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.

23 replies
  1. claytoncramer
    claytoncramer says:

    If someone is prepared to come on campus with the intent to commit murder, why would a gun ban stop them? They are going to commit a capital crime.

  2. PersonOnDuty
    PersonOnDuty says:

    I don’t like the idea of gun free zones. I think individuals should always have the option of taking steps to defend themselves. However, if we are going to have gun free zones than we have a responsibility to those inside them to do it right.

    Any time you take away an individual’s capacity to exercise their right of self-defense, you assume the responsibility for that person’s safety. This requires taking measures to ensure that no one can bring a gun in, and emplacing the necessary measures to ensure that no one can force their way in. For schools this means a security fence with manned checkpoint and sufficient guards to hold off an attack until reinforcements can arrive. While this may be possible for a school or a concert hall, it isn’t possible for an entire country.

    Some will, no doubt, make the claim that self-defense in situations like what happened recently is not possible. Setting aside the fact that the people making this claim usually lack any sort of tactical or self-defense training, and setting aside the fact that expert after expert will testify that that claim is false, here are some things to think about:

    1) Even if the chances are slim, a slim chance is better than no chance at all.

    2) Even if there is no chance, there is value in dying on your feet, resisting the will of evil men. If you are cornered and going to die anyway, would you rather spend you last moments fighting to survive or crouching in fear hoping for rescue? Each person has to answer that question on their own, but to take away someone’s choice for them is wrong.

    3) Even an ineffective resistance may slow an attacker down. “Holy smokes!” thinks the madman, “that guy shot at me! Maybe I need to approach the next corner with caution and creep past that door instead of running.” A slower attacker means fewer dead.

    4) There is benefit in creating uncertainty in the minds of madmen. Are there going to be armed citizens at the location of the attack? Are they going to be able to mount an effective resistance? Asking and answering these questions will slow down, perhaps even deter an attack. It will certainly make them more cautious, and a cautious attacker moves more slowly and finds fewer targets.

    Some people will say “I don’t want to live in a world where we have to think about these things”. Well, we live in a world where these kinds of things are reality, whether you want to or not. You may not want to think about these things, but some of us are willing and able to do so. If you are unwilling or unable to take steps to protect yourself that is your choice, but you have no right to make the choice for someone else.

  3. Chris Todd
    Chris Todd says:

    What a load of crap.

    Gun owners are always the first to speak up about preventive measures before violence happens, getting NICS records up to date, making mental health treatment more available, identifying those who are troubled early on… WE are the ones who have been doing that for YEARS.

    You know the 2 reasons mass shootings don’t get stopped by people legally carrying a personal firearm? Because 1. These law abiding citizens don’t bring guns into gun free zones and 2. When a shooter is stopped by a legal concealed carrier, they’re almost always stopped BEFORE the body count reaches 4, which is the magic number for the shooting to be considered a “mass shooting”. Those who wish to need to be allowed to carry wherever they go, nobody on our side is telling anybody they have to carry a gun if they don’t want to.

    You know what’s seriously lacking in this article? An alternative solution. Don’t tell us we have no ideas, which is a proven false claim, when you have none of your own.

  4. CaliforniaCheese
    CaliforniaCheese says:

    “Yet, when it comes to nonviolent solutions, scarcely a word is heard from gun supporters.”

    You aren’t looking hard enough, gun groups are beginning to invest time and resources into suicide prevention as a first step to address the mental health issue. I would post the link but Disqus won’t let me.

    Suicides are by far the most common form of gun-death in the US, frequently cited by people who agree with you as “gun violence.” I generally consider suicide is a generally non-violent activity; while it causes emotional pain, there are too many effective methods available to blame the guns. Even so, no one can deny that there is a strong tie between mass murder and self-destruction. I would venture a guess that this is part of the gun community’s motivation to address suicide as an issue.

    It is very likely that your FBI mass shooting prevention statistics are missing some data, but I am open to read your source if you cite it. My best guess is that the FBI statistics only account for mass shootings that are “mass shootings” when they are stopped by a “good guy.” I can think of two would-be “mass shootings” that were stopped by a bystander before they qualified as “mass shootings,” and that’s just off the top of my head. I was paying close attention around the time of Sandy Hook (full disclosure, I needed to research to find the reference links but not to think of the events):

    Dec. 11, 2012 – Clackamas, OR; again, Disqus will not let me post the link…

    Dec. 16, 2012 – San Antonio, TX; again, Disqus will not let me post the link…

    These are only two events, but their dates are so close together that your “Between 2000 and 2013, only five of the 160 mass shooting” claim is likely an extremely narrow reading of the numbers.

    I generally agree that more resources should be applied to mental health, this would do wonders at preventing a violent minority mentally ill (note: violent tendencies are unusual among the mentally ill) population from murdering in GFZ’s. It seems reasonable that at the same time, the Universities should take some precautions if they are to remain gun free. Court houses often use armed guards to keep unexpected people from killing witnesses and prosecutors; it should be reasonable that universities follow suit. 1-3 PROFESSIONAL armed guards working in conjunction with 5-10 security volunteers with radios would likely make most would-be mass shooters think twice about visiting a college/university campus.

    It should be noted that most victims of a mass shooting within the “Golden State” can expect to be left for dead, in most cases. CCW’s are unlikely to step in because helping with a firearm in California is a good way to get sued, convicted of some obscure crime, and scorned out of most respectable career options within the state.

  5. R T Deco
    R T Deco says:

    Gun control and “gun-free” zones is one of the few areas where failure provokes a call for even more of the same.

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
    – Albert Einstein

    • bloody sundae
      bloody sundae says:

      Failure? California campuses are over 30 times safer than the state as a whole. They are the safest places most students and staff will ever spend time:

      Homicide rate, state of California: 5.7
      Homicide rate, California gun-free campuses: 0.17
      (average incidents/100,000 2005-2014 FBI, USDofEd)

      BTW, are you using that Einstein quote over and over again, expecting to be any smarter?

      • CaliforniaCheese
        CaliforniaCheese says:

        Sure, universities have low homicide rates… but if you look at the education level of persons convicted of illegal homicide (20-30% of homicides are justifiable), you will find that the vast majority of those convicted (not necessarily guilty) are not college educated.

        Having something to lose can be a powerful reason not to commit crimes, especially homicide and college students typically have something to lose.

        Maybe guns would cause more homicide on campuses, but maybe not. Considering CCW legalization patterns in recent history… you can study the stats and make up your own mind.

        • bloody sundae
          bloody sundae says:

          According to the FBI, there were 287 justifiable homicides by a citizen, 233 by a citizen with a firearm, on average 2010-2014. There were 14,573 criminal homicides on average during that same period. So fewer than 2% of homicides are justifiable, not “20-30%” as you assert.

          The most thorough analysis to date of Right To Carry laws shows they are associated with measurable increases in some crime, notably gun-aggravated assault. Even the original “more guns less crime” methodology shows this when applied to a large enough data set. Here’s a good overview with links: Right-to-carry laws: Revisiting the link between guns and violent crime / Journalist’s Resource.

          As to the effects of guns on campuses and school grounds, the record of licensed concealed carriers is dismal. There have been 0 reported defensive uses, 1 suicide, 6 criminal homicides, and about 8 negligent discharges among this group, on campuses and school grounds. And yes, I can name and date each instance. The most egregious was the murder of 3 nursing professors at University of Arizona by a nursing student who also took his own life (Robert S Flores, Jr.).

          • CaliforniaCheese
            CaliforniaCheese says:

            I take your point about the justifiable homicide number being too high. I guess I thought that the police shoot way more people… thank heavens it’s not the 90’s anymore.

            If your criminal homicide number is meant to imply firearms, it is really high. We could get into the whole, self defense vs murder weapon of choice debate… bet let’s not. It gets really confusing when a rope is a perfectly adequate murder weapon and a useless self defense weapon.

            Narrowing to firearms specifically, firearm homicides are roughly 8,500 per year. In that 8,500 number are 200+ justifiable homicides by citizens and 300+ justifiable homicides by police… Also, there are about 800 or so accidental deaths with firearms, which is extremely sad because they are so preventable. I take little solace in my demographic that swimming pools, while far less common than guns, kill quite a few more people; I wish accidental firearm deaths were 0. This falls into your 8 negligent discharge category.

            500 justified / 7,200 criminal, which is roughly 7% of intentional firearm homicides defensive. We’re both off by a similar multiple: you’re 3.5 times too low, I’m 3.5 times too high.

            How many students are there on school grounds that allow firearms? Those numbers seem extremely low… especially for suicide, since my roomate’s friend killed herself with a plastic bag and one of my friends slit his wrists with razor blades on campus during my freshman year (fortunately, he lived). If firearms were permitted on campuses, I would expect a higher percentage of suicides to homicides… by approximately 3-to-1.

            I will alter my comment above to reference 7%.

          • bloody sundae
            bloody sundae says:

            Yeah, no. I cited FBI homicide numbers which means by definition “murder and non-negligent manslaughter”. The USDofEd Clery data numbers are also for “murder and non-negligent manslaughter” with no breakdown given by weapon. If you add in justifiable homicides by law enforcement, it’s at most (428 + 287) / 14,573 = 4.9% on average, 2010-2014.

            You missed by an order of magnitude. I demand that you commit Seppuku, and post the video before you bleed out.

          • CaliforniaCheese
            CaliforniaCheese says:

            This information as to which weapon used in crimes is clearly broken down in FBI Expanded homicide table #8. So, again, you are wrong about your 14,573 number. I concede the point of the 800 accidental deaths per year, I misinterpreted the definition… still, the number is over 6.5% justifiable homicides… or 7% if we’re rounding.

            I just noticed that you posted information about a Stanford study about RTC in your previous comment… did you edit that in? The article itself describes a “broken” peer review process; the process is broken because it does not happen. It is important to note that in that article, a substantial amount of data manipulation was needed to make the trend line go up. Since there are only so many states in the US, the sample size was less than 50, which in my view is pretty small to draw strong conclusions from… not to say that the Stanford study is wrong… there just is not enough information in that article to make a judgement one way or another.

            You still have not addressed my question about demographics as related to your original comment. Refresher: college students are more highly educated than the majority of murderers.

            You still have not addressed my concern about sample size in your “dismal” record of carry on campus.

            Your math was off by the same order of magnitude.

            By suggesting that I commit Seppuku and show you my violent death, I assume that you are trying to get a rise out of me because you want to distract from the fact that you have left major points unaddressed. Even so, you might want to get talk to someone if you are truly that bloodthirsty…

            I, for one, want to see as many people as possible live to a ripe age and enjoy the company of their loved ones. Orlando is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the victims and their families.

      • R T Deco
        R T Deco says:

        Ha ha … so you’re comparing places like Oakland and East LA to a location where there are only highly paid professionals and kids who are spending tens of thousands of dollars each year just to be there?

        Talk about your apples and oranges. … Sheesh! Could you be more ridiculous?!

        If you want to compare something, try comparing the homicide rates of gun-free campuses to non-gun-free campuses. Or at least learn some of the basics of the social sciences, such as the well-known fact that murder rates (and crime rates in general) trend strongly with socioeconomic status.

  6. NewerHCE
    NewerHCE says:

    according to a YouGov poll, 63 percent of citizens don’t want any kind of firearms presence on private college campuses.

    I am surprised it is only 63 percent. Most people dont want any kind of firearms on campus…but some bad guys WILL carry on campus. The question is what do you do to stop that.

  7. NewerHCE
    NewerHCE says:

    Wait a second, because a concealed carrier in an active shooting made the right choice NOT to get involved you think that means ‘gun free zones” are a good idea? You might want to do a logic test first.

    • fwilson
      fwilson says:

      Not having been at the scene at the time his decision was made, and not knowing if individual who had a legal concealed weapon
      became aware of the active shooter before or after law enforcement and the swat team arrived at the scene, it is really impossible to evaluate his decision to not get involved. Personally I have become involved when something happened within my view at the time of the incident and I judged, correctly I believe, that I could make a difference by becoming involved. In this case I was able to prevent what would have been a home invasion, assault and possible rape, fortunately without having to fire a weapon. I should add that as a former firearms instructor, it is much harder to teach “when not to shoot” than when to shoot.”

      • R T Deco
        R T Deco says:

        Well, the proper person to explain when not to shoot is a defense attorney, not a firearms instructor.

        He or she will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the only time to shoot is when you believe that you can convince twelve people (and remember that these are twelve people who are not smart enough to get out of jury duty) that you genuinely felt that you were in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury.

        In other words, don’t go running toward the danger. That’s the cops’ job.

      • NewerHCE
        NewerHCE says:

        I support qualified people being able to carry, but I would never hold it against a concealed carrier for NOT using his gun. No matter what training you have, people just do not know how they will react in such a situation. There is a lot of hard wiring for either fight/flight/freeze.

  8. fwilson
    fwilson says:

    I have to agree that the veteran in Oregon made the correct decision to not get involved. I say this as a combat veteran and concealed carry permit holder in my home state. I also want to point out that in most states, including California, one cannot get a concealed carry permit unless one is 21 years of age or older. This means that most undergrads could not legally carry a concealed firearm even if concealed carry was allowed on campus. I would suggest that current law enforcement officers, be allowed to carry on campus when off duty. Some campuses and departments allow this others do not. All campus police should be properly trained in law enforcement firearm use and be armed. At present many campus police nationwide are not armed or properly trained, and have little or no capability to adequately respond to an armed shooter situation. Colleges and universities should also consider allowing properly trained former military combat veterans and professors with adequate firearms experience to carry concealed on campus and become in effect “auxiliary police”. This could have the effect of improving response capability in the case of a armed shooter situation and save lives.

    • R T Deco
      R T Deco says:

      The universities don’t have the money to do this. They’re spending it all on new fitness centers and deans of “diversity and inclusiveness” and other such nonsense.

      In other words, today’s modern university looks like a Gold’s Gym with a highly paid nitwit whose only responsibility is to write several reports a year about why not enough black people are going to the gym.

  9. DanH
    DanH says:

    You make no sense. Because one person made the proper decision to not go across campus and take on an active shooter you believe that shows there should be no one allowed to exercise their rights on campus? He’s not a cop, he carries for his own protection. He was not actively threatened. He made the correct decision. I’m betting you either have never read about or are choosing to ignore the times when someone with a CCW did made a difference.

    • Chris Todd
      Chris Todd says:

      You expect anything less? Journalists have no clue what they’re talking about 99% of the time, gun rights and armed self defense are a subject they even take pride in knowing absolutely nothing about.

  10. Chipsterr
    Chipsterr says:

    “…Resources would be much better utilized being funneled into mental health outreach and improving campus climates to avoid students from harming themselves and others. ”

    What resources? If you remove the stupid ‘gun-free-zone’ signs it doesn’t take any resources other than the screwedriver needed to uninstall the signs.

    When you allow adults who have already passed the background check to purchase their firearm to carry their firearm, there is no cost to you or the school for that. I can carry my firearm, the teachers can carry their firearms if they choose, and any other adult can do the same. How does that take resources away from mental health outreach and improving campus climates to avoid students from harming themselves or others?

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