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Letter to the Editor: Guns on campus is still a bad idea, training aside

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Editor:

I am responding to Dr. Walter Block’s letter of 13 November 2015,  “Guns on Campus is a Great Idea,” not to taunt him, but to challenge his arguments, which are supported by many people, and to give voice to citizens who believe in responsible gun ownership.

I concede that Dr. Block did not advocate that completely untrained people carry guns on campus.  He advocated the establishment of competitive pistol teams to improve marksmanship.  Such teams would be a positive step toward solving the problem of placing guns in the hands of untrained undergraduates.  However, marksmanship by itself is not enough to make the idea of armed students and faculty appealing.  I am a pretty good marksman, but I only shoot paper. I am not trained in active shooter situations, which require a different skill set.  Even well-trained professionals, confronted with a split-second decision to fire or not fire, make mistakes.  I recall an incident in New York City a few years ago when uniformed officers, responding to a call that an officer was pursuing a suspect, saw an African American male coming over a fence with a gun in his hand and shot their fellow officer, a plain-clothes detective chasing a criminal.

While it may feel comforting to imagine an alert, heroic armed student neutralizing the threat from a lunatic/terrorist, other scenarios are possible. Maybe a terrorist enters a classroom with his/her gun drawn.  An alert armed student shoots the terrorist.  A faculty member passing by hears the shot, enters the classroom with his own gun drawn, and heroically blows away the student holding a gun.  Alternatively, the student shoots the terrorist, the faculty member enters with gun drawn, the student assumes he is a second terrorist and shoots him.

Consider another scenario:  you are at the mall in the parking lot, with your own concealed weapon in your pocket.  Suddenly, the doors fling open and a woman runs out, closely followed by a man holding a gun.  They are coming right by you, and you have a second to decide what to do.  Is this a criminal chasing a victim or a detective pursuing a criminal?  I contend that having more armed citizens exponentially increases the likelihood of “friendly fire” accidental deaths, when well-meaning armed citizens make the wrong decision under stress.

I believe that law-abiding citizens have a right to defend themselves from vicious criminals. However, I also believe that guns are a defense of last resort, not the first line of defense.  I have fire extinguishers in my home, but that does not allow me to neglect basic fire safety.

Furthermore, the forgoing arguments against arming all citizens actually sidestep the central issue: In the U.S.A., there are way too many guns all over the place, and it is way too easy for mentally ill people, criminals and terrorists to arm themselves quickly.  The problem is not that we have too few armed people walking around.  Basic safety is being neglected.

I supported the National Rifle Association for years when they focused on safety and marksmanship and advocated reasonable restrictions and regulations concerning who could purchase and carry a firearm.  At some point, the NRA turned their focus from safety to Second Amendment Rights. Their publicity cast ATF agents, who risk their lives every day keeping the rest of us safe, as “jack-booted thugs” eager to kick in people’s doors and seize their guns.  I ceased supporting the NRA at about the same time as President George H. W. Bush resigned his lifetime NRA membership in response to these statements. There was a time when, if I needed to remove a few tree stumps, I could just go down to the hardware store and buy some dynamite (now regulated by ATF).  Surely no one would wish to return to those days.  Isn’t it reasonable to treat firearms with the same care and safety we give dynamite?

I do not advocate total prohibition of firearms.  However, I cannot in good conscience advocate or even acquiesce to a philosophy of total opposition to any and all regulation of dangerous substances and devices.  Indeed, from observing the behavior of some automobile drivers, I have serious doubt of the proposition that more guns in more private hands will result in a safer and healthier society.

 

J. Christopher Brown

Loyola community member

 

This is the fourth in a four-part exchange. The first can be found here, the second here and the third here.

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Letter to the Editor: Guns on campus is still a bad idea, training aside