Government & Constitution

Bloodbath in a ‘Gun-Free Zone’

A Virginia Tech associate vice-president last year said this after a committee of the Virginia legislature killed a bill allowing faculty, staff and students possessing a police-issued concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on the campus of a public university:

"I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus."

Safe, or defenseless?

The feel-good palliative of declaring Virginia Tech a "gun-free zone" did nothing to stop a homicidal psychopath armed with two handguns from fatally shooting 32 students and faculty members. It only assured that none of his victims would be able to defend themselves or stop this mad killer before 32 innocent people lay dead.

So much for relying on politically correct wishful thinking to deter real-world perils.

One legally carried pistol in the hands of a qualified, trained citizen might have saved dozens of lives on the Virginia Tech campus last Monday. Virginia Tech’s blanket ban, affecting by definition only the law-abiding, precluded even the possibility, however remote, that one among those slaughtered might have been able to stop this massacre.

Understandably, some will recoil at the suggestion of sanctioning anyone to be armed in the sheltered groves of academe. Fortunately, shootings at schools and universities are so rare that few students and teachers ever have to confront this emergency. But, as Virginia Tech learned to its eternal sorrow, they can occur.

When the unthinkable happens, a campus rendered defenseless by decree (until the police arrive) isn’t the best option.

Virginia Tech would have had a better case for denying faculty, staff and students the right and means to defend themselves had it done anything effective about Cho Seung-Hui before his murderous rampage. Tragically and inexcusably, it put the academic world’s usual indulgent tolerance ahead of the safety of its students and faculty.

Even before last Monday, describing Cho as merely "troubled" was a lethal understatement.

Here was a student with a recent history that fairly begged for suspension from school on medical leave: alleged stalking, bizarre and threatening classroom behavior, court appearances for apparent mental illness, a temporary detention order, a state psychiatric examination that found evidence of mental disorder and a court order (never enforced) for outpatient psychiatric treatment.

Two of Cho’s professors found him so disturbing that they had him removed from their classes. Students in one of those classes grimly speculated about Cho’s potential as a school shooter.

Yet, Virginia Tech did nothing.

After all, the campus was a gun-free zone.

Had any permanent notation been made of Cho’s evident mental illness, he wouldn’t have passed the background check required to purchase his two handguns.

Advocates of ever more gun control — 40,000-plus local, state and federal laws apparently not being enough — are seizing on the Virginia Tech tragedy to demand more firearms restrictions. Have they read the 2004 National Academy of Sciences report that concluded there is no evidence that gun-control laws reduce crime or violence? Apparently not.

What is helping to deter crime is the national shift toward recognizing citizens’ rights to defend themselves. Forty states, Virginia included, have enacted "right-to-concealed-carry" gun laws. Their premise is that law-abiding citizens who pass the usually required firearms and safety instruction courses are, and should be, entitled to carry a weapon for self-defense.

Misuse of these permits is statistically insignificant. Meanwhile, there is overwhelming evidence that firearms, including concealed-carry weapons, are commonly used lawfully by citizens for self-defense or to otherwise deter crime. On three occasions in recent years, citizens with guns stopped school shootings — in Pearl, Miss., Edinboro, Pa. and at Virginia’s Appalachian Law School.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to imagine that the ghastly slaughter at Virginia Tech would or could have been prevented by a different firearms policy on campus. As in all such cases, the best defense is to recognize a potential killer in advance and remove the threat. A second line of defense is implementing an effective campus emergency plan once a shooting begins. Virginia Tech obviously failed at the first defense and arguably bungled the second.

And, no, declaring the campus a gun-free zone proved no defense, either.


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