Weapons 101

What role do guns have on a college campus? Virginia institutions have come down firmly on the issue, but others have loaded opinions.

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Virginia Tech faced a shooting incident which sparked debateTrouble at Tech

This issue touches an especially raw nerve here in Virginia, where a deranged gunman murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. Many Virginians don’t see eye-to-eye on the role Virginia Tech’s no-guns-on-campus policy had on the tragic turn of events there. Gun rights advocates like Mueller contend that a good guy with a gun that day might have prevented carnage. SCC formed in the wake of that massacre when
student gun owners demanded the right to defend themselves in just such a scenario. But not everyone agrees that allowing guns on campus is the answer.

“You can say ‘what if’ all day long. That situation could have been prevented any number of ways,” says Omar Samaha, a 2006 Virginia Tech alumnus and an outspoken gun violence prevention advocate. Samaha’s 18-year-old sister, Reema Samaha, died in the Virginia Tech shooting. He co-founded Students for Gun-Free Schools after the attack, partly in response to the chorus of howls from gun owners indignant that they had to keep their weapons home.

“What if armed officers had entered [Norris Hall] instead of waiting, as their protocol demanded? ‘What if’ is not the correct question to be asking,” says Samaha. “We should be asking how we can keep something like this from happening in the future.”

Samaha says that concealed handgun permit holders are not going to prevent maniacal shooters from showing up on campus to begin with. Besides, he contends, “Mass shootings on campus are very rare. The violence rate on campus is much lower than off campus.”

Samaha says that tackling gun violence won’t occur with some feelgood panacea, as he characterizes allowing students to carry firearms. An issue as complex as gun control demands comprehensive solutions, and he lauds recent efforts by the president and Congress to address what he says are fundamental flaws in our nation’s gun laws.

One area that demands attention, according to Samaha, is background checks. He says that dangerous people, such as violent felons and the severely mentally ill, have ready access to guns thanks to lax regulations, namely the so-called “gun show loophole.” People who buy guns in Virginia through a private sale, which many gun show purchases are considered to be, do not have to undergo the background check they would buying the same gun from a licensed dealer.

There’s no guarantee, either, that a concealed weapons permit holder would have the will or the skill to stop someone intent on carnage. A situation where a shooter is on the loose is a chaotic scene, and it’s difficult even for trained personnel to make sense of what’s going on. “When you’re in an active shooter situation, everything changes. There’s chaos, and people’s physical abilities diminish. We’ve seen in the past that concealed weapons holders run away from the scene,” says Samaha.

Samaha calls the requirements for getting a concealed handgun permit in Virginia a joke. Even Texas, long a bastion of gun rights, has stricter requirements, according to Samaha. In Virginia, the firearms safety training that is a requirement for obtaining a concealed handgun permit does not require the applicant to touch, much less fire, a handgun. Police train over and over again, must qualify regularly, and they still have a tough time hitting the target in an active shooter situation. There’s no guarantee that your average concealed handgun permit holder will have the wherewithal or the ability to take down an armed madman.

An alternative to allowing armed faculty and students, according to Samaha, is to have more people who are wellpracticed in the proper use of firearms.

“Guns in the hands of trained people is a good idea, and I’m all for more police officers,” he says. Having concealed weapons holders walking around, on the other hand, provides “a false sense of security.”