Last Thursday afternoon in Austin—in the shadow of the clock tower from which a sniper shot four dozen people in 1966—students, faculty and staff gathered to demonstrate their opposition to a newly passed law that will allow the licensed carry of concealed handguns in college classrooms. A smaller group of counter-protesters was there, too, waving signs proclaiming “self defense = human right” and “feeling safe means being armed.” The confrontation was sometimes tense, but not humorless—one topless woman hoisted a sign that read, “These 38s won’t kill students!”
As the rally ended and the crowds dispersed, students checked their smartphones to see what they had missed on social media. That’s when they learned about the gunman who had shot 16 people in Oregon, killing nine before taking his own life.
Almost immediately, gun rights advocates pointed to the Umpqua Community College massacre as an illustration of why campus carry is the antidote to school shootings.
It’s an intuitive and appealing idea—that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun. We can imagine it. We see it in movies. At least 80 million Americans have gone into the gun store, laid money on the counter, and purchased that fantasy. And yet it rarely plays out as envisioned. Is it because there aren’t enough guns? Is it because the guns aren’t allowed where they are needed? Or is there something else wrong with our aspirations to heroism?
Speaking Friday on CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello, perennial gun rights advocate John Lott said, “My solution for these mass shootings is to look at the fact that every single time, these attacks occur where guns are banned. Every single time.”
That’s neither true in general nor true in this instance. The FBI tells us that active-shooter scenarios occur in all sorts of environments where guns are allowed—homes, businesses, outdoor spaces. (In fact, there was another mass shooting the same day as the Oregon massacre, leaving three dead and one severely wounded in a home in North Florida.) And Umpqua Community College itself wasn’t a gun-free zone. Oregon is one of seven states that allow guns on college campuses—the consequence of a 2011 court decision that overturned a longstanding ban. In 2012, the state board of education introduced several limitations on campus carry, but those were not widely enforced.
School policy at UCC does ban students from carrying guns into buildings except as “authorized by law,” but at least one student interpreted his concealed handgun license as legal authorization.
John Parker Jr., an Umpqua student and Air Force veteran, told multiple media outlets that he was armed and on campus at the time of the attack last week. Parker and other student veterans (perhaps also armed) thought about intervening. “Luckily we made the choice not to get involved,” Parker told MSNBC. “We were quite a distance away from the actual building where it was happening, which could have opened us up to being potential targets ourselves.”
Parker’s story changed when he spoke to Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Instead of saying he “made the choice” not to get involved, Parker said school staff prevented him from helping. Breitbart and other right-wing outlets are making the case that, if only there had been more armed students on campus, one of them might have been able to make a difference. Ideally, there would be so many guns on campus (one in every classroom? one for every student?) that gunmen wouldn’t even attempt a school shooting.
Parker is just one of many armed civilians who have been present or proximal to a mass shooting but was unable to stop it. The canard of the armed civilian mass-shooting hero is perpetuated by exaggerations and half-truths.
Read more: Politico