As a heated issue among the American public, gun control has undoubtedly become one of the most salient topics in relation to law and public policy.  Additionally, as a response to the wave of campus crime and gun violence through the recent decades, many universities have adapted the policy of a gun-free zone for their campuses. Setting aside the Constitutional intent on the issue, empirical results on college campuses have consistently illustrated the harm that gun-free zones pose.

The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and the Appalachian School of Law have much in common. The two schools remain just roughly 131 miles apart from one another, have established a joint graduate program together, and unfortunately, both of these Virginia schools have faced similar gun tragedies on their respective campuses. However, these two tragedies ended in very different ways, including a stark contrast in the number of those murdered and injured. This can purely be attributed to the impact of a gun-free zone policy.

When a gunman killed dozens in 2006, the campus of Virginia Tech maintained a gun-free safe zone policy, in which all guns were barred from campus.  Regretfully, over half of the victims were of the required age to obtain a protective gun, but were simply ineffective due to the campus’ gun control policy. In a similar 2002 situation on the campus of Appalachian School of Law, a former law student arrived on campus with a handgun, ultimately killing the dean, a professor, and an additional student. However, in contrast to the Virginia Tech massacre, two Appalachian School of Law students decided to break their school’s anti-gun policy, and take action. It was this utter disregard for the gun-free zone that enabled the two students to effectively utilize their personal firearms after hearing gunshots. When the Appalachian gunman was asked to drop his gun after learning of the two students, he was able to be taken into custody – which unequivocally prevented further casualties. The different reaction towards the gun control policies on the campus level presents a clear and logical example of how the Second Amendment works as a deterrent.

To those who believe that the Virginia Tech massacre was merely a fluke, I direct your attention to a multitude of other universities who have suffered through similar disasters. The campuses of Northern Illinois University, Louisiana Technical College, the University of Central Arkansas, and the University of Alabama at Huntsville all maintained a gun-free zone policy on the day of their shootings.  In fact, all 33 major campus shootings since the year 2000 banned guns on their campuses. Notable author and researcher John Lott has even claimed that “every multiple-victim public shooting that I have studied, where more than three people have been killed, has taken place where guns are banned.”

It is saddening that universities are very quick to honor and protect all other elements of the Bill of Rights, but remain adamant towards excluding a liberty that has proven its ability to save lives. Universities must recognize that it is impossible to rationalize with an irrational gunman bent on killing others. No gun-free zone, sign, or law will change the minds of those who do not value the sanctity of human life. In light of all of the devastating tragedies, it is shockingly naïve to think that a determined gunman will abide by the local university’s gun-free safe zone. It just hasn’t worked, it isn’t working, and it never will work. This sentiment stems not from partisan cynicism, but from genuine pragmatism.

Those who insist that an increased amount of gun-free zones is truly the best solution for students and faculty must simply gauge what has worked – deterrence. The impact of deterrence should be the primary factor considered when analyzing the necessity of a gun-free zone. According to a 1999 study by John Lott (the aforementioned researcher of gun deterrence), “the only policy factor to influence multiple victim public shootings is the passage of concealed handgun laws” which was shown to “reduce both the number of shootings as well as their severity.” While some discredit Lott because of his known stance on the issue of gun control, there have been twelve additional academic studies that validate his claim. The findings discussed by Lott align seamlessly with the noted tragedies that arrived on gun-free campuses.

A recent victim of the gun-free zone policy arrived in 2007 at the University of Nevada at Reno. Amanda Collins described herself a concealed-weapon user for years, but due to the university’s policy banning guns on its campus, she was unable to carry her gun when she was raped. Additionally, this incident occurred less than 300 yards from the nearby campus police office. This puts to rest such overused arguments that a campus police is capable of sufficiently deterring gun crime, an insignificant amount of students (specifically female students) would feasibly have had guns on them during an attack, and that college-aged students are incapable of successfully operating a gun for self-defense purposes. For the latter myth, one must consider the documentation of over twelve cases (from 2005 through 2008) throughout the nation in which university students successfully utilized their own weapons to deter violence. Criminals simply prefer an unarmed public, and by excluding a major sector of the population from being armed, universities are disappointingly permitting fatal crimes to flourish on their campuses.

As a result of Collins’ powerlessness to stop the man that tragically raped her, he was enabled to ultimately kill Brianna Dennison, another student in nearby California. Collins has stated that “I know, having been the first victim, that Brianna Dennison would still be alive, had I been able to defend myself that night.” The victim list becomes endless when colleges implement safe zones, as the ability to catch and weaken the enemy simply becomes forfeited.  While I staunchly affirm the position that campus shootings should never be politicized or used to further a partisan agenda, the importance of this issue extends beyond politics. Gun-free zones on college campuses have the clear tendency to translate into life-free zones. It is unacceptable to continue on this dangerous path, and the time has arrived to carry out the best means of deterrence: self-defense.

Parker Mantell // University of Indiana at Bloomington // @ParkerMantell