Much of America sees Texas as a caricature of the days of yore: cowboys riding horses into town, shootouts at high noon, victors walking through swinging saloon gates for a celebratory whiskey. While Texans aren’t the stereotypical cowpokes we imagine, their actions sometimes reinforce the sentiment. They tend to be fiercely independent. They’ve even edited history textbooks to remove sections on Jefferson and give a more favorable opinion of McCarthyism. So, given Texas’ reputation, many easily dismiss a recent bill proposed in the state’s legislature that would permit licensed individuals over the age of 21 to carry handguns to class. Those crazy Texans … what will they do next?
Americans live in a gun culture. We are not England, nor Germany, nor Australia, where the government strictly regulates the import, sale and distribution of weapons. We’re a land of hunters, target shooters; we shoot for sport. Regardless of debates over interpretation, our founders spelled it out for us: we have the right to bear arms. Regardless of what’s on the books, a variety of guns, both legal and illegal, are and will remain in circulation.
Gun control advocates say the answer is more restriction — stringent background checks, banning certain weapons and ensuring no one (outside of a well-regulated militia) carry guns in public. But this type of approach hardly seems realistic due to the number of firearms in circulation. Criminal elements, the emotionally distressed and the certifiably insane will gain access to weapons regardless of the controls. They’ll steal them, buy them off the black-market — or as rectenly happened in France, they’ll grab a sword. Instead of burying our heads in the sand and trying the same types of futile regulation over and over, perhaps it’s time we seriously consider the Texan solution.
Upon hearing the proposal, people are confused. Wouldn’t this lead to an increased risk of violence on campus? Shouldn’t classrooms be places for intellectual curiosity, not an arena for veiled hostilities? Unfortunately, this idealistic image of American classrooms ignores reality. Since 1966, when a deranged student climbed the University of Texas tower and opened fire, killing 16 people and wounding 31 others, illegally carried firearms have been used in no less than 51 school shootings throughout the US. Who doesn’t remember the tragic events of Columbine, or the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007, or the 2008 rampage at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb? The threat is real, and this Texan solution may not be far off target.
Opponents have been quick to discredit the measure. Dana Schrad, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, dismissed the possibility of a solution at all: “You can never protect against this kind of [school shooting] incident.” Last week, emotional victims of the Virginia Tech shooting campaigned against the bill in Austin. CBS News interviewed Colin Goddard, who was shot four times at Virginia Tech and survived by “playing dead.” “People tell me that if they would have been there, they would have shot that guy. That offends me,” Goddard said. “People want to be the hero, I understand that. They play video games and they think they understand the reality. It’s nothing like that.” But perhaps Mr. Goddard is too emotionally involved to see clearly.
Coming from the NYPD and a tour in Iraq, I have first hand experience when I say no one wants to be a hero. Heroes are born of circumstances out of their control and, given the opportunity, rise to the occasion. Many students, professors and administrators come from “gun” homes, have advanced training in the handling of firearms, and could provide an immediate and real response to a threat on campus. In 1997, when Luke Woodham opened fire at Pearl High School, killing two, assistant principal Joel Myrick subdued him using a .45 caliber pistol kept in his vehicle. Hero? I’d say so. Did he go to school planning to be one? Doubtful.
Clearly, this Texan approach could work. The only alternative is to maintain campuses as “gun free zones” and cross our fingers, hoping that nothing happens. But if something does, while waiting for the NHPD, we’ll wished we had armed General McChrystal.
Alex Hawke is a sophomore in Berkeley College and an Eli Whitney student.