UCLA murder-suicide shows need for gun control on campus
Following the tragic events on the UCLA campus last Tuesday, in which a former student murdered a professor and ended his own life, the public erupted into the usual gun control debate almost instantaneously. As many pro-gun commentators have pointed out — the UCLA shooting took place in a gun-free zone, in a gun-averse city, in a gun-allergic state. Gun supporters have long decried the double-edged sword of such restrictions, as in the case of Mainak Sarkar, who brought two semiautomatic weapons and multiple magazines onto UCLA’s campus while students and faculty were restricted from carrying weapons which could potentially be used in self-defense.
Yet, it is widely believed that gun bans have their rightful place on college campuses, and the alternative options, such as arming students and faculty or increasing gun visibility, are not the way forward. Resources would be much better utilized being funneled into mental health outreach and improving campus climates to avoid students from harming themselves and others. It is true that banning guns from a campus will not necessarily prevent people from committing mass shootings or murder, and the assumption that gun-free zones are the catch-all remedy for potential killings is flawed. Most gun control advocates know this. Gun-free zones can not purport to remove every vestige of danger from an area, but that is because they are a preventative measure — to avoid an environment in which guns are a commonality. Let’s not forget that a university is an institution of learning, and according to a YouGov poll, 63 percent of citizens don’t want any kind of firearms presence on private college campuses. By implementing a campuswide ban on arms, we must remember that this cannot necessarily prevent stray shooters, but instead avoids easy accessibility to guns and reduces the amount of gun-related activity at universities.
But as we’ve seen repeatedly in high-visibility campus shootings, the gun-free method alone does not have the kind of effect we need. Gun-free zones can keep out casual gun culture, but they can not contain the vengeful school mass shooter. The most disturbing shootings — those of Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Columbine — took place in gun-free zones, highlighting the shortcomings of the concept.
Furthermore, these restrictions draws the ire of gun owners across the United States who believe gun-free zones restrict students’ self-defense, despite the lack of support for this perspective from actual students. Around 13 million Americans are licensed to carry a concealed weapon, the large majority of whom are responsible, well-intentioned owners. Yet a sizeable number of these people believe they have been unfairly targeted by gun-free zones — as if their suggestion that a good guy pegging shots at a bad guy is not only a brilliant idea, but a God-given right. If this were the case, and guns actually saved more lives than they endangered in mass shooting situations, there would be no discussion to be had. If the endgame for most gun control advocates is to curb the unnecessary deaths of innocent people, theoretically the idea of self-defense gun usage should be appealing.
In the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, Christopher Harper-Mercer, a 26-year-old student, shot nine people in his English class with legally purchased weapons. This took place on a campus that was not a gun-free zone due to the 1989 statewide law that forbids any public body from restricting the rights of concealed carry-permitted gun owners. Students and faculty were legally allowed to carry on campus, and in fact, one Umpqua student, John Parker Jr., a 36-year-old army veteran, was carrying his firearm during the shooting. Parker and others refused to intervene over the fear of possibly being mistaken by law enforcement.
“Luckily, we made the choice not to get involved,” he told MSNBC days after the shooting. “We were quite a distance away from the actual building where it was happening, which could have opened us up to being potential targets ourselves. And, you know, not knowing where SWAT was on their response time, they wouldn’t know who we were, and if we had our guns ready to shoot, they could think we were the bad guys.”
Not only is the disorienting and unpredictable nature of a gunfight underestimated by self-defense gun proponents, but FBI data released in 2014 also suggests that “good guy with a gun” incidents simply do not occur often enough to be legitimate. Between 2000 and 2013, only five of the 160 mass shootings that took place in the United States were halted by an armed citizen, and only one of those five had no prior law enforcement training. Over a 13-year span with a death toll of 1,043 victims, only one average citizen was able to end a mass shooting with their personal firearm.
The “good guy with a gun” trope is a fallacy. It is not realistic to expect college students, some of whom are 18 years old and have just flown the coop, to have proper tactical firearms training. Some college-aged students don’t even know how to work a washing machine properly, never mind navigate a potential hostage situation with multiple shooters armed to the hilt with semi-automatic weapons. We can’t simply arm our students and have faith that 10 hours worth of shot practice will aid in the transformative process from mere college student into the second American Sniper.
Freshmen keeping handguns in their dorm drawers and professors stocking ammunition next to their lecture notes? If this doesn’t sound absolutely ludicrous, then at least the required amount of regulation and on-campus training seems like an ungodly amount of tuition dollars.
It’s about time to wake up from the vigilante pipe dream and focus on preventing our peers from falling through the cracks. Gun lovers are right — troubled people with an intent to kill will find anything to harm others, whether that be kitchen knives or baseball bats. It just happens to be that guns are the most effective tools of death available. We should redirect the argument and the resources to fund and expand mental health networks and to sustain a community that doesn’t allow the most vulnerable students to gain access to weapons. Yet, when it comes to nonviolent solutions, scarcely a word is heard from gun supporters. Prevention is better than cure, but that is especially true when the cure means tactical firearm training for college students.