Defenseless on campus

Apr 192007
Authors: Seth Anthony

How do you stop a crazed person with a gun?

As campus communities across the country debate this issue in the wake of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, many of us are asking the same question: “What if this had happened at our campus?”

As a community, we should focus on prevention as the ideal solution: creating a community where troubled individuals are befriended instead of ostracized, where signs of potential violence are noticed well before any violence occurs.

But we’re not perfect. Despite our very best efforts, sometimes prevention will fail – and then what do we do? If someone was rampaging through your dorm, picking off students with a gun, how could you stop them? If a madman was going from classroom to classroom, executing students at will, what are your options?

In 2002, armed students, without firing a shot, apprehended a shooter in the midst of an attack on the campus of the Appalachian School of Law and were able to restrain him before police arrived at the scene. Their actions – and the presence of guns – saved lives.

Could that happen at CSU? Probably not; CSU has chosen to prevent students or faculty from bringing firearms onto campus, even for self-defense. The General Catalog bans outright the “use or possession on University property of firearms or simulated weapons, ammunition or other dangerous weapons.” On top of that, Housing and Dining Services has declared: “Students may not bring firearms or other weapons into the residence halls.” The only people authorized to carry on campus are law enforcement.

So if a crazed student bursts into your dorm and starts shooting people, the primary course of action is to hide – a tactic the university reaffirmed in a campus-wide email on Wednesday.

If an insane gunman tears through your classroom, you’re essentially defenseless while someone calls 911, the incident is described, the message is relayed to police, and police travel to the scene. Whether the murderer’s gun was acquired legally or illegally, you’re vulnerable until and unless law enforcement decides to act.

I’ve heard many people argue this week that the Virginia Tech shootings are a result of the easy availability of guns in the United States, and that’s an argument with merit. In every culture, criminals will find or create weapons of terror and destruction – it’s just a matter of destructiveness, and, if so, why not limit access to the most deadly devices?

Laws that restrict access to guns could save lives, but there are also situations in which the absence of guns can cost lives. We’ll never know whether a student or teacher with a firearm could have stopped Cho Seung-Hui before he killed 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech.

I’ll admit being around guns makes me nervous, but I also believe that, in many circumstances, their presence makes me safer. The Second Amendment was designed to ensure “the security of a free state” – to protect us against tyranny, be it a government turning on its own citizens or a lone gunman on a mad rampage.

It’s an uncomfortable thought, but a gun – a weapon of murder – could also be a life-saver. But that’s the paradox we face, as the nation enters into what’s sure to be another heated debate about gun policy. It’s a fact that even ardent gun control advocates shouldn’t be quick to forget.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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