I am a representative in student government at the University of Texas at Austin. I’m also uniquely positioned to discuss the issue of firearms and classrooms as an alumnus of Virginia Tech. I was there in 2007 when the shooting happened, and I lost the girl I love.
In no way was that tragedy the fault of those licensed to carry concealed handguns. With that said, our tragedy has been used by proponents of a “guns everywhere” policy to push a political agenda.
I cannot speak to the decision of CSU’s Associated Students or their reasons for voting the way they did. Perhaps they were merely representing the student body as we try so hard to do in UT-Austin’s student government.
With that said, I feel obligated to address some of the misconceptions around the push for gun-free schools — not to scold ASCSU, but rather to provide a different perspective.
Firstly, there is a suggestion that “Virginia Tech could have been prevented if only people were armed.” Interestingly, none of the survivors think so. They describe utter chaos. At one point, my friend Colin thought he was being rescued by a police officer (all he could see from where he was hiding were shoes). Then he was shot four times.
According to the detectives, Maxine — the girl I mentioned, who died in German class — never saw the shooter come in. What good would a gun have done her?
Virginia Tech police officers also told Colin that had they seen someone else with a gun, they would have fired immediately. This is the standard operating procedure for active shooter situations in schools, and it enables emergency medical technicians to get to victims more quickly.
Had the police needed to determine which armed individuals were not actually the perpetrator, many of the nineteen injured survivors at Virginia Tech would have bled to death instead of getting help.
Secondly, we do not suggest irresponsibility on the part of those with concealed carry of weapons permits. But neither are all with permits responsible. The shooter at Fort Hood was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, as were four other mass shooters in the last year.
As for shootings with fewer victims, it’s hard to tell. Every time statistics emerge that the National Rifle Association dislikes, the NRA pushes for legislative changes that obscure such statistics under the guise of “privacy.” In most states, there is no way to determine what percentage of violent crimes are committed by concealed carry permit holders.
The issue is not the character of licensed individuals. Anyone can lose his or her temper. Anyone can commit a crime of passion, and most violent crimes on college campuses are acts of sudden uncontrollable rage — not pre-meditated acts of terrorism. The presence of weapons raises the risk that fist fights will be escalated to tragedies.
But, most importantly, violent crimes are rare on college campuses.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, 93 percent of violent crimes against students (between 1995 and 2002) occurred off-campus. Accordingly, in Austin, TX, the homicide rate in 2006 was 2.8 per 100,000, well below the national average of 7 per 100,000, but on UT-Austin’s fairly urban campus, the rate is too low to compute. At UT-Austin there have been two murders in the last thirty years (with a population of around 60,000).
I believe the right to bear arms is important, and I believe there are places where concealed carry is not only necessary but advisable, particularly where crime is high. But college campuses — and especially classrooms — are not among those places.
Guns will not deter suicidal mass shooters. They enter expecting to die. They enter hoping to take away your feeling of safety. They are literally terrorists.
There are things we can do to reduce campus violence, but they have to begin well before the violence takes place. We need to make it easier to obtain voluntary psychological counseling. We need to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks. Had these proactive measures been in place at Virginia Tech, I believe Maxine and the others would still be alive.
John O. Woods is a graduate school representative at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a Ph.D. student in cell & molecular biology. He also is a member of Virginia Tech’s class of 2007. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.