Allow for campus defense

opinion by Roy Hill
Roy Hill is a former instructor at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, where he also was the coach for the UAFS air rifle team, the Lions Rifle. He now lives and works in Iowa.

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The Arkansas State Legislature will once again consider if concealed carry will apply to the campuses of state colleges and universities.

Good. Maybe this time, they’ll get it right.

Those with carry permits, especially those who are faculty, staff, administrators and employees of Arkansas public colleges and universities, should be allowed to defend themselves on campus. Ideally, all permit holders should be able to carry on campus. But if the state legislature can accomplish only college-employee carry, then so be it.

This subject keenly interests me. I worked for years as a college English instructor and an Arkansas concealed carry (CCW) instructor.

I taught college English from August 1993 until December 2011, including at four Arkansas colleges and universities. I spent 12 years in the English department at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. For nine of those years, I taught the Arkansas State Police concealed carry class, with instructor certification number 02-423.

It simply makes no sense for the state to forbid concealed carry permit holders from carrying inside buildings on college campuses, when the same permit holders can legally carry inside grocery stores, at the movies, in restaurants, or on the public sidewalk that runs along the edge of campus. It makes even less sense when those forbidden permit holders include faculty, staff, administrators and employees who spend their days on campus.

During my 18 years in higher education, I heard some express objections against the idea of mere civilian gun ownership itself, much less concealed carry. I heard some proclaim themselves uncomfortable about being around people with guns. But with a growing number of Arkansans obtaining concealed carry permits, it will become more likely you are around somebody legally carrying a gun.

Of course, venturing out means you’ll also come near those carrying guns illegally. We call this group “criminals,” as they tend to ignore nit-picky “laws,” including those forbidding murder, rape, violent assault and armed robbery. And criminals go everywhere, including onto a college campus.

To get an Arkansas carry permit, you must be at least 21 years old, a U.S. citizen and have lived in Arkansas for a specified time prior to applying. You must pass the State Police training class. You must submit your fingerprints for a State Police background check that includes your mental health records. You must pay the Arkansas State Police more than $140. You must wait several weeks to give both your county sheriff’s office and local city police department opportunity to express concerns or doubts against you receiving the permit, which can be denied or revoked for all sorts of reasons, without a refund. People who get Arkansas carry permits have been vetted and checked by the state more than just about any other group.

If you look hard enough, you can find examples of permit holders who have been arrested and convicted of crimes in the 18 years since Arkansas adopted shall-issue concealed carry. You can also find an Arkansas Governor and an Attorney General who’ve been arrested and convicted since 1990.

A few years ago, an anti-gun group made a big stink over the percentage of Texas carry permit holders who had been arrested for any reason. In response, a pro-carry group produced official state statistics showing that Texas police officers were arrested at a much higher rate than the permit holders. As a group, permit holders are among the most law-abiding folks around. They have to be just to qualify for the permit in the first place.

An objection often raised is that since CCW permit holders are not typically trained to the level of Delta Recon SWAT Ranger sniper SEALs. There’s no way they, as mere civilians, could stop a violent criminal bent on killing.

In Oklahoma in October of 2012, 12-year-old Kendra St. Clair managed to defend herself with a .40 caliber pistol against a criminal who invaded her home. Thus far, I have not discovered what high-level training program enabled that 12-year-old to defend herself. The idea that mere civilians can’t stop violent attacks is simply wrong. It was reported, but not widely, that the Clackamas, Ore., shopping mall shooter killed himself as soon as he was confronted by a mere civilian with a carry permit and a pistol.

As a handgun instructor I frequently saw that even the least-experienced could quickly learn to get hits on torso-sized targets at inside-a-classroom distances. To be fair, getting the same hits in a high-stress situation would be less simple, but the mechanical skill itself is not hard to learn.

Every single campus shooter I have researched has had zero high-level training, except maybe for playing lots of video games. Somehow, the untrained crazies seem perfectly able to hit targets in high-stress situations. Of course, it’s easy to hit targets who are mandated to be unarmed and defenseless just because they happen to work or attend class on a college campus.

Again, it’s not widely reported, but there are examples of campus shootings stopped by concealed carry permit holders.

The Pearl, Miss., high school shooting was stopped by assistant principal with a gun. He might have stopped the rampage quicker, only the assistant principal complied with the law, and parked his vehicle containing his gun off campus. He had to leave the shooter inside the school, run several hundred yards to get his gun and then sprint back. Armed students stopped a shooter at the Appalachian School of Law. An armed civilian stopped a murderer who shot people at a Pennsylvania middle-school dance in 1998.

Police officers perform a tough, demanding job, for which they should all be commended. But police typically arrive at the scene of violence after the fact. At Virginia Tech, it took police several minutes to respond, giving the murderer time to kill 30 before committing suicide. This was all after the murderer had already killed two others in a dorm room, filmed his twisted personal propaganda video and mailed it off to a news network, and then chained shut the doors at both ends of a campus building so his intended victims couldn’t escape.

There’s a reason why the following saying exists: “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” At the Northern Illinois campus shooting, police got on scene in as little as 180 seconds, still plenty of time for the murderer to kill five and wound several others with a pump shotgun.

When violence happens, it’s the people on the scene – the intended victims – who must respond. If they choose to simply wait on the police, it may well be too late once the police do arrive. There are those who say that countering violence with a concealed handgun is itself barbaric and uncivilized. Apparently, it’s more civilized and less barbaric to cower under a desk and wait for it to be your turn. Sheep do seem more civilized compared to the wolves that would kill them. Or is “domesticated” a more accurate term?

For nine years, it vexed me that the state of Arkansas certified me to teach the class required to get a CCW permit, but also prohibited me from effectively defending myself just because I worked on a college campus. Depending on the day, this contradiction struck me as misguided good intentions at best, or at worst, as absolutely immoral.

I vividly remember having a beer one warm spring evening with a colleague who was not pro-gun, but who agreed with me that current laws rendered college campuses as defenseless targets, ripe for the next evil wacko wanting to make a name for himself. The following Monday was April 16, 2007, the day of the Virginia Tech shooting. On that day, the contradiction seemed absolutely immoral.

The contradiction made even less sense when college faculty, staff, administrators and students showed up for my concealed carry classes. I won’t out any of them, but I taught the CCW class to several who attended classes or worked at UAFS, and others who worked at or attended the University of Arkansas. I could not understand why these people who wanted a legal way to defend themselves were prevented from protecting their own lives simply because they spent their time inside buildings on a college campus.

More than a few times, I had to explain to female college employees that state law prohibited them from legally carrying their handgun from inside their on-campus office to the dark on-campus parking lot after work, but the state did magnanimously allow them to legally carry on the public sidewalks on the edge of campus, or just across the street from campus. I also often wondered how those I heard disparage concealed carry and gun ownership would react, if they only knew exactly how many of their colleagues had carry permits and pistols, including that nice, friendly, politically-liberal professor in the office down the hall?

Every college faculty member who is honest can name people they’ve met on campus who seem fully capable of violence. During my first semester as a grad assistant at the University of Arkansas, a student responded to a bad grade by cutting up his textbook with a knife, and implying that I might be next. I reported it to the proper authorities, without result. The event taught me that only I was ultimately responsible for my personal safety, no matter what security measures or laws might be in place.

An on-campus murder prompted me to become a concealed carry instructor. In August, 2000, University of Arkansas professor Dr. John Locke was killed in his Kimpel Hall office by student James Kelly. I never had a class with Dr. Locke, but I knew him enough to say “hello” in the hallway.

My graduate assistant office was in Kimpel Hall, just upstairs from where Locke would die a few years later. I spent an entire semester sitting two feet to the right of James E. Kelly in a class taught by the late Dr. Kenneth Kinnamon. Kinnamon later told a reporter he was sadly not surprised to hear that Kelly had murdered Locke.

While searching the archives to write this column, I discovered that Kelly completed his bachelor’s degree at Grinnell College. Because of my new job, I’m shopping for a house in Grinnell, Iowa. Finding Kelly’s connection to my new town is one more proof that those capable of murder are everywhere. I became a concealed carry instructor in the hope I could teach others the knowledge and skills that might save their lives in case they came face to face with somebody like Kelly.

Shortly before I left UAFS, I attended a presentation on the emergency plan should some sort of violent attack occur on campus. The plan included the typical smart suggestions you hear, including from concealed carry instructors. Call 9-1-1. Be a good witness. Lock or barricade the doors. Hunker down and hide if you can. But part of the presentation stunned me. We were told, “As a last resort, fight back.” When I heard that, I wanted to stand up and yell, “Fight back? With WHAT?”

State law prohibited me from possessing on campus the self-defense tool I was trained to use, and certified by the state to teach others to use. The state mandated I be unarmed at work, but I was being given permission to “fight back” as a last resort. Absolutely ridiculous.

It’s time to let people with CCW permits defend themselves on Arkansas’ college campuses, especially if they are faculty, staff, administrators and employees who spend most of their days on those campuses. To use a saying loved by the gun-banners, if it saves only one life, it’s worth it.