On April 16, 2007, Colin Goddard walked into his 9:00 AM French class unaware that anything at his idyllic Virginia college was amiss. A little less than an hour later, SWAT officers dragged him from the classroom, four 9mm bullets having decimated his left knee, right shoulder, and both hips. His professor and 10 of his 16 classmates were dead.
It’s hard to imagine a more life-changing event, and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to understand why Colin has chosen to dedicated his life to campaigning for stricter gun control laws. He is now the assistant director of legislative affairs for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the subject of a short documentary titled Living for 32, which is currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit.
Colin’s legislative efforts are largely focused on the controversy surrounding private sales at gun shows (unlike licensed dealers, private sellers in most states can sell a firearm without first requiring the buyer to pass to a federal background check). But he occasionally takes time away from his cause célèbre to argue against campus carry. His latest foray into the campus carry debate is an op-ed published on CNN.com, decrying the campus carry legislation currently pending in Texas.
Ironically, Colin’s op-ed of almost 1,000 words contains very few arguments against campus carry. Instead, he spends the first three-fourths of the article suggesting various tactics, from improving mental health services on college campuses to prohibiting private sales of firearms at gun shows, that he thinks will do a better job of preventing campus shooting sprees than would allowing campus carry.
The alternative approach suggested by Colin suffers from two glaring flaws: First, nothing he suggests is incompatible with campus carry—there is no reason states couldn’t improve mental health services on college campuses, prohibit private sales at gun shows, AND allow campus carry. Secondly, the push to allow campus carry is not about preventing campus shooting sprees; it’s about allowing trained, licensed, carefully screened adults (age 21 and above) the same measure of personal protection on campus that they’re already allowed off campus. It’s about ensuring that state laws and school policies do not needlessly stack the odds against law-abiding citizens who might otherwise be able to defend themselves and in favor of dangerous criminals who have no regard for either state law or school policy.
Improving things like mental health services, police training, and campus alert systems are all great ideas, but they don’t do anything for a graduate student who encounters an assailant when leaving the campus library at 2 AM, and they aren’t much comfort to students and faculty cornered in a windowless classroom, listening to gunshots grow progressively louder in the hallway. Preventive measures are a vital part of any school’s security plan, but any preventive strategy, no matter how thorough, can still fall short. And that’s why it makes sense to also allow individuals the means to protect themselves, in case all else fails.
Why should a graduate student be allowed the means to defender herself when studying late at the city library but not when studying late at the campus library? Why should she be allowed the means to defend herself when leaving a pre-dawn workout at the local health club but not when leaving a pre-dawn workout at the student recreation center? Why should a professor be allowed the means to protect himself at a movie theater on Saturday and at a church on Sunday but not in his classroom on Monday?
In the last fourth of his op-ed, Colin offers a handful of reasons why he feels that college campuses are different from the outside world and should, therefore, remain “gun free.” All of his reasons fall flat.
Colin writes, “It effectively rewrites the book on how police respond to a situation with an active shooter. The one student with the gun would no longer be the only target — that person could be one among several or more. This is why nearly every campus law enforcement organization also opposes this measure.”
The argument that allowing campus carry would change how police respond is based on the absurd notion, parroted by gun control activists, that officers responding to an active shooter situation on a college campus are trained to “shoot anyone with a gun.” This illogical notion ignores the reality that all police officers are taught that any tactical situation may involve both armed bad guys AND armed good guys, from an off-duty or undercover police officer to a citizen who has wrestled a gun away from an assailant. Police officers are taught to use lethal force to respond to a threatening action; they are not taught to use lethal force to respond to the mere sight of someone with a gun.
Those who suggest that CHL holders might confuse police or endanger themselves by running around, guns drawn, looking for an active shooter understand neither the purpose of concealed carry nor the training required. License holders must keep their weapons concealed until and unless they encounter an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. They are specifically taught not to seek out an active shooter.
CHL holders carry handguns for personal protection, not so they can act like amateur one-man SWAT teams. And most police officers know this. The vice president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, the largest police union in Texas, recently dismissed concerns about license holders adding to the confusion of an active shooter situation and announced that his organization would support the legalization of campus carry in Texas. And contrary to what Colin and other campus carry opponents might have us believe, the officers of the HPOU aren’t the only law enforcement professionals who see the wisdom in allowing licensed concealed carry on Texas college campuses.
In a May 12, 2009, blog post on the Austin American-Statesman website, Statesman staff writer Ralph K.M. Haurwitz writes that retired University of Texas Police Lieutenant Ronald Thomas called him, in response to an earlier article by Haurwitz, to inform him that not all university police officers oppose campus carry. According to Haurwitz, “Thomas favors allowing concealed handguns on campus because, he said, an armed person could prevent or cut short a tragedy well before campus police arrive at the scene.”
A May 13, 2009, article in The Daily Texan, the University of Texas at Austin student newspaper, quotes UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom as saying, “I know a lot of my employees have views on both sides of [campus carry].” Chief Dahlstrom goes on to say that most officers are afraid to speak out on the issue because they’re not clear on what constitutes “lobbying,” which is prohibited by their terms of employment.
Colin continues, “Proponents of allowing guns on campus have not explained how such a law would be enforced. Neither can they account for the additional complications created by allowing guns onto college campuses in everyday situations other than the rare active shooter. Think: The University of Texas at Austin has a preschool, an elementary school, a hospital and a bar on campus.”
Colin fails to explain why he thinks licensed concealed carry should be enforced differently on Texas college campuses than it is in Texas churches, Texas movie theaters, Texas shopping malls, Texas office buildings, Texas grocery stores, Texas restaurants, Texas banks, or even the Texas Capitol. If Colin really wants to know how it would be implemented, he should read the legislation, which specifically outlines what would and wouldn’t be permitted of both license holders and institutions of higher education (i.e., public institutions would not be allowed to create blanket policies prohibiting licensed concealed carry on campus, but they would be allowed to prohibit concealed carry at sporting events and restrict the storage of firearms in dorms).
As for the complications created by allowing guns onto college campuses in everyday situations, Colin should take a look at the 71 U.S. college campuses outside of Texas—30 in Utah, 40 in Colorado, and one in Virginia—that currently allow licensed concealed carry. To date, none has seen a single resulting incident of gun violence (including threats and suicides) or a single resulting gun accident. Licensed concealed carry doesn’t complicate college campuses any more than it complicates the rest of society.
Colin’s comment about the preschool, elementary school, hospital, and bar at the University of Texas seems to suggest a misunderstanding of Texas law (it also suggests a misunderstanding of the UT campus—the hospital is located just south of the main campus, and the elementary school is actually located a couple of miles from the university).
Removing the statutory prohibition against licensed concealed carry on college campuses would not affect the statutory prohibitions against licensed concealed carry at primary schools, secondary schools, or bars. Per state law, it would still be illegal to carry a firearm into an elementary school or bar, even if the elementary school or bar is located on a college campus. And university hospitals, just like any other public or private hospital, would still be able to post signs prohibiting licensed concealed carry on the premises.
It’s worth noting that Texas state law allows licensed concealed carry in churches, despite the fact that many churches contain preschools and, in some cases, even elementary and high schools. License holders must simply ensure that they do not carry their firearms into the portions of the church where school activities are being conducted. So far, there haven’t been any reports of children accidentally being handed revolvers instead of juice boxes.
After making a handful of arguments against campus carry, Colin returns to arguing that we should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals and off of college campuses, proclaiming, “Once someone is on campus with guns and intends to kill, we’ve already lost.”
Of course, that statement is never truer than on a college campus where the students and faculty are completely defenseless. Once a homicidal madman brings a gun onto a “gun free” campus, the law-abiding citizens are left with no recourse but to hide under their desks and hope and pray that the madman chooses to walk into a different classroom or look under a different desk or execute a different victim.
Colin seems to want to believe that firearms can be so thoroughly regulated and college campuses so tightly protected that the violence and chaos of the outside world never finds its way into the hallowed halls of higher education. But that’s not reality. Short of turning college campuses into armed, secured complexes akin to modern airports, there is simply no way to ensure the level of security he envisions. Therefore, it simply doesn’t make sense to deny trained, licensed adults the means to act defensively should the need arise.
A review of Colin’s testimony before Congress reveals that, like many of the other Virginia Tech students and faculty members who found themselves in Norris Hall on the morning of April 16, 2007, he did have time to react once the shooting began.
Colin was talking to a 911 operator when the gunman walked into his classroom—he even had time to tell the operator that he saw the shooter. After Colin was shot the first time, a girl by the name of Emily Haas grabbed the phone and spoke to the 911 operator for the next five minutes, until she too was shot (thankfully, Emily also survived her injuries).
Wounded, Colin watched the gunman exit and renter the classroom multiple times. He saw him stop occasionally to reload. Each time the gunman reentered the room, he shot Colin again. Autopsies later revealed that, like Colin, 13 of the 30 people murdered in Norris Hall were shot four or more times.
The Virginia Tech massacre was hardly, as opponents of campus carry want to portray it, a blitz attack that ended before anyone present knew what was happening. The massacre lasted 10 to 12 minutes, at least twenty times as long as the famed gunfight at the OK Corral (and with ten times as many fatalities). Plenty of people knew what was happening, and plenty of people took steps to try to mitigate the tragedy. Sadly, they lacked the tools necessary to do so adequately.
Colin ends his article by quoting NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s post-Columbine speech about ensuring that schools remain gun free. Of course, in the full context of the speech, it’s clear that LaPierre is talking about small, easily-secured primary and secondary schools populated with children, not city-size universities populated with adults. But that’s a distinction that eludes most opponents of campus carry.
The opening seconds of the trailer for Colin’s new documentary Living for 32 feature Colin saying, “I was in the right place at the right time. I was in class.” The implication is that he wasn’t walking down a dark alley on a bad side of town or engaging in some other risky behavior; he was someplace where he should have been safe. That statement stands in stark contrast to the argument, proffered by many opponents of campus carry, that campus carry is “unnecessary” because college campuses are already very safe. The obvious implication of their argument is that licensed concealed carry should be relegated to those places where danger is imminent (or at least very likely).
Of course, most concealed handgun license holders, like most other sane people, try to avoid places where danger is imminent (or very likely). They carry concealed handguns in case danger catches them by surprise in a place where they don’t expect it, much the way it caught Colin by surprise in his French class in the spring of ’07.
It may sound like a simple platitude, but danger can strike anywhere. It simply doesn’t make sense to limit a person’s ability to protect himself or herself, without good cause. Colin’s heart is clearly in the right place, but like all other opponents of campus carry, he fails to show good cause for prohibiting licensed concealed carry on Texas college campuses.
“Considering Concealed Carry on Texas College Campuses”
“Answers to the Most Common Arguments Against Concealed Carry on College Campuses”
“Concealed Carry in Texas”
“About Students for Concealed Carry on Campus”