Ten years ago today Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 23 others when they opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I remember being a Junior at Red Mountain High School at the time and the panic regarding school violence that ensued. Parents, teachers, school administrators, and politicians attempted to determine what enabled this violence and how to keep it from happening again.
Today in 2009, some Republican lawmakers are attempting to make the case that these attacks can be prevented, or at least limited, by allowing students and teachers to carry concealed firearms to school. While this is more directed at colleges and universities, with Republicans capitalizing on such tragedies as Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, this anniversary seems a proper time to make the case against weaponizing America’s campuses.
The Republican Argument
Republican lawmakers argue that an armed student body would prevent school shooters from claiming as many victims, or even possibly deterring the act itself. They believe that armed students would be able to shoot the attacker, that shootings occur because of armament asymmetry. According to this argument, students carrying guns to school would make campuses safer. However, guns would most likely not prevent or limit school shootings at all, and in fact would be detrimental to campus safety.
Student Armament is Not a Deterrent
Most school shootings are murder/suicides. The shooters do not normally plan to live through the attack. For a person who plans to carry out an attack with the expectation of their own death, the prospect of being shot and killed is not a deterrent.
Students Lack Training in Combat/Hostage Situations
The Republican argument take for granted the idea that armed students would be able to use their weapons to take down an attacker while being shot at, with innocent people in the area reacting to the shooting, without injuring anyone but the attacker. Only police and military receive the level of training required to handle such a situation while minimizing collateral damage and civilian injuries. A number of relatively untrained students wielding firearms in an attempt to take down a shooter surrounded by other students would most likely result in friendly-fire casualties.
Armed Students Results in Younger Targets
In most states a person must be 21 years of age to own a handgun and apply for a conceal-to-carry permit. This means that a potential attacker planning a shooting would likely choose to target large Freshman classes, since most if not all of the class would be too young to carry, and target the professors and teaching assistants first.
Carrying a Weapon Increases Aggression
Social psychologists Leonard Berkowitz and Anthony LePage conducted a study in 1967 showing that weapons are an aggression-eliciting stimuli. According to their research, the presence of weapons increases the likelihood of responding to a conflict aggressively, even if the weapons are not used in the actual aggression. The weapon primes an aggressive frame in people that are aware of its presence and intensifies their aggressive reactions, especially during a heated argument where inhibitions against aggression are relatively weak. While this may or may not result in an increase in gun violence, it would certainly lead to an increase in aggression and other forms of violence.
Students Carrying Weapons Decreases Warning Time
On a campus where students are not permitted to carry firearms, a student carrying one would raise a flag and allow security to be alerted before any potential violence occurs. However, if students are allowed to carry firearms on campus, seeing a student with a gun would not immediately indicate suspicion. This means that it is impossible to tell the difference between a student who is carrying a gun for “protection” and one who is planning a massacre until someone begins shooting. This would take away a critical potential warning, leaving everyone less safe.
Guns in Schools Are Not the Answer
It is clear that allowing students to carry firearms on campuses makes every person on that campus less safe. It is important to not get caught up in the Republican rhetoric and capitalization of fear and stop such legislation from becoming law.