Monday, October 5, 2015

Oregon college shooting should surprise no one

What follows is my October 4, 2015 column in The Orlando Sentinel
On the very same day as the horrific shooting at a community college in Oregon, one of my lectures was loudly interrupted by a man yelling in the hallway of the building I teach in. My students were visibly jolted by this unexpected outburst, and in the seconds that passed, it became clear that if I simply ignored the noise, not much in the way of learning was going to take place. So, I walked to the door, opened it, entered the hallway and looked around.
From my vantage point, I could see dozens of students on the bottom floor talking, reading and having coffee. With nothing dangerous going on, I went back to work.
But what if something like the Oregon shooting had been going on? What then? Firearms are not allowed on the campuses of Valencia College. All we have in our classrooms to protect our students are color-coded cards telling us what to do in an emergency. The red card tells professors to hold the card up to indicate that assistance is needed.
Valencia students should feel relieved that if a gunman ever goes on a rampage during one of our lectures, I will be able to alert unarmed security guards by holding up a red card in the window of my classroom.
Second, school shootings are going to happen no matter what gun laws are on the books. When someone is mentally ill, or is sane but has criminal intent, guns will be found on the black market, and those guns will be used to kill people. The mass shooting years ago in Norway — a nation with tough gun laws — illustrates this reality. I would imagine carrying bombs around in many Middle Eastern nations is illegal, too, but even more people are killed over there.
President Obama pointed out — accurately — that in other developed nations these shootings do not happen as often as in the United States. Cultural anthropologists have offered insight as to why: When you have a nation of 315 million people with a vast array of cultures, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, and value systems you are going to be more likely to see deviant, abnormal behavior than in smaller nations that are more homogeneous. The more similar people are in their sets of values and the more connected they feel to their fellow citizens, the less likely it is that you will see violence on a large scale.
Third, and perhaps most important, is the fact that criminals — even mentally unbalanced ones — are capable of engaging in rational thought. That is to say that before an act of violence is committed, human beings are able to recognize the likely benefits and costs of their actions.
For the Oregon shooter, killing as many people as possible was clearly his goal. In order to accomplish this heinous act, he had to conduct it in a place where the cost was as low as possible. The cost in this case would be measured by the probability of being slowed down, stopped, injured or killed.
Unfortunately, in our zeal to protect young people from guns, we have created the perfect environment for criminally insane individuals to murder people in large numbers.
I can only imagine what would have happened on the day I heard the man screaming in the hallway if he had been brandishing a gun. Thirty-two students would have been behind locked doors (with glass windows in each one) totally vulnerable to whatever caliber of weapon he chose to use.
As a gun owner, what if I were allowed, with a concealed-weapons permit, to be armed in my classroom? What if the professor in Oregon had been allowed to do the same?
Today we might be reading about a gunman who was stopped or killed by a law-abiding college professor. His victims might still be alive — and my students would be safer.
It is time for our state Legislature to recognize that until law-abiding citizens are allowed to confront criminals with the same threat of force, our schools will continue to be the ideal grounds for ending the lives of young people.