Illusion of Safety:The False Promise of Gun-Free Zones

Posted: May 18, 2007 12:01 AM
Illusion of Safety:The False Promise of Gun-Free Zones

Recent news accounts of the bittersweet commencement exercises at Virginia Tech University refueled debate in my university neighborhood and reinvigorated our search for the real cause of the threat to our safety. The debate centered on the need to mandate gun-free zones on college campuses.

Well, mandating college campuses be gun-free zones provides as much safety as holding your hands over your eyes. Danger is either there or it's not. Holding your hands over your eyes so you can't see danger has nothing to do with whether danger is approaching.

The tragedy at Virginia Tech-a trauma for the entire nation-forces us to ask how something like this could happen. How could a fatal shooting happen in a place where guns are not allowed? The answer: Gun-free zones don't make college students or their campuses safe.

Most people are rational and responsible. They are our neighbors, our friends, our parents. These folks don't use firearms to hurt people. They don't get angry and pull a gun on someone. They don't run someone over with a car just because they are upset.

The premise for gun-free zones is the product of wooden-headed thinking. Governing entities seem to think that without these zones, normal people like our neighbors would spontaneously shoot people. If our neighbors cannot be allowed to have firearms on state campuses because they might do something terrible, doesn't it follow that they might do something terrible in their homes? So why don't we outlaw guns from homes too?

The answer is because normal and decent people just don't do such things. They are not a safety risk in their homes or on campuses; and, they have rights guaranteed all citizens in our federal Constitution.

So, gun-free zones are not designed to stop normal, decent people. Instead, those who create gun-free zones claim they are established to stop criminals or unstable people from bringing firearms on campuses.

But the reality-painfully thrust on us with the tragic deaths of 32 innocent people-is gun-free zones don't stop mentally twisted criminals. The fact that carrying a firearm onto a gun-free campus is against the law or against school policy does not constrain the behavior of someone who has already decided to kill.

Seung-Hui Cho already decided to kill when he stepped onto campus that morning. He was ready to take innocent life, and end his own in the process. The fact it was against the rules didn't matter to him. If it meant anything, it meant he knew his victims and that they would not be able to stop him before the police arrived. Further abridging the rights of law-abiding citizens is not the answer.

Given that only one percent of our population is in law enforcement, when most crimes are committed, a police officer is not in close proximity. If an officer were present, the criminal would most likely go elsewhere. A gun-free zone means if no police are present, then law-abiding adults are at a greater disadvantage of stopping a demented person from committing murder.

As a former vice president at Xavier University in Ohio and a father whose children attended state universities, I care deeply about the safety of college students. We must have the safest campuses possible.

I'm not calling for the arming of professors or college administrators, far from it. The question we must face is, "What will make our children safe?" In answering this question, we must grasp one simple fact: The idea that gun-free zones are safe is a myth. Every community in America needs to have this conversation, and adopt policies and procedures that really create safer environments.

I'm surprised no questions on this topic were brought up in the first presidential forums for either the Democrats or the Republicans in the past few weeks. In three hours of discussion, the candidates were asked sophomoric questions such as what a prospective president would tell Catholic bishops or do about organ donations. The moderators did not ask the people who would lead our country what they thought about the most deadly mass shooting in American history. That's a shame. Leaders are defined by how they think and behave in the midst of crises and in the period immediately following a traumatic episode in our nation's experience.

The Founders of our nation got it right when they adopted the Bill of Rights. They understood that there will always be twisted or demented people who are willing to harm others. They understood that even the best external police cannot be there every hour of every day. So they gave us the Second Amendment. They trusted us and our inner police (the human conscience) to protect ourselves and provide moral order.

Perhaps the real cause of the threat to our safety is not the lack of gun-free zones but rather that too many of our campuses and public places have already been designated God-free zones.