Glenn Reynolds editorialized in the New York Daily News today on the subject of campus firearm bans, which did not deter the killer, but which could very possibly have prevented his being stopped a lot earlier.
On Monday, as the news of the Virginia Tech shootings was unfolding, I went into my advanced constitutional law seminar to find one of my students upset. My student, Tara Wyllie, has a permit to carry a gun in Tennessee, but she isn’t allowed to have a weapon on campus. That left her feeling unsafe. “Why couldn’t we meet off campus today?” she asked.
Virginia Tech graduate student Bradford Wiles also has a permit to carry a gun, in Virginia. But on the day of the shootings, he would have been unarmed for the same reason: Like the University of Tennessee, where I teach, Virginia Tech bans guns on campus.
In The Roanoke Times last year – after another campus incident, when a dangerous escaped inmate was roaming the campus – Wiles wrote that, when his class was evacuated, “Of all of the emotions and thoughts that were running through my head that morning, the most overwhelming one was of helplessness. That feeling of helplessness has been difficult to reconcile because I knew I would have been safer with a proper means to defend myself.”
Wiles reported that when he told a professor how he felt, the professor responded that she would have felt safer if he had had a gun, too.
What’s more, she would have been safer. That’s how I feel about my student (one of a few I know who have gun carry permits), as well. She’s a responsible adult; I trust her not to use her gun improperly, and if something bad happened, I’d want her to be armed because I trust her to respond appropriately, making the rest of us safer.
Virginia Tech doesn’t have that kind of trust in its students (or its faculty, for that matter). Neither does the University of Tennessee. Both think that by making their campuses “gun-free,” they’ll make people safer, when in fact they’re only disarming the people who follow rules, law-abiding people who are no danger at all.
This merely ensures that the murderers have a free hand. If there were more responsible, armed people on campuses, mass murder would be harder.
In fact, some mass shootings have been stopped by armed citizens. Though press accounts downplayed it, the 2002 shooting at Appalachian Law School was stopped when a student retrieved a gun from his car and confronted the shooter. Likewise, Pearl, Miss., school shooter Luke Woodham was stopped when the school’s vice principal took a .45 from his truck and ran to the scene. In February’s Utah mall shooting, it was an off-duty police officer who happened to be on the scene and carrying a gun.
Police can’t be everywhere, and as incidents from Columbine to Virginia Tech demonstrate, by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it’s usually too late. On the other hand, one group of people is, by definition, always on the scene: the victims. Only if they’re armed, they may wind up not being victims at all.