This July, I spent 17 days working at a speech and debate camp at the University of Texas at Austin. The night before the campers arrived, the director explained the emergency plans to the staff, should we ever confront a situation like a shooting. I was overcome for a moment with a sense of powerlessness as I, a 19-year-old in charge of 16- and 17-year-olds, was forced to think about how I would respond in the event of a mass shooting.
Then, on Aug. 1, the 50th anniversary of Charles Whitman’s deadly massacre from the UT Tower, Texas became one of the few states to legalize the carrying of concealed handguns on the campuses of public universities — a policy termed “campus carry” — which in recent months has spurred faculty objections, student protests and even a mock school shooting.
While I understand the stated intentions of campus carry — to prevent mass shootings like Whitman’s from ever happening again — I, as a Texan and a gun owner, cannot support this policy because it endangers the lives of students. In fact, the bitter irony is that, contrary to its purpose, campus carry makes universities less safe in the event of a mass shooting, not more.
The rationale behind the law is clear and somewhat convincing. Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, has made a mantra out of the statement, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” However, campus carry takes this already dubious axiom and assumes a completely different corollary: A civilian with a gun is an effective way to stop a bad guy with a gun. This new statement is demonstrably false.
A lone gunman is usually no match for well-trained and well-armed police, but in order to legally carry a handgun on a Texas campus, a 21-year-old needs little firearm training and virtually no experience. The difference between trained law enforcement personnel, who average a hit rate between 34 and 40 percent, and armed civilians, who cannot be consistently shown to stop or prevent mass shootings, is stark.
The difference between relying on law enforcement and an armed civilian is the difference between a swift, effective SWAT response and an even bloodier incident where more innocent civilians are hit. Missed shots do not just fail to subdue an active shooter. Missed shots present a clear danger to innocent bystanders. In this way, the presence of more armed civilians on campus is not only ineffective, but is in fact counterproductive towards saving as many lives as possible.
Still, in the event of an active shooter situation, an armed student body presents an even more dangerous issue: the inability to identify the assailant. Any time a shooter opens fire, the scene is terrifying and chaotic, which is why it is particularly important that police can quickly differentiate assailant from victim, school shooter from student. If they cannot, the situation can become far deadlier for both police and innocent civilians, as it did in December when Wisconsin police killed an armed hostage by mistake instead of targeting the true gunman.
The issue of campus carry is not about whether or not guns are useful tools of self-defense. Rather, it is about the fact that, in the tragic event of a school shooting, the people able to stop the danger will not be students but trained police officers. I own a gun, and I recognize that guns are tools that can be used for good and evil. But when it comes to protecting students, guns should stay in the hands of the people who know what they are doing: the police.
Marshall Webb is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.
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