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Would students be safer if they carried guns?

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Shoot or don’t shoot decisions not that simple
During my time at the FBI, one encounter that sticks to my mind: I crossed a darkened basement floor, one step at a time, I strained in the dim light to see if an escaped killer was there and hiding. Would he attack when I came into his sights?

In the dank basement was an old cardboard fireplace , something left over from perhaps a previous Christmas play. I grabbed the faded red cutout chimney and flipped it back.

A man came at me from behind the cardboard. He seemed to fill the room in front of me.  I stepped back, pointing my .357 at the middle of his chest.

I yelled, “FBI. Freeze.”

He did.

Later, as I was driving him to jail, he asked another FBI Agent, “Who was that guy in the basement, the one that was going to kill me?”

I'm glad he understood that I would shot him, and I am also glad that I didn't have to. I might have been justified in shooting him under the circumstances. But I didn't have to, so I didn't.

I did a tour of duty in Vietnam, took years of “Shoot / Don't Shoot” courses, and have over two decades as an FBI agent. All that went into my decision not to shoot. It was a decision I had to make in a fraction of a second and one that I would need to make again.

But I had a lot of experience informing my instincts and decisions. In any case, shootings involving FBI agents can be somewhat rare. They’re rarer still on college campuses.

Would it have been “better” at Virginia Tech on April 17?
I totally agree that a number of armed students, faculty or staff on the Tech campus could have made a difference during Cho’s killing spree, but I’m not sure the difference would have resulted in a better outcome.  Would the armed students know who among those with guns was the real shooter that needed to be stopped? How should the police officers who flooded the campus looking for the shooter have responded when confronted by one or two or 50 students and others wielding guns as they ran helter skelter across the campus quad? Could the situation, as terrible as it was, have become even more tragic were innocents to have shot other innocents in the haste of a moment, trying to identify the real shooter as they looked down the barrel of their own gun while their heart beat so loud they couldn't hear themselves think?

I think our schools would be far safer if we work first to exclude firearms from campus.  Second, we need to work to identify the students at risk such as Cho, and get those students psychological help to develop appropriate anger management and conflict resolution skills.  If necessary, those students need to be removed from campus.

It’s true that some shooters come from off campus, drawn to a school because the shooter wants to assault and murder in a target-rich environment. Such a shooter may also believe that no one would be capable of stopping his horrible actions, much like the monster that killed the five brave young women at the Amish school in Lancaster, Pa., in October 2006. In these rare outsider situations, it should first be the job of the school to keep such individuals out, and the job of law enforcement, not armed students, to tactically intervene when needed.

Many people are fully capable of making good decisions concerning the firearm they carry on their person, but the chances are really slim that they would ever need to fire a weapon in self-defense or to save others.  I just do not think the statistics, even when faced with a once-every-40-year situation like Cho at Virginia Tech justify the increased danger that allowing guns on campus could create. Your second amendment rights are safe; just don’t take your gun to school.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI Agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC Analyst. His web site provides readers with security related information.

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