People Kill People, Guns Help

My mother and I have a restraining order against a man who has threatened violence against us and who has access to guns.

For this reason, my mother recently got a license to carry mace. Though both of us self-identify as pro-gun and come from a long line of gun-toting Southerners, she has no interest in obtaining a concealed weapons license, and I would never support her decision to do so.

This article is in response to an article by Devon Zuegel called “Why College Campuses Should Allow Concealed Carry,” published in the last volume of the Review. Zuegel’s argument is based around the ideas that gun-free zones have no defense in the case of mass shootings, that mace and Tasers don’t have the power to deter assailants, and that concealed weapons reduce crime rates. I won’t argue the last point because statistics on this are difficult to ascertain given the number of variables. But I do believe that a college campus is not the place for weapons, and that I feel safer knowing my campus is gun-free.

Zuegel points out, as many concealed carry permit proponents do, that criminals will carry guns despite absolute bans, which leaves regular citizens defenseless. This is a flaw in the understanding of why we create laws. We do it as a way of condemning behavior detrimental to society so that punishments can be administered. A ban on guns allows prevention before crimes are committed, as opposed to simply punishment after an assault. Harsh penalties are meant to discourage criminals from entering the gun-free area and give them greater punishments if they do, similar to drug-free zones around schools. Saying that outlawing guns will mean only outlaws will carry guns is a specious argument. Only outlaws organize dogfights. Only outlaws commit arson. The ban is in place because no one should carry guns in these areas, and the law is there to attempt to ensure this doesn’t happen.

In situations such as mass shootings, additional gunmen only create greater danger and can lead to more confusion for law enforcement. When police or security arrive at a scene, it’s impossible to tell who the original shooter is, and by that point the civilians who have taken it upon themselves to act have greatly increased the chance for other bystanders to be injured. Shooting is difficult both mentally and physically, even under ideal conditions, and especially when it’s with the intent to injure or kill. Some people possess the mental acuity and coordination to respond in the case of a massacre with immediate target recognition and accurate shooting. But they are an exceptional type, and not what our legislation should be based on.

Citizens don’t put their trust and safety in other citizens (especially untrained, untested undergraduates), they put it in law enforcement and security details, who are given this responsibility. Zuegel insists that CCP holders would not be vigilantes, but by allowing someone to carry a tool with the potential to kill with alarming immediacy you are entrusting to them the lives of everyone within range. She points out that many school shootings are stopped before law enforcement can even arrive, often by the attacker himself. This just goes to prove, however, that the people who commit these crimes are not people with any sense of self-preservation who would be dissuaded by the presence of CCP holders. All they could accomplish is further violence.

This brings me to my mother. She’s a fine shot, and can handle high-stress situations well. But there are too many situations in which a gun would only elevate the danger for herself and for bystanders. Zueger states that criminals will retreat 55.5% of the time when confronted by a gun. But the other 44.5% can end in serious danger for the gunowner. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania analyzing shooting victims in Philadelphia, those who carry guns are 4.5 times more likely to be shot and 4.2 times more likely to be killed by a gunshot than unarmed citizens, which increases in situations when they have a chance to defend themselves. This can be partially attributed to the kinds of people who carry guns, but also to the fact that carrying a gun can easily cause overreactions and paranoia and an inflated sense of safety in dangerous situations. I recognize the value of the safe feeling carrying a gun imparts, but having a campus in which some people carry dangerous weapons will make the vast majority of students feel far more unsafe.

In a study by the National Institute of Justice, injuries to both police officers and suspects were drastically reduced once police officers began using pepper spray in dangerous situations. The use of pepper spray worked as an effective deterrent to criminals without resorting to guns or excessive force. If the only concern for CCP holders is personal safety, pepper spray is a legitimate alternative to a gun. In situations where a gun would be necessary, it is obviously preferable to merely incapacitate an attacker rather than risk serious injury to either party. Self-defense does not turn the victim of an attack into the criminal-justice system; if there is an alternative that eliminates the chance of death, this should always be taken. My mother carries pepper spray so that a dangerous situation can be handled without elevating the risks for herself or the attacker. I rest easy knowing that she has the means to defend herself without the chance of the kind of tragic accident that can easily arise when guns are drawn.

Guns are tools; this is true. But they are tools designed to kill. It’s because of this that they must be regulated. I do believe in the rights of Americans to possess and carry guns, but I accept that there are limits to this. Concealed carry might provide peace of mind for the carrier, but eliminating a dangerous and unnecessary weapon from an area that thousands call their home removes a threat and guarantees peace of mind for the entire student body.

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