January 25, 2013

It Happened in Seattle

People have the right to self-defense; they should be allowed the means.


(I wrote this essay several months ago in support of the right to carry concealed weapons on college and university campuses. I thought it might be timely to print it here.- SP)

The English 200 class slogs along in the oppressively hot and humid classroom. Of course, the air conditioning picked today to take a vacation, as the summer heat arrives early. There is likely not a single student focusing on the class. For most students, tomorrow’s final will be their last. Afterward, most students will be free for summer fun, for summer jobs, or at least free from campus worries until September.

Suddenly there is a loud explosion in the near distance. After a moment of shocked silence, students scramble helter-skelter. Some hide under desks, some dash toward the door despite more explosions and nightmarish screams coming from the other side. Students begin to realize what is happening. Some yell there is a shooter loose on campus, while others just yell hoping the shooter will not select them.

When a student or professor faces such a situation, perhaps hiding behind a bookshelf in a dark corner, what are they to do? What could they do? What would they wish to do? The explosions, screams, and shooter’s footsteps grow closer. In this critical, life and death situation, something else screams for an answer: at this very moment, would the student or professor rather have a gun, or not have a gun?

This timely incident in Durant, Oklahoma, which occurred during the writing of this paper, may provide an answer. A 12-year old girl was at home alone when she heard someone breaking into her house. She called her mother who told the girl to get the Glock handgun, hide in the closet, and call 911, which she did. When she heard the intruder come into her bedroom, she fired through the door wounding the burglar. “According to Bryan County Undersheriff Ken Golden, the shooting was justifiable and there were no wrong actions on the girl’s part. He said that she armed herself with the Glock pistol after her mother told her to do so over the phone.”

Bryan County Sheriff’s Investigator John Bates said, “The girl defended herself and did what a person should do if an intruder enters a home because she armed herself, hid and dialed 911. According to Bates, she was still on the phone with the dispatcher when she shot Jones. ‘She did everything you would want your kids to do if home alone,’ Bates said. ‘She did the right thing. What else can you ask your child to do?’” [1] While this didn’t happen on a college campus, it is easy to see how similar the two situations are.

Although the right to bear arms is a constitutional right, America has undergone a cultural shift over the past several decades, especially in urban areas. In a paper dedicated to training human resources professionals on how to respond to legally permitted employees who carry concealed weapons in the workplace, which is similar to the college campus situation, the author describes the reactions of employees to word that a fellow employee brings a gun to work with him: “But he hasn’t been a problem in the 8 years he has worked here—right? Asked Rob again. “You got it boss,” said Connor. “In fact, he has been a model employee. “Just what I needed,” grumbled Rob. “I’m sorry boss, but it is mass hysteria. Everyone is talking about the shooting at Tech and it’s getting worse by the minute.”[2] This hysteria is just that, hysteria, not rationality.

The issue at hand, however, is an individual right the Framers recognized in the Second Amendment. Although a debate has raged for years regarding the, “militia clause,” in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Washington D.C. gun ban marking the first time it had specifically recognized the Second Amendment pertained to individuals. Since Amendments One, Two, Four, Nine, and Ten all incorporate the phrase, “the People,” when recognizing rights, is it logical that James Madison meant, “the People,” for all the Amendments except the Second?

With regard to the Court holding that governments may ban guns in “schools,” an article titled, Supreme Court strikes down a gun ban and raises questions for college campuses, provides information on an issue that may affect colleges or universities with regard to their current campus gun bans. The authors present issues surrounding the definition of, “campus” and “school.” Proponents of being able to carry guns on campus hold that, “a major question, says Robert L. Clayton, a lawyer who specializes in higher education, is the definition of the word “school,” which in academic parlance usually refers only to elementary and secondary institutions.” [3] The argument is that college campuses, which can cover many locations throughout a city or area, is different from a single location elementary or secondary school.

A gun, like a car, is a tool, albeit intimidating to the uninitiated, which people use for positive, and sometimes negative, purposes. Consider the following: good people with guns have been responsible for the U.S. winning its independence from Great Britain, for freeing the slaves, for defeating the Nazis, thus liberating millions worldwide. People acting with positive motives, armed with guns, have been responsible for countless acts of individual self-defense (including defense of others) across America. “Guns [are] used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year — or about 6,850 times a day.” [4]

Gun control advocates work to sway children and young people toward thinking negatively about guns. This includes using public institutions such as schools, primary, secondary, and college, to do so. The ubiquitous sign, “Gun-Free Zone,” is one method gun opponents employ. Often institutions post these signs among other signs, which prohibit criminal activities such as, trespassing, drugs and public alcohol use. It seems logical to ask if this has an overt, or at least subconscious, effect on children, and adults, which negatively influences their views on firearms in general.

The negative influences on children, and adults including college students who have grown up with “Gun-Free Zone” signs bring up a broader issue of the efficacy of the gun-free zones they announce. Common sense is all that is necessary to conclude they do not work for the purpose intended, unless that purpose is to make people who already follow rules obey.

Admittedly, gun-free zones do one thing well: they keep law-abiding citizens, those who are more likely to protect students rather than harm them, from carrying guns on campus. Does anyone truly believe “Gun-Free Zone” signs prevent criminals, intent on mayhem, from bringing a gun onto a college campus? Any person would have to question the intent, if not the intellectual honesty, of anyone who suggests a simple sign would prevent an armed madman from entering any open campus. That criminals intent on harming people on a mass scale are much more likely to target a facility that prohibits guns is obvious. When was the last time a crazed shooter showed up to wreak havoc at a gun show or a police station?

Gun bans on campuses and sanctions for violating them are not likely to prevent crazed killers from carrying guns onto campus. “For example, expelling students or firing professors for violating campus gun-free zones represent real life changing experience for law-abiding citizens… But even assuming the killer survives the attack, it is absurd to imagine that after facing multiple life prison sentences or death penalties for killing people, the threat of expulsion from school will be the penalty that ultimately deters the attack.” [5]

Opponents to carrying guns on campus, who are often people who advocate for gun control, do raise some legitimate concerns, which deserve reasonable responses. Some legitimate concerns in the ostensible defense of campus gun bans are listed below.

1. What level of training do those who choose to carry have?

2. Is there a danger of accidental shootings?

3. Innocent bystanders might get shot.

4. The police will respond to save people.

It is important to understand that the vast majority of students, faculty, and staff will continue unarmed and unaffected by this issue as they always have. The right or ability to carry a gun will not turn a campus into a quasi-Switzerland where the government mandates gun possession. “Every male when he turns 20 years old is issued a military rifle and required to keep it at home. Universal service in the militia army is required. When one is no longer required to serve, he may keep his rifle or pistol… the crime rate is very low. This is in part because of, not in spite of, the high rate of firearm ownership” (Switzerland, 2003, paragraph.). [6] Similarly, the campuses where concealed carry has already been authorized have not turned into an academic Wild West. If they had, the media would certainly have trumpeted it.

It seems logical that, as with other activities, those most interested in any activity are those most likely to want to learn more about it. A person interested in coin collecting, muscle cars, or crocheting, will be the people most interested in obtaining books, magazines, and perhaps taking seminars and classes to learn more about the activity. With individuals who are most likely to choose to carry firearms on campus, they would most likely have an interest in guns and self-defense. These are the people who would be likely to seek, or already have obtained, training. It seems logical that they would be prone to practice regularly with their guns, and to keep apprised of innovations in firearms use, safety, and self-defense training. They will also be required to have concealed carry permits (except in Alaska and Vermont), which require a significant background check.

The dangers of accidental shootings are also valid, at least on at least a prima facie basis. Whenever there is an increase in any activity, there may be an increase in various consequences of that activity including negative ones. There may be, but not necessarily will be. Obviously there are far more car, bicycle, and other accidents on campus than there are those related to firearms where government or colleges authorize carrying a gun. In fact, according to the National Safety Council, accidental shootings in general do not make the top five causes of accidental deaths in America, and accidental death is ranked number five in overall causes of death.[7] Further, for all age groups, and this includes deaths only, while 43,000 people were killed in car accidents, only 600 people died by gun accident.[8]

Again, pointing to similar reasons related to individuals interested in guns and self-defense, would not these people be more likely to handle guns safely, and to be aware of those who do not? Would responsible people who would choose to carry firearms on campus want to see anyone injured accidentally or otherwise? Are they interested in the negative publicity gun misuse would generate?

Gun control advocates often offer shrill predictions that lead will fly, and people will be ducking a hailstorm of bullets. This simply does not happen. Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio said, “…he heard the ‘blood on the streets’ warnings when Texas first passed the concealed handgun law. ‘They said we’d have shootouts at every intersection,’ he said. ‘None of that has happened.’” [9]

“I have not found a single instance when a permitted concealed handgun was improperly used at a school. And neither the National Education Association nor the American Federation of Teachers has been able to point to a problem.” [10]

People, who say they do not need guns on campus because the police are there, are not considering the reality. For example, “The average police response time for in-progress burglary is about 4 min…” [11] Just think of how many knife stabs or gun shots a criminal can commit in that time.

At a Northern Illinois University campus shooting in 2008, police arrived in six minutes. Even with this good response time, the murderer killed five people and wounded sixteen during the attack. At the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, not knowing the whereabouts of the suspect, the police did not have the incident under control for hours, while the university community hid to protect themselves. “The slaughter at Virginia Tech and other public schools occurred in some of the few areas within their states where people were not allowed to carry concealed handguns.” [12]

On the other hand, there are many examples of armed citizens taking action when a criminal opens fire. These get little publicity from the mainstream media. For example, during the Appalachian School of Law shooting in Virginia in 2002, two armed students and an unarmed, off-duty police officer, stopped the rampage by taking the shooter into custody. Gun control advocacy being so prevalent in much of the conventional media, out of 280 stories reported on the incident, only four reported that students armed with guns stopped the incident. [13]

“Overall, the problem with gun control laws is not too little regulation, but rather that the regulations disarm law-abiding citizens.” [14] Why do gun bans work on law-abiding citizens but not on criminals? It is because law-abiding students, faculty, and staff, if authorities discover them carrying a gun, risk firing or expulsion, while the criminal does what criminals do: break the law. Even if the shooter were a member of the college, should he survive, facing multiple life sentences or the death penalty, the above-listed sanctions are not likely to present much of a deterrent.

Most rational people recognize a right to self-defense. This being the case, it makes no sense that a college student while on campus would not enjoy a commensurate right to the most practical, efficient, and effective means to carry out that defense of self and others.

If the college cannot guarantee students’ safety, then should it prohibit students from taking steps to protect themselves? Utah Republican State Senator Michael Waddoups put it this way, “If government cannot protect you, you should have the right to protect yourself.” [15] If handguns were not the most efficient, effective, and practical means of self-defense against criminals, then law enforcement agencies would not equip their police officers with handguns, they would choose something “better.”

Gun opponents do have some legitimate concerns. One is the belief that signs prohibiting guns will prevent any criminal from carrying a gun onto a college campus. The second issue is the assumption that law-abiding citizens who carry guns on campuses make colleges less safe. Data shows guns make communities and citizens, including campuses and students, safer. “According to a 1997 study of National Crime Victimization Survey data, ‘robbery and assault victims who used a gun to resist were less likely to be attacked or to suffer an injury than those who used any other methods of self-protection or those who did not resist at all.’” [16]

A gunman is closing in. The gunshots are growing closer. The screams rise and then some fall all too suddenly. Maybe the hidden student has already seen fellow students or a professor shot. At this critical life and death moment, would that student rather have a gun or not have a gun? The answer seems obvious.

[1] Swearengin, M. (2012, October 20). 12-year-old oklahoma girl shoots intruder in home. Durant Daily Democrat.

[2] Carden, R. (2010). He’s got a gun. Transfusion, 50(12), 2798-2799. doi:10.1111/j.1537-2995.2010.02955.x

[3] Kelderman, E., & Lipka, S. (2008). Supreme court strikes down a gun ban and raises questions for college campuses. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(44), 16-A16.

[4] Kleck, G., & Gertz, M. (1995). Armed resistance to crime: The prevalence and nature of self-defense with a gun. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 86(1), 150-150.

[5] Lott, J. R. (2010). More guns, less crime, understanding crime and gun-control laws. (3rd ed.). Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

[6] Switzerland, Gun Laws. (2003). In Guns in american society: an encyclopedia of history, politics, culture and the law.

[7] NSC: accidental death–‘a silent epidemic’–happens every five minutes in america . (2007, June 14).

[8] National Safety Council, Injury Facts, 2001 Edition, pp. 89, 84

[9] Vertuno, J. (2011, Feb 21). Texas may allow guns on college campuses. Charleston Daily Mail.

[10] Lott, J. R. (2010). More guns, less crime, understanding crime and gun-control laws. (3rd ed.). Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, p. 325.

[11] Chihan, A., Zhang, Y., & Hoover, L. (2012). Police response time to in-progress burglary: A multilevel analysis. Police Quarterly.

[12] Lott, J. R. (2010). More guns, less crime, understanding crime and gun-control laws. (3rd ed.). Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

[13] Brennan, P. (2002, January 26). Media ignore fact that gun owners stopped school shooter.

[14] Lott, J. R. (2010). More guns, less crime, understanding crime and gun-control laws. (3rd ed.). Chicago: University Of Chicago Press. p. 323.

[15] Vergakis, B., A. P. (2007, Apr 28). Utah law allows guns on college campuses. Tulsa World, pp. 10-A10.

[16] Kleck, G. (1997). Targeting guns: Firearms and their control. Piscataway: Aldine Transaction.


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