The shooting at Oikos University in Oakland is a tragic theme that’s unfolded too often recently. A disgruntled student or former student shoots several classmates. My generation has seen far too much of this: we were only middle-schoolers when Harris and Klebold massacred classmates and teachers at Columbine.
Oikos, like Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other incidents of classroom violence, will prompt soul-searching. We’ll seek any rationale to explain such violence. We’ll find warning signs, but not the “smoking gun” — an expression that seems particularly awful in this context. We’ll generalize: media violence; ineffectual parenting; and mental illness will, once again, bear the blame. Token changes will be made around rules for the mentally ill to access firearms, and the carnage will drift from our memories. This is predictable, sad and useless. Innocent lives were lost at Oikos on Monday. However, we must accept that laws the people we voted for wrote are a large part of why these students lost their lives.
It is not merely a tragic coincidence that innocent, defenseless people were lined up against a wall and shot to death, or that this scene has happened numerous times at schools around the world. These students were rendered defenseless not by chance, but by law: a so-called “gun-free zone”.
The idea of GFZs is that they keep the public safe; the concept is flawed from the outset. Security systems suffer a flaw known as “defender’s dilemma”: a successful security mechanism must repel all attackers, but a lone attacker can cause great loss. The students at Columbine, VT, and now Oikos, know defender’s dilemma more personally than anyone should.
In many cases, law enforcement does a commendable job. Police responded to Oikos in three minutes; and Virginia Tech in six, due to a barricaded door. At Virginia Tech, every twelve seconds police were unable to enter that building cost someone his/her life. Try as we may to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or the mentally ill, we will sometimes fail. In an environment with numerous, disarmed targets, lives may be lost nearly every time we do. Such bloodletting is no more acceptable as an annual or once-a-decade event; students dying by violence in their place of learning is anathema to a civilized society.
Any enterprise that perpetrated the injustice we have on these students would be financially destroyed, its executives hauled before juries. It is only ignorance and denial that prevent us from demanding similar treatment of our lawmakers. It is the height of malarkey that we insist on disarming trained, permitted citizens in precisely the environment where that equalizer is needed most. One armed student or faculty member at Virginia Tech could’ve disrupted Seung-Hui Cho’s slaughter, or possibly averted it altogether. An armed target base turns defender’s dilemma on its head, forcing the next Cho, Harris or Klebold to consider that his target may kill him. If I had a potential killer at my institution, I’d want that thought in his/her mind. Wouldn’t you?