” The news is saturated with stories and opinions on guns, and the attention on the issue is heightened with this past year’s dramatic shootings in Aurora and Newtown. Understandably, the response to these horrors involves great emotion. However, in our dialogue about violence and gun ownership, we need to set aside our fears and biases and look at where the facts lead us.
Here in the Bay Area, the general response to gun ownership is an automatic “no,” and the Stanford campus is no exception. Our campus sees minimal violence and our main exposure to firearms is through the news, where killings are stories rather than the cases with peaceful endings.
This anti-gun bias is reflected in campus policy and state law. On its website, Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) states that “all [firearms] are prohibited on Stanford Campus … except for sworn police officers,” and California has mandated absolute firearm bans on all college campuses. These policies assume that guns are fundamentally harmful. Remembering that a weapon is simply a powerful tool that can be used for self-defense as well as for harm, we need to reconsider Stanford’s “Gun-Free Zone” policy.
Gun-Free Zones: A monopoly of force
Absolute bans are ineffective, as criminals carry weapons regardless of their legality. Worse, Gun-Free Zones are uniquely attractive targets, as a monopoly of force is in the hands of whoever is willing to break the law, and police response is often too little and too late.
Seung-Hui Cho shot his first two victims at Virginia Tech in 2007, the police unsuccessfully searched for the shooter for two hours. Cho remained in public spaces on campus for that entire time and even went to the post office to mail writings and recordings to NBC News. He then walked to a building of lecture halls at the opposite end of campus, chained the three main entrance doors shut, and killed 30 people in a second attack lasting roughly 10 minutes.
The rampage ended with Cho’s suicide. With over 200 rounds left, “he was well prepared to continue,” said State Police Superintendent William Flaherty. Unarmed, the victims had no hope but to make barricades and wait for the police to arrive, which happened well after the massacre was over.
The shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook also ended in the perpetrators’ suicide, not police intervention. According to a U.S. Secret Service study into 37 school shootings, “Over half of the attacks were resolved or ended before law enforcement responded to the scene. In these cases, the attacker was stopped by faculty or fellow students, decided to stop shooting on his own, or killed himself.”
It is wrong to disarm an individual when effective protection cannot be provided in compensation, and relying on police officers and security guards has proven to be insufficient. When targets of violence, people have the right to options beyond waiting for help to come.”