The start of school is a time for hope: a successful year, a great roommate, adventures and friendships that’ll stand the test of time. Lately, it’s also become a time to fear you’ll find yourself entangled in a burgeoning web of campuses paralyzed by madmen. Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, University of Alabama in Huntsville and Oikos University are some of the sites of campus shootings in the last six years.
San Diego State made the list on Aug. 15, 1996, when a graduate student opened fire, killing three. James Holmes, the alleged gunman behind the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting spree, could have acted at his University of Colorado campus instead.
Students at Georgia Tech, reacting to an epidemic of armed robberies, are fighting back, petitioning state politicians for the right to carry concealed weapons.
The premise is simple: If criminals are opportunists, they wouldn’t choose a dormitory packed to the rafters in guns. But does that logic stand up to scrutiny?
According to SDSU Police Department Captain Lamine Secka the problem with armed students “is number one trying to identify who, in fact, is the suspect when you have multiple people running around with guns.”
One of the most serious risks when it comes to students carrying weapons on campus is a lack of proper training. According to security professional Damien Olmeda, “obtaining a CCW permit doesn’t make you an expert. I can get a permit to fish but that doesn’t make me an expert fisherman … it satisfies the state’s law, which is minimal at best.”
Secka paints a worrisome picture: “Imagine a classroom on campus with 200 to 300 people in it, a dozen or so are armed. Does that make the situation more dangerous if those people have not been properly trained?”
Often survival seems a second priority after the body count for mass murderers. Adding guns and placing them in the hands of unevenly trained students risks delaying and endangering first responders.
Secka notes police officers training to use a gun, adding that “50 percent of our training is what we call ‘shoot, no shoot’ scenarios.” Contrast that level of training to California’s requirements for the rest: pass a written test – administered by a gun dealer who has a clear interest to ensure you qualify – plus eight hours of additional carrying a concealed weapon training. The average CCW permit holder is woefully unprepared to handle the life-or death decisions involved in an active shooter situation.
Guns are not the only weapon available to maniacs. Imagine the carnage that can occur simply by panicking a crowd. Holmes allegedly began his rampage with gas canisters. Carrying a weapon is useless against the chaos an illusion of danger will incite. In 2003, 21 people were killed when pepper spray caused a stampede in a Chicago nightclub. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people without firing a gun.
In America, weapons of mass destruction are a phone call or computer click away. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently argued that the Second Amendment allows owning handheld rocket launchers. A 9 mm won’t stop a rocket-propelled grenade.
Even if California reverses the campus gun ban, an unlawful killing places the student in legal and civil jeopardy. Gun-obsessed Texas recently convicted a retired firefighter of murder for shooting his neighbor because of the noise level of a birthday party under the guise of stand your ground. The spark for this fatal altercation occurs far too often around SDSU.
Some students might think being able to carry a gun around during parties or while walking around at night will protect them. They have a right to be concerned about aggravated sexual assault, but fortunately only 11 assaults were reported in 2010. Secka disagrees CCW would make students safer: “Anytime you introduce a weapon into that situation … there’s the possibility that the suspect could gain control…”
A better prevention tactic is completing both the police department’s Rape Aggression Defense System and Aztec Recreation Center’s self-defense training. Secko assures attendees “those courses teach people how to be aware, how to make themselves a harder target” so they won’t need the extra force of a gun.
Olmeda also suggests playing the “what if” game: “Create a variety of scenarios and place yourself in them … by preparing and planning and developing a security mindset you increase your chances of being a survivor rather than a victim.”