- By Michael S. Dorn
- February 1st, 2008
My editor at College Planning and Management recently
sent me a news article about the raging gun control debates stemming from the
Virginia Tech shooting. As with other high-profile shootings in public places,
the terrible incident has created considerable interest from both sides of the
gun control issue. There have been cries for new laws ranging from legislation
allowing universities and colleges to prohibit individuals with a concealed
weapons permit from carrying a gun on campus property to pleas for complete
prohibition of private firearms ownership. On the other side of the coin are
those who advocate that students, employees, and visitors who qualify for a
concealed weapons permit be allowed to carry a gun on campus. While at least
one college shooting rampage was averted when the violator was shot and killed
by civilians when he prepared to fire his 30-plus-round carbine into a crowd of
several hundred people, there are legitimate concerns associated with having
students and others carry guns on campus as there are legitimate concerns for
law-abiding citizens who wish to own firearms.
While the ability to have
these types of debates is one of the things that makes our nation and its
institutions of higher learning so great, they can become distracting to the
point of causing those with the power to implement positive change to lose
focus on things they can affect. I am reminded of a K-12 school administrator
who appealed to the Georgia
legislature to ban private firearms ownership in order to make his schools
safe. The district was confiscating hundreds of guns from its students and had
experienced a number of shootings. The district also had a terrible safety
reputation in many other ways, and had not implemented many of the proven
security measures in use by other area school systems with far lower violent
crime rates. While this is an extreme example, it illustrates how people can
sometimes get so focused on what are really not the primary issues while
failing to do the things they have the power and ability to do to reduce risk.
While this administrator was asking the legislature to make a dramatic legal
change that might not solve his district’s safety problem, he was unwilling to
consider that it was time to catch up with proven best practices, which he had
the power to utilize.
While the issue of
students and others carrying firearms on campus is a legitimate topic for
debate, those who wish to legislate tragedies like the shooting at Virginia
Tech away may be wishing in vain. When reporters ask for my expert opinion of
the effectiveness of gun control legislation on campus safety, I always reply
that it is not a proven way to make American campuses safer from weapons
violence and is largely irrelevant to the issue of campus safety. The largest
loss of life on an American campus due to an act of violence was at a Catholic
K-12 school in 1958, when a fourth-grade student killed more than 90 people
using fire as his weapon. The second-most fatal event involved the use of
explosives with more than 40 fatalities.
We have worked with
universities and police agencies in countries that will quickly execute anyone
caught with a single round of ammunition, let alone a firearm. While campus
weapons assault rates do appear to be lower in these countries they are far
from nonexistent, with more than a dozen fatalities in one shooting at a school
in the People’s Republic of China.
As we are a free society with several amendments to our constitution that
prohibit the prompt execution of gun violators after a trial by judge as in
China, I am not convinced we will have as much success reducing our campus
weapons violence primarily through legislative action as totalitarian nations.
While the gun control
debate continues, please take your position on these issues as you feel
appropriate for yourself and for the needs of your institution. At the same
time, be sure that your organization is doing the things it should be doing to
prevent campus weapons violence. When my editor asked me to pen this column, I
warned her that I would surely offend more readers with it than I ever have
before, as many people have strong feelings on the topic one way or the other.
Having had six rounds fired at me on campus when I was a university police
officer, I feel I have a right to my opinion. Being a fiercely freedom-loving
American, I also cherish the right of every reader of this magazine to agree or
disagree with my opinions… including
Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe
Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, non-profit safety center. He has
authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached
through the Safe Havens Website at www.safehavensinternational.org.
Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.