Can We Have Honest Conversations about Guns on Campus? Please?

In the aftermath of yet another school shooting, we’re being inundated with the shouting: more guns on campus! Let those with a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) carry on campus! Good guys with guns will take out the shooters!

I held a CHL for the last three years I lived in Texas. I am a good shot, on the range or in the country shooting coffee cans, with a rifle or a handgun, anywhere I can take my stance, steady my breathing, and carefully squeeze off a shot. But I have never had to confront a moving target that might turn around and fire back at me.

A perk of working in an office on a campus was getting to know three different School Resource Officers (SRO), as well as a few of the various city cops who filled in from time to time for them. On my first campus our SRO was a huge, African-American man, 6′ 5″ and 300-lbs of mixed-martial arts, highly trained, intimidating scariness. Well, until you got to know him and saw when he was dressing down a student, the dimples in his cheeks start to play, completely beyond his control and betraying his good nature. Before becoming an SRO, he worked Dallas SWAT, Federal prisoner transport, and finally city police. He was required to take extensive weapons training. The police department had regular training sessions informing their officers on recent terror threats and gang activities, what to look for, what tactics worked. My second campus had officers with different backgrounds, but they were also highly trained, calm, intelligent officers. All were required to hone their skills and stay up to date on current trends in gang activities, terrorist situations, and responding to an active-shooter.

These professionals are the only folks I want on any campus I work on, to have and use a weapon because while I am a good shot on the range, I have no earthly idea how I, or any other untrained person, will react when it gets real and you hear gunfire down the hall. I am good under pressure, especially an emergency situation where I go into a glacial calm that melts only when the ordeal is over, but nothing I’ve faced so far has involved an active shooter.

Every teacher who has lasted in public education five years and stayed, is by definition handling a great deal of pressure every day and surviving. But the very fact they’ve lasted tells me that they love, tremendously and unconditionally, and I don’t know that even a skilled marksman could shoot a student of his or her campus, and they have a responsibility to take care of the students in their classrooms, first. I might, you might, he might, she might become a quivering mass of jello in the face of an active shooter, whether we are armed or not. Our SROs, however, have trained and drilled and in the case of the 1st one I knew, actually been under fire. They will be calm, rational, and wearing bullet-proof vests. The best thing I could do is secure my office, protect my kids within, and stay the hell out of it. Let the professionals do their jobs, as the officers in Oregon did so bravely and well.

Lots of guns mean lots of bullets, and here is something I took greatly to heart, and which gives me pause every single time a shooting happens: I was taking a college class some years ago and one of my fellow students was an Iraq War veteran, about 30 years old and using his GI Bill to finish his college degree. One day, in the wake of a school shooting the conversation turned to arming people on campus. There was much youthful pontificating as our instructor looked on, amused by the grandstanding and furiously defended positions. However, our combat veteran remained quiet and I wondered what he was thinking. In a conversational lull I asked him, You’ve seen combat, I wonder what you think of allowing folks to carry on campus? Do you think that would help?

He took a breath and a long, careful look around the classroom. “This room… it’s like a concrete box. This whole campus is like concrete boxes within concrete boxes. In a fire-fight, that causes a lot of ricochet. Multiple weapons, multiple people firing…. You don’t want guns in here.”

Concrete within concrete = ricochet/collateral damage.
Concrete within concrete = ricochet/collateral damage.

I don’t want guns on campus, except in the hands of the SROs. I want honest conversations about:  disaffected teenage boys who view going out in a blaze of ricocheting bullets as their only way to get noticed; mental health care in our country; better training for all school staff on what to do in an active-shooter scenario; background checks and waiting periods, without lobbyists and political action groups involved. I want real statistics and facts and science and police and combat veterans talking and all the rest of us listening with open ears, minds, and hearts.

I hit what I aim at on the range or in the country shooting coffee cans but, I have no such confidence in my marksmanship when terrified and confronted with an active shooter who desires maximum casualties. I don’t want that responsibility.  And I really, really don’t want fire-fights with bullets ricocheting in our concrete boxes of classrooms and hallways.

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