On Monday, August 8th, I attended a forum hosted by the Second Amendment Foundation and Students for Concealed Carry on Campus at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. As a college student myself, I was intensely interested in the issue and was impressed by the caliber (no pun intended) of the speakers, many of whom were near my own age. During the five hour long event, the audience was fortunate enough to hear the stories of concealed carry holders who have been victimized by gun violence after being legally (but not necessarily Constitutionally) disarmed, panels of academics and legislators, and speakers with a variety of backgrounds to offer their own unique points of view on the subject of concealed carry on college campuses. The most interesting to me, though, and the focus of this article, was a debate between Colin Goddard of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and John Lott, who is the author of More Guns, Less Crime.
Colin Goddard was shot during the shootings at Virginia Tech, and he was invited to speak so that at least one opposing viewpoint was represented at the forum. He is due great admiration for his courage; it is not easy to stand in front of a crowd of people that is clearly of a different mindset. For Mr. Goddard, it must have been like walking into a lion’s den. It is comparatively easy to address an audience when you know that they support your ideas, but this was not the case for him. Nonetheless, he spoke well and was professional and composed, and we should all be reminded by this that we should not reject a person simply because they disagree with us, but we should instead welcome their opinions and listen intently to what they say so that we may learn from it.
In fact, I would say that I learned more from listening to Mr. Goddard than from anyone else in the forum. The right to self defense is a subject for which I have a fierce interest, so the points which were brought up by the majority of the speakers were, although valid and compelling, mostly information that I have already heard and researched myself. For example, Dr. Lott began the debate by pointing out that while firearms do make it easier for bad things to happen, they also make it easier for people to protect themselves when those bad things happen. Most of us would agree with that statement, and many of us have said something very similar ourselves. Dr. Lott also discussed the impact of anti-gun legislation, the results of overturned gun bans such as in Washington, DC, and the shortcomings of traditional law enforcement, especially in multiple victim public shootings such as the one at Virginia Tech. All of these points were concise, compelling, and backed by meticulous research, but because of my own personal background as an avid supporter of concealed carry and a student of Constitutional Law, there was not much new information there for me. The value that I got from hearing Dr. Lott was a reinforcement of what I already knew and a better ability to articulate my own opinions after hearing them voiced by someone else.
Listening to Mr. Goddard, though, I was struck almost immediately by a new idea. As he was telling his story, I realized that the people who oppose concealed carry on campus, and in general, are not against self defense. They want the same things that we do, but they see the world an entirely different way! They are not unreasonable people and do not mean any harm to us, and, at least in Mr. Goddard’s case, do not believe that guns themselves are evil. They are simply focusing on a different area, thinking that bad things can be prevented from happening altogether and the need for self defense can be eliminated. It is a noble idea, wanting a better world, but it is lacking in practicality.
Mr. Goddard blamed his wounds on missing records in the shooter’s background check. He feels that the shooter could have and should have been prevented from obtaining a weapon, and that by having his mental health records on file, the shooting would have been prevented. It did not occur to Mr. Goddard that the shooter would have likely obtained a gun anyway through illegal channels – there are no background checks on the black market.
He then pointed out that it is easy to imagine what you would do in a hypothetical situation, but if and when that situation actually occurs, your reaction is likely to be much different than you imagined. I agree with this entirely! I have often said the exact same thing, but I said it in support of firearms training. Firearms training which simulates a disaster situation is necessary for the same reason that schoolchildren have fire drills. I have never heard anyone argue that fire drills are ineffective because there is not a real fire, and the children will likely react differently if there is a real fire. Practice in a controlled simulation forges in your mind an automatic reaction that you can rely on in a real emergency. Without the practice, you are more likely to freeze, which is exactly what Mr. Goddard and most of his classmates did during the Virginia Tech shooting.
I also agreed with several other points that Mr. Goddard brought up: that it is not necessarily a good thing to have a concealed carry permit if you have no idea how to use a gun, that it is much more comfortable to be around someone with a firearm if you know they are qualified to use it, and that it is easy to avoid a background check if you don’t want to have one. Although I agree with his statements, I disagree with his conclusions about those statements. Whereas he feels that the solution to being around people with carry permits who don’t know how to shoot is to make it more difficult to obtain a carry permit, I would say instead that it should be easier to get firearms training. Mr. Goddard may feel that a police officer is more qualified to use a gun than I am, but I can assure you that I have had more range time than many police officers and likely have more knowledge of safe firearms handling. And as far as background checks go, intensifying the ones which are already in place and adding new ones is not going to alleviate the problem at all, because the easiest way for a criminal to avoid a background check is to steal a gun or purchase a stolen gun. We know by now that it is already against the law to steal, but adding more laws regarding theft don’t stop thieves.
Mr. Goddard is focused on the prevention of gun violence, just as Second Amendment supporters are, but he has an entirely different view of the world. He referenced concealed carry and self defense as “trying to control an event at the point that it becomes the most uncontrollable.” I understand his point of view. I can sympathize with it. I wish it were as simple as passing laws that stopped bad people from doing bad things. Mr. Goddard even suggested double doors into classrooms, bulletproof glass, and other “preventative measures” that would make classrooms safer. The intention is good, and is, in fact, the same intention that the Second Amendment Sisters have: a line of defense against criminals. If only the world worked the way that Mr. Goddard sees it. He spoke of being proactive instead of reactive, which is a great idea in theory. The problem is that the only way that one can actually be proactive about crime is to stop somebody before they break the law…and that doesn’t work in the spirit of the United States legal system. We live in a country where we are lucky enough to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and I refuse to be treated as if I am a criminal if I have not yet broken any laws. Law enforcement in this country is reactive, and yet Mr. Goddard does not oppose law enforcement. Why, then, should he oppose my own personal reaction, my defense?
We should all be lucky enough to get a chance to listen to someone with an opposing viewpoint as I got a chance to listen to Mr. Goddard. Galileo Galilei once said “I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him.” Take the time to listen to anyone who disagrees with you, really intently listen, and you may be surprised by what you might learn. For me, it reinforced my own faith in my beliefs, and it made me realize that we all want the same thing: security. Now that I know where other people are looking, I can better lead them towards a more realistic view of the world, and instead of arguing, which always leads to nowhere, I can instead let the other person find the flaws in their thinking for themselves.