It is, or at least should be, universal wisdom that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. The question at hand is whether law-abiding citizens should be able to carry a firearm or other weapon into or near an educational institution as a right of self-defense. In order to answer this question, it is imperative to go back in history and examine school shootings since they have been occurring in the United States since the 1700’s; the first recorded occurrence was Pontiac’s Rebellion school massacre on July 26, 1764.
Looking back in history with regards to school shootings, it is appalling to learn of all the students and teachers that have perished at the hands of an armed shooter without the ability to defend themselves by any means other than a piece of chalk, a book or a pencil and the complete absence of situational training. In the time period from 1992 to 2012, there were approximately 240 homicides and 396 deaths resulting from school shootings in the U.S. The most notable being the Virginia Tech Massacre where Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks, approximately two hours apart, before committing suicide on April 16, 2007. The massacre was the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history. In reviewing the subsequent school shootings, it is utterly disturbing to find Virginia Tech on the list again in 2011 with 2 more dead victims. Why were the lessons of the 2007 massacre not learned to prevent this from happening again? Would it have made a difference if students were able to legally carry a firearm or a stun gun on campus as a form of personal protection and self-defense?
It is evident after a quick perusal of the “notable” school shootings posted on Wikipedia that school shootings are not regionally prevalent nor are they occurring at a specific level of education (they’ve occurred from elementary schools to universities and from New York to California). This observation prompts one to wonder why this significant topic is not being tackled by government or schools and why students and teachers are not taught prevention or self-defense tactics in the event of an attack, violent act, a shooting or a bombing. When I was in elementary school in Scottsdale, Arizona, we practiced how to get under our desks in the event of an earthquake, which rarely occurs. Why haven’t we graduated from earthquakes to protecting students from sexual predators, death and dismemberment at school?
My passion for this topic began at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona as a student equipment manager in the Intercollegiate Athletic Department. I worked long hours after class every day in the athletic department and often didn’t leave the University Athletic Center (Wells Fargo Arena) until after midnight. There were no security officers remaining to walk me to my car at this time of night and certainly no student athletes left to oversee a safe walk. I scurried almost every day through a dark parking garage with no personal protection whatsoever and even purchased a cell phone so I could call someone while walking in the event I was attacked. I’m no longer a student at Arizona State University nor do I work there but I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the security situation hasn’t changed much since then if at all. Would I have been safer with a firearm in my hand or a stun gun at my side versus a cell phone? What was the person on the other end of the phone going to do to help me if I was attacked? Would anyone hear my cries for help if I had the opportunity to shout or scream for help?
Based on all of the information presented here and my first-hand experience on a college campus, I would have to insist that something has to change. While educational institutions do their best to protect all their students, the statistics of rape (1 in 4 college women report surviving rape) and other personal tragedies including shooting deaths prove that universities and other educational institutions fall short of the mark on safety. Since an elementary school cannot ensure the safety of their teachers or students in the classroom nor can a college or university protect each and every teacher or student to and from their car or home, it is time for teachers and students to be able to take their personal safety into their own hands.
In an attempt to successfully tackle an extremely complicated issue like this one, it would be best to separate the educational institutions into two categories: elementary education (K-12) and secondary education (vocational schools, community colleges and universities).
Let’s first take a look at Arizona’s laws on gun-free school zones. On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, the Arizona House of Representatives voted to repeal the state’s gun-free school zone laws.
“The House on Tuesday night passed a bill to end the prohibition of guns within 1,000 feet of schools. The measure would allow anyone licensed to carry a concealed weapon to have a gun within the buffer. The bill passed with only Republican support, with all the House Democrats and several Republicans dissenting. It still needs passage in the Republican-controlled Senate and Brewer’s signature to become law.”(Courtesy of Huffington Post)
Upon initial consideration of the repeal, it might seem like the removal of such a prohibition would be grossly inappropriate and result in more harm than good but then we must remember the Columbine High School massacre. Two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, armed with multiple bombs and several firearms murdered 12 students and 1 teacher while injuring 21 other students. Sadly, this was only the fourth-deadliest school massacre in United States history but does remain the deadliest for an American high school. Did any of the students or teachers have a shot at defending themselves against these psychopaths? Could there have been fewer incomprehensible deaths if there was an armed teacher in the cafeteria or an armed guard at the school? Is there a place for firearms at elementary or high schools? Should schools be fenced in and should metal detectors be installed at all entrances?
School shootings are certainly not the only issue with regards to gun-free school zones, there is also an issue of parents not being able to bring their vehicles (during transportation of their children) within 1,000 feet of the property line of a school if they possess a loaded or unlocked firearm. A firearm may breach this zone if it is unloaded or locked in a lockbox, but that begs the question, “why would anyone carry an unloaded or locked up firearm in their vehicles for personal protection?”
Arizona is an open-carry state and this repeal would allow anyone licensed to carry a concealed weapon to have a gun within the buffer but would not allow for carrying into the school buildings. History and statistics suggest that criminals usually conceal their weapons and we can agree are not law-abiding citizens, so there would be no warning regardless of the law. Let’s be real here, there is nothing to prevent a criminal from walking into any school with a firearm or weapon and until there is, prevention and personal defense by way of firearms or weapons must considered.
“There is considerable dispute over the effectiveness of such “gun-free zones”. Opponents of such measures, such as OpenCarry.org, state that, much like other malum prohibitum laws banning gun-related practices, only law-abiding individuals will heed the signage and disarm. Individuals or groups intent on committing far more serious crimes, such as armed robbery or murder, will not be deterred by signage prohibiting weapons. Further, the reasoning follows that those wishing to commit mass murder might intentionally choose gun-free venues like shopping malls, schools and churches (where weapons carry is generally prohibited by statute or signage) because the population inside is disarmed and thus less able to stop them.”(Courtesy of Wikipedia, Concealed Carry in the United States)
There is no certainty as to what will happen to the gun-free school zone repeal, but it would not be a surprise if the repeal was reversed. Based on the history of school shootings in the United States and the potential provocation of criminal activity by such prohibitions, I personally agree with the repeal and believe that there is no harm in a parent dropping off their child at school with a firearm in their vehicle as long as they have acquired it legally and follow all applicable gun laws.
In the matter of college students being permitted to carry a firearm or a stun gun on campus as a form of personal protection and self-defense, the issue seems to be a bit less heated since young children are not involved. It would be extremely naïve of society today to believe that college students are not armed with firearms, stun guns, knives, and other weapons presently on college campuses regardless of laws preventing such possession. Admittedly, each and every time that I walk onto the campus of Arizona State University or Scottsdale Community College, I carry a TASER C2 in my purse even though I know it is illegal to do so. I’m not condoning my behavior, but I know that I have the ability to protect myself with a TASER C2 in my purse and do not get that same level of satisfaction with the security measures and personnel on either campus. I take my personal safety seriously and in my own hands.
Some collegiate institutions, like Michigan State University and the University of Utah, understand the issue of personal protection and allow students to carry firearms on campus. The concept of “armed classrooms” is not a new initiative but many schools have been slow at adopting or even considering such safety measures even though many have argued that “armed classrooms” actually might deter an attack.
“A commentary in the conservative National Review Online argues that the armed school approach for preventing school attacks, while new in the US, has been used successfully for many years in Israel and Thailand. Teachers and school officials in Israel are allowed and encouraged to carry firearms if they have former military experience in the IDF, which almost all do.”(Courtesy of Wikipedia)
So where does Arizona stand on this issue? The Senate will not have the opportunity at this time to vote on Arizona Senate Bill 1474 since the sponsor, Ron Gould, dropped the bill due to lack of support in March 2012. Senate Bill 1474 would have prohibited a public university, college, or community college from adopting or enforcing any policy prohibiting the lawful carry of a concealed weapon by a valid concealed permit holder, or regulating the lawful transportation or storage of a firearm on the grounds of the institution. Hopefully the issue is not dead even though the bill has perished quietly.
There is no way that all elementary schools, Montessori schools, colleges, universities, vocational schools or any other educational institution can protect students and teachers fully from acts of sexual assault and violence. Understanding that to be the case, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that parents, students and teachers should, at a minimum, have the option to take their personal safety into their own hands. Laws preventing such options should be addressed and reconsidered.