weapons, real or perceived, on campus.

Boyer alludes to the slippery slope, raising the specter of martial arts, rifle and pistol teams, color guard, paintball, kendo and ninja tiddly winks.  The fear of weapons, of a culture of harming delicate students with such vicious games as dodge ball, offers the beard to cover Boyer’s self-interest in avoiding his college cops having to deal with crazy students calling in breathlessly about men with swords running around campus.

As Walter Olson pointedly frames the question:

[N]ote the ambiguity of the next line, “Members of the newly formed club said that despite having no pointed tips or sharp blades, the school classifies the club’s equipment as weapons.” It sounds as if the school administration itself is being described as “having no pointed tips or sharp blades,” which might be a version of “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

The fencing community has been discussing the issue raised here for the past week, as it reflects directly on our sport.  Olympic silver medalist Tim Morehouse has joined the fray, speaking with the president of NDSU in the hope that he will overrule Boyer’s facile decision.  I decided to lay off discussing this to avoid exacerbating the problem, hoping that it would resolve quickly.  The more discussion, the firmer a guy like Boyer might dig in his heels.

Yet, one would expect the president of a college like NDSU would appreciate a reasoned, thoughtful position where Boyer didn’t care. The absurdity of fencing being an NCAA sport at the Ivies, but banned at NDSU, might be enough to shame the latter into capitulation. After all, it’s friggin’ North Dakota, and really can’t take national ridicule.

But the banning of the fencing club from campus isn’t just about fencing, and isn’t just about NDSU, so the solution of permitting the club to exist, like it does its ROTC program, doesn’t get to the core of the issue.  There are two parallel causes: first, the progressive attitude that the perfectly safe world for our youth would have nothing that could conceivably cause them harm, or put thoughts of harm in their mushy, moldable heads.  Remember, a well-aimed dodge ball could sting, not just the body but the self-esteem, and that would be unacceptable.

The second is that campus safety could suck it up, take the crazed phone call from the student who sees an epee in the hands of an unknown assailant, and explain that it is for a sporting event. But that would require the interest in doing  so and the will to try.  Soon thereafter, the call from the parent, the congressman and the pastor, haranguing them over the weapons of Miss destruction invading their sanctum of safety.

Sometimes the safest way is simply to have no weapons, real or perceived, on campus.

And most times, it’s the easiest way as well.  Sure, a foil could poke an eye out. So could a stick, but attempts to ban sticks have met with little success due to ecological pressures.  A baseball bat is certainly a threatening bludgeon, if one is inclined to characterize it that way. Or it’s the means to swing at a ball to send it sailing over a fence, to the cheers of students.

That Boyer hasn’t banned baseball reveals the lie of his contention, and the fallacy of his rationale. There can be no “weapon”-free world, no bubble-wrapped, zero tolerance campus except to doing away with anything that has the potential to be abused or might strike fear in the fragile mind of the ignorant.  Surely, a saber would do that, even if it’s hardly as effective as a tennis racket in bashing in a person’s skull.

But fencing “weapons” are easier to sell to clueless handwringers, and campus cops like Boyer can cross another call from some special little snowflake off his list of things to do.

19 thoughts on “Ray Boyer and The Safest Way

  1. Pingback: "Weapons Policy Bans Fencing Group From Practicing On Campus" - Overlawyered

  2. Nigel Declan

    I can only believe that Ray Boyer has never actually seen the sport of fencing, as he apparently has some sort of Douglas Fairbanks Jr.-esque swashbuckling delusion as to what it constitutes. This is what happens when people who clearly have no experience with something are charged with making rules governing those things. Whether legislators, judges, university administrators, police officers or what-have-you, the notion that you need to understand something in order to address the issue (real or perceived) surrounding it seems now to be anathema to those seeking to exercise whatever power they possess, however limited.

    When did the practice of learning about something and taking the time to research an issue become a sign of weakness? It is as though those with authority (not all, but many) feel that the fact that they can make a decision is an affirmation that they must inherently possess the requisite knowledge and judgment to do so, regardless of how little they actually know about situations before them.

    1. SHG Post author

      The immediate reaction of the fencing community was to educate Boyer about fencing. His excuse quickly shifted away from fencing being “weapons,” as of course they weren’t in the sense of sharp points or edges, but the perception of weapons by others. Or to put it otherwise, he didn’t give a damn about knowing what he was talking about.

  3. Wheeze The People™

    But what about sharpened pencils and Bic pens?? You ever been stabbed by one in the neck?? It hurts, donut?? . . .

  4. bill

    I guess it’s a quaint notion these days, but one would be forgiven for expecting college to be a place where people are taught not to fear imaginary boogeymen. It’s a good thing we don’t have an obesity epidemic in this country where we couldn’t afford to discourage exercise, oh wait.

  5. Larry West

    Well, on the positive side, an unarmed campus police force will certainly reduce the incidence of serious violence. It’s a damn shame, having to cancel baseball and fencing to achieve that, but zero tolerance means zero tolerance.

    1. SHG Post author

      Notice the part about there being ROTC on campus? Want to bet zero doesn’t mean what you think it does?

    2. Brett Middleton

      When we’re all reduced to relying on handy blunt or sorta-sharp instruments — pens, unabridged dictionaries, and the like — it would seem to give quite an advantage to those with the greatest physical strength. Restricting the ability to commit serious violence to the biggest and strongest just doesn’t strike me (sorry) as a great step forward. Society might be more peaceful with the brutes in charge, but I think it would be lacking in some other respects. It would be nice if some clever person could invent some kind of equalizer.

  6. Erik Hammarlund

    Were I at the school, I would form two groups of students:

    1) A group charged with formation and promotion of the Baseball Bat Fighting Club; Lacrosse Stick Fighting Club; Hockey Stick Fighting Club*; Ten ways to Kill Someone With a Pen Club; Plastic Weapons and Squirtguns Society, and such other things.

    2) A group charged with repeated complaints and calls to ban these “dangerous” items.

    But then again I’m a cantankerous sort.

    *Depending on your location, this may just be called “Hockey”

        1. David

          Forgot to note, would someone from Guam with such a certificate be forbidden from entering the N.D.S.U. campus?

  7. Warren Cornell

    Mr. Greenfield,

    FYI, the link in the second paragraph is already dead. In fact, the website, which I gather is for the student newspaper, is down too.

    1. SHG Post author

      I saw that. No clue what’s going on with the student newspaper website, as I can’t raise it either. Hopefully, it will arise from the dead. If not, you will have to trust my cut and paste skills.

  8. DanQ

    It’s a comfort to know that Bokononism is alive and well in North Dakota…. with apologies to Vonnegut … Live by the foma that make you the safest.

  9. doug nusbaum

    Many years ago I read Man-Kzin_Wars. It was one of the first books that I gave to my son to read. For purposes of this silliness, here is the key sentences in this article:

    After the Kzin telepath learned that the humans were unarmed and didn’t even understand the concept of weapons, they attempted to kill the human crew in a slow, painful manner using an inductive heating weapon hoping to capture their ship intact for intelligence purposes. However, one of the humans used the ship’s powerful drive system (which doubled as interstellar communications laser) as a weapon and destroyed the Kzin ship, beginning the First Man-Kzin War.

    The difference bertween a weapon and a tool or a toy is ONLY in the mind of the user. One wonders how someone like Mr. Boyer can have more than a room temperature IQ and not be aware of this. Maybe when one of his children makes a finger gun, then he will arrange to have that hand amputated since ”

    “Sometimes the safest way is simply to have no weapons, real or perceived, on campus.”

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