Saturday, May 19, 2007

An Armed Campus is NOT a Safe Campus

Immediately in the aftermath of the shooting incident at Virginia Tech the usual swarm of loudmouths scuttled out from under the cultural baseboard and began to scream long and loud to anyone within earshot that if the students and faculty at VT had been armed that they'd have been able to deal with the shooter. (I wonder why no one mentioned arming the staff.) In truth, yes, on a college campus with a large percent of its population armed, eventually a shooter would be wounded or killed, but would an armed campus be safer than a campus where only the university police are allowed to be armed?

Lets face facts, federal, state, county, and local law enforcement personnel are screened to weed out the unstable and the unreliable. They receive training in firearms safety, marksmanship, and the use of deadly force, still, law enforcement personnel manage to mistake innocent persons for perpetrators, they miss their targets and hit bystanders, and the occasionally use excessive force.

Last night, after going through a red light, I was stopped by a cop. I made a conscious effort to keep my hands on the steering wheel where he could see them because I didn't want a nervous, pissed off, or frightened cop to make my kids orphans. If I can't trust a trained police officer not to shoot me, what makes anyone think that I should feel safe on a campus full of people who haven't been screened and who haven't had weeks of special training?

In not one of the letters to the editor, blogs, casual conversations, or radio call-in shows that I've been privy to has anyone explained how anyone's supposed to identify the shooter. If you're making your way across campus, and a friend runs up to you and yells, "Hey! Somebody's shooting people in Maybank Hall!" After you draw your weapon on a campus with a large percentage of armed people, how are you supposed to know which armed person is the shooter, and which one is responding to the shooting? How do the other armed people on campus know that you're not the shooter?

When talking to people about deadly force, I gave them this scenario: You've walked into a room in which there is one person on the floor suffering from an obvious gunshot wound, and two people facing each other with guns drawn. What do you do? Every time I posed that scenario, I'd get this response, "I'd shoot both of them." I know that these people were trying to be witty, but it was their very wittiness that exposes one of the flaws of the armed campus. I can think of many more.

If your Spidey sense (or whatever) does manage to clue you in on the shooter, are you sure that you're accurate enough to hit him and no one else? What about the other vigilantes, are you confidant in their marksmanship? What about the background of your target? Are there no innocent bystanders on the other side of the shooter? What about on the other side of that sheetrock wall beyond the shooter? Maybe you'd better add x-ray vision to your Spidey sense. Are you sure that there's only one shooter? Maybe while you're stalking the guy you think is the shooter, his buddy's stalking you.

Also, when the campus police, the local police, or the mob of students and faculty (and staff) respond to the crime, how do you identify yourself as not the shooter? Why shouldn't they shoot you?

Back when I was in the Army, soldiers who had privately owned weapons had to keep them either off-post, or locked downstairs in the arms room. If you wanted your weapon you had to give the armorer twenty-four hours notice before he'd release it to you. I guess that the idea was to keep young hotheads from running downstairs, demanding their weapons, then running back upstairs to settle scores. If the Army, after having invested a LOT of time and money training soldiers in the benefits of firearms safety, felt that it wasn't a good idea to allow soldiers to sleep with pistols under their pillows, why would it be a good idea to allow college students to do so?

I remember when the Knights of the White Camelia (an even more bedraggled version of the Klu Klux Klan, formerly based in Louisiana) was recruiting on campus at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. They came in and set up their table alongside the campus groups who were likewise recruiting. Unlike the campus organizations, they quickly drew a hostile crowd. Harsh words were thrown back and forth, but there was no violence. The university police kept the peace and the worst thing that happened was that the KWK got free publicity out of the deal. Had guns been allowed on campus, the situation could have turned into something much worse. Some of the students would surely have been armed, and without a doubt, some of the KWK would have been carrying as well.

I'm sure that there are some readers who believe that had the students been armed that the KWK would have stayed off campus. Don't be fooled. Terrorist aren't cowards, if they were, they wouldn't be effective. A misunderstanding on either the part of the students or the KWK probably would have resulted in a bloodbath, and the university police would have been out manned, outgunned, and probably helpless to intervene. Think of all the emotionally charged incidents that take place on college campuses -- Sporting events that turn violent, political protests, rivalries between fraternal organizations that often turn violent, and all of these incidents can be exasperated by youthful hormones and sometimes alcohol and controlled substances. Who believes that adding guns to the mix would improve the situation?


Anonymous said...

I completely and utterly agree. Such a smart and well-reasoned post!

Thank you for providing me with more specific examples to use to justify my stance against arming college students. I've been a little too emotional in my responses so far and end with a persuasive statement like "Because it's a stupid idea."

Gunfighter said...

Excellent post, Brian!

I have been in law enforcement since I got out of the Corps... and I agree 100%!

Can I repost your message on my blog?

With full accreditation and links, of course.


Alison said...

Wow, okay, so now Brian, too, needs an op-ed column in The State. This is really good.

brian said...

Thank You Deandra,

Your post was very kind. Most of the responses in the wake of the shootings were visceral and emotional. People were angry, frightened, and hurt and they wanted to lash out. I guess that they felt that the best way to do this would be to kill those they felt were trying to kill them. I think that most of them just didn't think their response through to its conclusion.


brian said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence Alison.

In my reading and listening to people's responses to the VT shootings, too many people (many of whom I'm sure never have fired a shot in anger) gave me the impression that when the shooter showed up that he would announce with a theme of minor chords, dramatic lighting, and a wardrobe that was heavily accented in black. Of course our intrepid letter-writer/blogger/talk show host would be fully alert, with a fully-functional and loaded weapon in easy reach. He (and it was always a he) would fire a single, deadly round that would lodge itself in the shooter's body and not blow-through and hit anyone else. The shooter would not get a shot off in response that might hit our hero, or go astray and hit a bystander. Our hero would then be immediately identifiable by the glory of his beatific halo and he would be lauded by one and all.


brian said...


Yes, you certainly may publish my post on your blog. I would be honored.

I have a question for you. I was wondering how it would affect how law enforcement personnel carried out their duties if they didn't suspect, but they KNEW that everyone they approached was armed. I could be wrong, but I'm willing to bet that there would be more dead and wounded cops and civilians due to the number of nervous and itchy trigger fingers on the streets.


Dylan Waco said...

You know that I don't agree with you on the gun control issue Brian, but this is brilliantly worded and probably the best argument I have seen against the arming of society as a way to mend the gun violence that plagues our country.

Your faith in the hypermilitarized, wholly unaccountable, modern police force is a little troubiling though to be honest. I still say if strict gun control is on the table, an end to the drug war, and mandatory election of police officers by the people they patrol would have to come with it.

brian said...


I don't have blind faith in law enforcement. I know that despite their best efforts, good police officers make mistakes. I also know that there are bad cops who either out of malice, or out of apathy do the wrong thing; however, I still prefer a police force to vigilante justice and mob rule.


Lori said...

Nice post. Great points. People who preach that a fully armed society is a safe and/or safer one, really do frighten me. I think education would be the last thing on the minds of most if we were ever to green-light the carrying of arms concealed or otherwise on college campuses.

I grew up a military brat. Shortly after my father retired, he was home (Memphis) celebrating the 4th of July at a barbecue with relatives when 12:00 midnight rolled around. All of the fellas promptly drug out their pieces (guns) and started firing up into the air. My father, the only former career military man in the bunch decided it was time for him to go inside. He told me later, there were simply too many drunk, silly and untrained folks handling weapons for him (LOL).

Funnier yet, one of my husband's Chicago cousins who is very active in her church said one time and with a completely straight face, "Well, I'm ushering this Sunday. I'd best remember to pack my piece just in case one of those fools decides to start some trouble."

You have to wonder if this is where we are headed . . . or if we are already halfway there.

brian said...

Thank you for the kind words, Lori.

For those people who suggest that we'd be better off, or safer, if we were all armed, I suggest that they look no further than Liberia or Kosovo. For every Switzerland that they point to, there are several countries that are apocalyptic hellholes.


Anonymous said...

The problems in Kosovo and Liberia have little to do with the fact that they are armed societies though. In fact the widespread distribution of arms was a result of already existing problems in both countries. Did they make the problems worse? Actually there is not an honest answer to this. On the surface the obvious answere would be "yes", but then you have to ask yourself..what is worse..widespread genocide or civil war? That is a serious question and one that should not be taken lightly.

The issue of "gun" politics is much more complicated then most people think. For years I was a gun control advocate because like most sane people I don't support mechanized violence or the threat of it. The problem is that I'm not comfortable believing that a totally disarmed citizenry, with a militarized police force, is preferrable to what we've got. I agree with you that no one is going to be able to protect themselves from a full frontal government assualt these days, for obvious reasons, but I also wonder if without the threat of a response we would have had things like civil rights legislation. I doubt MLK could have gotten much done without Robert Williams and Malcolm X.

brian said...


I understand that there are societal problems in Liberia and in Kosovo that are compounded by the proliferation of rifles and pistols and other weapons that are even more lethal. But you have to admit that we Americans are a violent, hateful, and vindictive people. We have a culture of violence and retribution, that for the most part we embrace.

Instead of questioning why was a person as mentally disturbed as Cho able to buy weapons and ammunition in the first place, the most vocal people suggested that the solution is to arm (or to allow to be armed) the university population.

I have an idea, how about Amendment 2.5: People have the right to helmets and body armor. That would probably go further to protecting us from shooters than universal armament would.

Anonymous said...

Hey - how about no one gets a gun unless you are a law enforcer?

Gunfighter said...


suspect that there are people in our country that actually believe that keeping a gun in their home actually prepares them to fight "the bad guys".

Nothing could be further from the truth.

viciousrumours said...

I originally read this piece over at GF's site. Thank you for having common sense. The world would be a better place if the men and women in charge actually had some. Thank you for writing this and thank you for sharing it.

jessabean said...

I too read this on GF's site and wanted to pop by and let you know what a great post you wrote. I also enjoyed Conseula's breastfeeding rant...I might have to pop over there and leave a comment too. :)

cathouse teri said...

Good God! You were afraid a trained police officer might shoot you if he couldn't see your hands during a traffic stop? Now that speaks VOLUMES of the scariness of the state of our society.

Actually, my ex huband is a police officer. I don't know about other agencies, but in the california highway patrol, they are taught to shoot only if there is a need to kill. (That's what he said anyway. I wasn't there, so I can't attest to the truth of that.) In other words, unless your furtive movements convinced him that his life (or someone else's life) was in danger, he would not shoot, nay even draw his weapon, unless he was ready to kill you.

I know that sounds more scary, but in reality, it makes the likelihood of getting shot quite slim. I know it happens, but really... not that much. You maybe could relax a little during a traffic stop. Now if someone calls the cops on you for domestic abuse (legitimate or not) and they enter your home, you'd better get face down on the floor with your hands behind your head! Ask questions later.

BUT you are so right! We are too quick to over-arm the trigger happy. (That sentence may or may not be full of metaphors!)

Happy Hunting!

Anonymous said...

The problem with only "law enforcers" having guns is that a) it's not possible because criminals will ALWAYS have access to guns, because the cat is too far out of the bag and b) even if it was magically possible, it would require people putting alot of faith in "law enforcers" who traditionally in this country have not been terribly deserving of said faith ESPCIALLY in instances when they have been representatives of a state operating against a totally unarmed and defenseless population.