When I left for New Haven in the fall, a friend jokingly told me to “bring a gun.” Back then, I didn’t know some students actually did. Usually soft-spoken and gentle, a certain freshman girl explained in no uncertain terms that to live in New Haven, you need a gun.
While the stun guns and tasers that left Johnny Knoxville screaming for mercy on “Jackass” seem an extreme solution for some students, others consider them a legitimate means of defense. This freshman, who asked to remain anonymous for legal reasons, is currently in the process of acquiring a stun gun.
“I’m getting a stun gun for next year. I will not live in a house in New Haven without a gun or a stun gun,” she said. “I would not go jogging in New Haven at night without a stun gun. My house when I grow up will have a shotgun.”
This student has been assaulted in the past (though not in New Haven) and felt that had she been armed, sparks would have flown.
“I’ve been assaulted, and I will not live without a gun,” she said. “Guns were a part of my upbringing. The first time I carried a gun was in kindergarten. It’s not about being paranoid and needing a gun. It’s something I would use for sport, and it’s something that would be in my house for emergency.”
She did, however, draw the line at tasers.
“A stun gun is not like a taser gun. Those things are strong. Those things can screw up people’s nervous systems,” she said.
Most students are familiar with the standard advice of Yale security offers and have seen new stickers popping up around campus displaying emergency phone numbers. But despite the fact that New Haven crime dropped 16 percent in 2002 according to Yale Police, incidents still occur, and some students are taking action.
“Parents will buy [a gun] for their children if they have to walk through parking lots late at night. I’ve had some students and some parents of students looking for [guns],” said Chris Dogolo, owner of Chris’ Gun Shop in East Haven.
But anyone wishing to buy a gun in Connecticut must first get a pistol permit, according to the NRA Web site. A pistol permit applicant must be 21 years old, be a Connecticut resident and have a record clean of major criminal offenses. Handguns can only be purchased after acquiring a pistol permit.
“It’s a lengthy process,” Dogolo said.
Some Yalies with access to guns do not consider them means of self-defense.
“There isn’t a whole lot of connection between say, Olympic style rifle competition and self-defense, unless you get attacked by a small black circle from 50 feet,” said John McGann ’04, head of the rifle and pistol club teams. “They’re also only little 22s, and if someone is coming at you with a gun, you shoot them with a 22, and they’ll just shoot you anyway.”
When asked about protective paraphernalia, Dogolo launched into a description of tasers and stun guns, which his store does not carry (and for which permits are required in Connecticut).
“In other states you can have stun guns and tasers,” said Dogolo. “With the stun gun, you have to touch the person and press a button, and it sends an electrical current through their body. Tasers shoot out projectiles, like little barbs and hooks that stick into the person, and those send out electrical charges.”
Most tasers shoot two darts simultaneously up to 30 feet at 135 mph, delivering a jolt of 50,000 volts, according to the Web sites of Amnesty International and several taser vendors. The charge fires through a target’s clothing and overrides their central nervous system, reducing them to a twitching, quivering heap. Amnesty International is campaigning to have both stun guns and tasers outlawed internationally, citing many incidents of deaths and torture, including some that took place in the United States.
A current Yale junior, who wishes to remain anonymous, said one of his Yale friends used to carry around an equally outlandish means of defense.
“I had a friend who graduated a few years ago from Yale who was very good with nunchucks — he was a black-belt,” the student said. “He used to carry those around at night with the logic that he could win any fight with those involved, and [the nunchucks] couldn’t be used against him.”
Other students are less Rambo and more Rocky. Jennifer Lee ’04 put her Tae Kwon Do training to use and punched out a mugger in New York City when she was 16.
“It wasn’t anywhere sketchy — I was just kind of wandering around after an opera, getting coffee or something, and someone came up behind me and was trying to choke me,” Lee said. “My reflexes kicked in. These big hands that none of my friends would have were around my neck, so I freaked out, flipped him over and punched his lights out.”
Even though Tae Kwon Do is a foot-based martial art and Lee used her hands to disarm the burglar, there is a clear correlation between self-defense and Tae Kwon Do.
“For me, I realized that Tae Kwon Do is a very useful thing,” Lee said. “The instruction I had in Korea included some workshops on self-defense. Do I feel [Tae Kwon Do] better prepared me? Yes, I do. At the fundamentals, we’re teaching people how to hit people, and that does come in handy.”
Some students are simply resigned to the possibility of an attack, and even those with limited weapons experience are wary of weapons. One Yale College junior, who is known to tote a hunting knife around with him, chalks it up to practical tasks and would consider it useless in an altercation.
“Most people haven’t used a knife,” he said. “If you’re a female, well, it’s a different story because you might be raped, and you should do whatever you can. But most people don’t know how to use weapons, so they’re useless. Most kids wouldn’t know how to use a knife. They’d stand there with it,and end up getting killed with it. I use my knife to cut string, and simple stuff like that — not to fight people.”
Others are contented with defensive approaches to life in New Haven. Stephen Dougherty ’04, a victim of the attack in McClellan Hall in the fall, now locks his doors and is generally more aware.
“The way [the attacker] entered the room was through an unlocked door. We started locking our doors and telling our friends to lock their doors,” Dougherty said. “That’s a big thing at Yale, and people don’t even realize they put themselves at risk. While Yale is our home, it is also in the middle of a big city.”
Other students take even smaller, though arguably equally important, steps in ensuring their own security. Nicole Shiflett ’06 changes her appearance at times as a preventative measure.
“I try to bundle up to look like a guy because — I don’t know, that might help,” Shiflett said. “It’s going to be harder when it gets hot, though.”
Suzanne McGoey ’06 has discovered tactical uses for a standard Yale student accessory.
“I carry my Nalgene instead of putting it in my bag because getting hit with a full Nalgene — that would f—ing hurt,” McGoey said.