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Unarmed is Dangerous

Let the kids have guns.

11:00 PM, Feb 26, 2008 • By DANIEL GELERNTER
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THE VALENTINE'S DAY SHOOTING at Northern Illinois University, following last year's Virginia Tech Massacre, makes college shootings seem like an emerging fad among suicidal lunatics. There were no such shootings in the 2005-2006 academic year, one last academic year, and three this academic year--so far.

A February 16 AP story on the shooting at NIU reports that students "reacted with frustration and--tellingly--resignation." Most of my fellow students at Yale can't think of anything to do but support the status-quo campus ban on carrying firearms, although such "no-gun" zones seem more dangerous every day. Most students don't know how to think about a terrible threat that used to be inconceivable. But the answer is plain: We must be allowed to defend ourselves.

NIU had a reaction-plan for a campus shooting that swung into effect with fair efficiency, and students who might have wandered into harm's way were alerted to the danger (although it seems more were notified by friends' text messages than by the university). The police were on the scene within two minutes. But the shooting was already over by then; three students were dead, and two more were fatally wounded.

When I asked my friends how lives could have been saved in that situation, some pointed out that things would have been a lot safer if Steven Kazmierczak had not been armed in the first place, and suggested that we ought to pass some sort of law that will insure the next Kazmierczak won't have a gun. But if someone is willing to murder, why would he worry about getting and carrying guns illegally?

Some students (and professors) naively suggest that we simply eliminate all illegal gun sales. But if we could do that, why not go all the way and eliminate crime altogether? Some liberals seem to forget that crime is already illegal.

On the other hand: If we let trained students carry their licensed weapons on campus, as they're allowed to in the rest of the city, we'd at least have a chance of defending ourselves and our friends.

On Thursday February 21, there was a confrontation between these two views at the Yale Political Union. The guest speaker was Sandra Froman, the former President of the National Rifle Association. I attended as a reporter to see if anyone would tackle the issue of college shootings.

Only one student actually invoked the NIU shooting--Major Andrew Clark, a graduate student in international relations and an active-duty member of the U.S. Army Special Forces. When the speaker of the Political Union recognized Major Clark for a speech, mentioning as she did that he was an active-duty Green Beret, the conservatives in the room burst into sustained applause that lasted for half a minute or so. I was mortified to see many of my liberal classmates across the room refuse to applaud for an army officer.

Major Clark asked us to imagine a crazy student stepping onto the stage right now from behind a curtain or from a side-door and opening fire. In that situation we would be helpless, and the murderer free to rampage at will. Only one thing could save us: an armed student who has the courage to stand up and return fire.

The left never attempted to deny or rebut this point. They stuck to their pat arguments: Guns are inherently evil ("Celebrating guns is like celebrating the mark of Cain, [like] celebrating death") and how could we possibly trust ordinary people with the power of life and death over their fellow men?

The surprising outcome of the YPU debate was a victory for the pro-gun side by a vote of 35 to 30; I don't know what the Yale administration will make of that. I don't like the idea of being helpless, but most universities today are setting their students up to be the next victims of an NIU or Virginia Tech-type shooter. (There are eleven colleges in the United State that do allow their students to carry guns, and there has never been an incident at any of them. But there are also thousands of incident-free campuses that do ban guns.) Students at universities such as Yale are in no less danger from crime than citizens in the surrounding city. In fact we are more vulnerable, because criminals know that we are unarmed. I have to face the fact that since the very first school shooting, however many years ago, nothing fundamental has changed to give trapped students the chance to fight back and survive.

Daniel Gelernter is a junior at Yale.