The massacre at Virginia Tech has evoked the expected calls for more gun control. But does that make any sense?
How many students lives would have been saved if the professors or some of the students who were attacked or the student victims had been carrying guns? If the campus had not been an official “gun free area,” with the shooter had been stopped by someone else's gun before killing 32 people? We will never know.
The argument in favor of gun control goes like this. If gun control were effective, the shooter would not have been able to obtain the guns that he obtained. It was too easy for him to obtain the guns and the ammunition.
Gun control advocates presume that the shooter would not have been able to obtain the guns and ammunition by illegal means. If the shooter were determined to go on his rampage, what makes us think that he would not be able to get around the law. Just because a law bans some contraband, that doesn't mean that it's not obtainable. Oh yes, usually raises the price. It makes money for black marketeers. But that doesn't mean that the contraband is unobtainable.
On the other hand, the Second Amendment crowd, points out that if one of the students had had a gun, perhaps the shooter would have been stopped earlier. Perhaps fewer people would have died.
How likely is it that there would have been any guns in the classroom even if the school had not been a gun free zone? I suggest that it is pretty unlikely. Unless we were to force a professor to have guns, most people, professors and otherwise, would not carry them as a matter of course. I can't imagine a campus full of people walk around with guns and holsters at their sides. How likely is it that there would have been a student with a concealed-carry permit carrying a weapon to happen to be in one of the question classrooms attacked by the shooter? But, without the "gun free zone" designation, who knows?
One thing is for sure. The gun-free students and gun-free professors had no chance against a well armed and cold-blooded gunmen. How does that balance against the possibility of an irresponsible gun toting student who gets drunk or high on drugs and pulls out his firearm and begins shooting? I suppose that is the purpose of a "gun free zone," isn't it.
I do not think that restricting the sale of guns or requiring registration of guns would have mattered one way or the other to a determined shooter planning to go on a rampage. By all accounts, this was a long-planned rampage. The guns were purchased in March. The rampage occurred in mid April. A determined nutcase had plenty of opportunity to obtain a black-market guns if he wanted them.
The old saying is, if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. How true in the Virginia Tech case!
Update: From Glenn Reynolds writing in the NY Daily News:
In fact, some mass shootings have been stopped by armed citizens. Though press accounts downplayed it, the 2002 shooting at Appalachian Law School was stopped when a student retrieved a gun from his car and confronted the shooter. Likewise, Pearl, Miss., school shooter Luke Woodham was stopped when the school's vice principal took a .45 fromhis truck and ran to the scene. In February's Utah mall shooting, it was an off-duty police officer who happened to be on the scene and carrying a gun.
Police can't be everywhere, and as incidents from Columbine to Virginia Tech demonstrate, by the time they show up at a mass shooting, it's usually too late. On the other hand, one group of people is, by definition, always on the scene: the victims. Only if they're armed, they may wind up not being victims at all.
"Gun-free zones" are premised on a fantasy: That murderers will follow rules, and that people like my student, or Bradford Wiles, are a greater danger to those around them than crazed killers like Cho Seung-hui. That's an insult. Sometimes, it's a deadly one.