Like many red-blooded independent Americans, I am fond of firearms. I am a retired police supervisor, NRA trained as a police firearms instructor. I believe in the 2nd Amendment and feel that guns have a place in our society. I am also comfortable with the fact that all constitutional rights have rational and legal limitations. I have the right to free speech but do not have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Recent legislative efforts to allow guns into the halls of higher education demand rational discourse. The unrestricted right to bear arms on campus may have negative, unintended consequences that should be thoroughly explored.
Proponents suggest that the presence of armed students and faculty members will prevent violent crime and limit potential for the carnage involved in campus shootings. Some enthusiasts suggest that the Arizona shooting of Senator Gabrielle Giffords and others, could have been prevented or mitigated if armed bystanders had been present. This often works on television, but, in the real world, the cure can sometimes be worse than the disease.
The following factors should be considered when pondering such legislation. They include: population density, collateral damage, training and tactics, impulse control, mission conflict, threat probability, and alternative countermeasures.
1. Population Density: Campuses, hospital waiting rooms, political gatherings, sports events, concerts and similar crowded venues limit the effective use of firearms for defense. Crowding creates confusion and makes it difficult to properly identify the real threat. It can be difficult to tell an active shooter from a good, gun-toting Samaritan. In the Arizona shooting, a bystander wrestled the gun from the shooter. A helpful armed citizen could easily have mistaken the rescuer for the shooter, lawsuit to follow.
2. Collateral Damage: Innocent bystanders often become unintended victims. Large numbers of people in campus environments make it difficult to use a firearm without jeopardizing innocent persons near a legitimate target. When a well meaning person produces a handgun, they immediately become a target. Risk to bystanders near the shooter and Samaritan have now effectively doubled.
3. Training and Tactics: Police have ongoing training to help them deal with the complex tactical problems involving an active shooter. Knowing when not to shoot is often more important than a police officer’s ability to hit the target. Police go through a careful selection process to ensure that they can make these life-and-death decisions correctly in a fraction of a second. With all of these safeguards, problems still occur.
Unlike police officers, private citizens are not carefully vetted and generally lack the training and experience needed to make good shoot/don’t shoot judgment calls. Police also have limited liability if they unintentionally get it wrong. Well meaning private citizens have none.