The news is saturated with stories and opinions on guns, and the attention on the
issue is heightened with this past year’s dramatic shootings in Aurora and Newtown.
Understandably, the response to these horrors involves great emotion. However, in our
dialogue about violence and gun ownership, we need to set aside our fears and biases
and look at where the facts lead us.

Here in the Bay Area, the general response to gun ownership is an automatic “no,” and
the Stanford campus is no exception. Our campus sees minimal violence and our main
exposure to firearms is through the news, where killings are stories rather than the
cases with peaceful endings.

This anti-gun bias is reflected in campus policy and state law. On its website,
Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) states that “all [firearms]
are prohibited on Stanford Campus … except for sworn police officers,” and California
has mandated absolute firearm bans on all college campuses. These policies assume
that guns are fundamentally harmful. Remembering that a weapon is simply a powerful
tool that can be used for self-defense as well as for harm, we need to reconsider
Stanford’s “Gun-Free Zone” policy.

Gun-Free Zones: A monopoly of force

Absolute bans are ineffective, as criminals carry weapons regardless of their
legality. Worse, Gun-Free Zones are uniquely attractive targets, as a monopoly of
force is in the hands of whoever is willing to break the law, and police response is
often too little and too late.

When Seung-Hui Cho shot his first two victims at Virginia Tech in 2007, the police
unsuccessfully searched for the shooter for two hours. Cho remained in public spaces
on campus for that entire time and even went to the post office to mail writings and
recordings to NBC News. He then walked to a building of lecture halls at the opposite
end of campus, chained the three main entrance doors shut, and killed 30 people in a
second attack lasting roughly 10 minutes.

The rampage ended with Cho’s suicide. With over 200 rounds left, “he was well
prepared to continue,” said State Police Superintendent William Flaherty. Unarmed,
the victims had no hope but to make barricades and wait for the police to arrive,
which happened well after the massacre was over.

The shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook also ended in the perpetrators’ suicide,
not police intervention. According to a U.S. Secret Service study into 37 school
shootings, “Over half of the attacks were resolved or ended before law enforcement
responded to the scene. In these cases, the attacker was stopped by faculty or fellow
students, decided to stop shooting on his own, or killed himself.”

It is wrong to disarm an individual when effective protection cannot be provided in
compensation, and relying on police officers and security guards has proven to be
insufficient. When targets of violence, people have the right to options beyond
waiting for help to come.

The right tool for the job

It is generally agreed that self-defense is a valid response to violence. However,
when faced with an armed attacker in any situation, fighting back with nothing but
your fists is the worst option. Victims need a tool that can level the playing field
against all sorts of attackers.

According to a 1997 study of National Crime Victimization Survey data by PhD
criminologist Gary Kleck, "robbery and assault victims who used a gun to resist were
less likely to be attacked or to suffer an injury than those who did not resist at
all or those who used any other methods of self-protection.” The probability of
serious injury to a female victim is 2.5 times greater when no resistance is offered
and 4 times greater when resistance is offered without a gun. The same study showed
similar trends for male victims, though the magnitude of the statistics was

As a 5’ 3” girl, I am going to need a better tool than my fists if I get grabbed one
night on the way home from my physics lab. Some friends of mine carry mace or Tasers
for this very reason. While they are better tools than wrestling, they can be
ineffective and even counterproductive. Pepper spray can rebound into its user’s eyes
to disable his own along with those of his assailant; one-use only, Tasers are
ineffective against more than one assailant and don’t work through thick clothing;
and both have a very limited range.

With the limitations of other options in mind, a concealed handgun is a much more
effective tool for self-defense. Along with overcoming the technical weaknesses of
pepper spray and Tasers, guns pose a much greater deterrent to criminals. Many
incidents involving a victim with a gun end without a single shot. When someone draws
a concealed gun in self-defense, the criminal simply retreats 55.5% of the time,
according to Kleck.

Before discussing concealed carry permits, it is crucial that I am clear on what they
are and, more importantly, what they are not. Concealed carry permit (CCP) holders
are not vigilantes with the duty to protect; in fact, it is strictly against laws and
their training. There are consequences for acting unless they themselves are in
immediate danger. Extending to campuses, the right to carry would simply allow CCP
holders the same abilities and responsibilities they have in most other places.

More Guns, more crime… right?

While faculty, staff, and students deserve the same rights to self-defense in their
place of work and study as others have, it is an understandable concern that allowing
concealed guns would lead to more accidents and crime. Fortunately, this concern has
not been realized.

After a combined total of one hundred semesters, none of the twelve colleges across
the country--Colorado State University, Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia, and
ten public colleges spanning 30 campus in Utah--that allow licensed individuals to
carry on campus has seen a single incident of gun theft, accident, or violence,
including threats and suicides. In addition, all Utah educators have been able to
carry concealed weapons to work for the past 12 years, in which there have been no
accidents or shootings in the schools.

CCP holders are statistically a very law-abiding group. According to each state’s
Department of Public Safety, .007% of Florida CCPs over the last 25 years and .005%
of North Carolina CCPs over the last five years were revoked due to a firearm-related
crime. The felony rate of CCP holders in North Carolina is .017%, more than 20 times
less than the national rate of .35%.

Not only are people who carry concealed weapons less likely to commit crimes, they
can also prevent and stop them from happening.

In a mass-shooting, the perpetrator is looking to have complete power. "They're the
puppet master,” said Dr. Mary Ellen O'Toole, a retired FBI profiler. “They've got the
control, the power, the weapons.” If potential targets are armed, they are far less
tantalizing. The Aurora shooter had a choice of seven movie theaters within 20
minutes of his home. The one he ultimately chose wasn’t the closest but rather the
only one that that banned concealed handguns. Holmes chose the theater in which his
victims were most vulnerable.

In isolated attacks when the attacker’s motive is a more tangible gain--a mugging,
for instance--the possibility of an armed target will cause the attacker to rethink.
A wallet is not worth the risk of being shot.

Beyond preventing these crimes from happening in the first place, there are countless
examples of CCP holders ending attacks early and widening the timeframe for escape
and police response. Here just a few examples of mass-murders ending early due to
armed victims: in 2007, a shooter was stopped by a CCP holder in a Colorado church
after killing two people; in April 2012, a knifing spree in a Salt Lake City mall was
stopped by a CCP holder when he drew his gun and told the attacker to drop his
weapon; and just a few weeks ago in early December, a shooter at a Clackamas mall
stopped his spree and killed himself when he saw a 22-year-old CCP holder pull his
own gun. Stories of isolated self-defense from the past month alone include: an Ohio
gas station clerk shooting a robber; an AutoZone employee scaring off a robber with a
gun; and a pastor pulling a gun on a burglar who broke into his church.

Violence elicits particularly strong fears and emotions. When discussing the role of
guns in our society, we need to rein in those fears and emotions, base our decisions
on facts and statistics, and remember that guns are tools that can save lives, too.