Friday, April 20, 2007

On Arming Students

A letter in this morning's Arizona Daily Star:
People in schools are often afraid that if they let guns on campus, something like the Virginia Tech incident will happen. The sad truth is it happens anyway. It shouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine that a person who does not care about breaking the law by shooting and killing innocent people would be deterred by lesser laws prohibiting guns in schools.

By prohibiting guns, the government and schools take away the ability for law-abiding students and faculty to defend against the threat of a lawless murderer. If only the students could have had guns at that school, it is conceivable there would have been only one death instead of 33. The gunman could have been shot and killed before he had his chance to destroy the lives of 32 other people. That would make for a much happier ending to the story.

The writer identifies himself as a student, so maybe he's too young to remember the day back in 1999 when a mentally ill guy named Jean Pierre Lafitte pulled a gun after a traffic accident near the University of Arizona. Dr. Richard Carmona (future Surgeon General; at the time a SWAT doc and sherrif's deputy) happened on the scene, grabbed his .45, and tried to convince the guy to put his own gun down.
Lafitte appeared to begin to put his gun down, but instead raised it and fired, grazing Carmona's balding head. Carmona returned seven shots. Three hit Lafitte. Two struck Lafitte's truck and another round hit the windshield of a car driven by Wendy Hernandez, a former special magistrate at City Court.

This is one of those maddening bits of anecdotal evidence that you can take as you will. The letter writer, Wayne LaPierre, and the rest of the NRA crowd can look at this and say, see, a citizen with a sidearm stopped a deranged man before he could kill anyone. Other people might look and say, here's a guy with extensive firearms and SWAT training who had time to retrieve his gun from his car and get ready to fire before advancing on the threatening man--about the best amount of control you can hope for in that situation--and in the process of firing still managed to land only 3 of 7 shots, while getting lucky that the errant slug he sent through someone else's windshield didn't hit her.

What's the key in that for me? Extensively trained. Regular time at the range. Fully mature man with SWAT experience that teaches snap decision making and discourages panic. Short of an active cop or Marine, this is the guy you want pulling the trigger in that situation because he knows exactly what to do. And he still sent four rounds into things other than his intended target.

Now have the deranged shooter burst into a room full of 19-22 year old kids who may have pistols in their packs or on their belts but do not have a fraction of Dr. Carmona's training. Are you still convinced of a happy ending in that confined space? I'd very much like to be, but I'm not. Popping a .45 or .357 isn't the same as playing Duke Nukem down at the mall. It takes a good amount of practice to be accurate even within 20 feet with the bigger calibers. Identify, acquire, fire. Not blaze away indiscriminantly. The thought of classrooms and dorms full of barely out of their teens 007 wannabes is not comforting to me. Maybe it's the answer. Maybe not.

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