By: Matt Funicello
In April 2007, a 23-year-old male student killed 32 people on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, before killing himself. He was a senior at Virginia Tech as well as an English major who had previously been ordered to seek mental health counseling in 2005 after expressing suicidal intentions to his roommates. This event caused an uproar in the gun control debate nation-wide, specifically here at COC, whether or not to allow students and or faculty members to carry a legally owned and permitted concealed firearm for protection.
Fast forward to August 1, 2016 to the state of Texas. Recently passed state legislation allowed students and faculty that were 21 years or older and licensed, to legally carry a concealed firearm on college campuses all over the state of Texas. This started another nationwide debate on guns and where they should and should not be allowed. Students and teachers alike were taking both sides of the issue, along with special interest groups on both sides getting involved. The great debate about the most notorious inanimate object in history continues today.
Herein lays the question; should California, more specifically COC, allow CCW holders to carry on campus? There are basically two sides to this debate. On one side you have the people that are generally opposed to the carrying of concealed firearms on campus. Then you have the people that believe the opposite is better. Both sides have some valid points, but which points should be taken with a grain of salt is the hardest part in deciding who is correct. Officially it is the policy of COC to prohibit any and all forms of concealed firearms or weapons on campus regardless of having a license to do so, even going as far as to not allow a retired peace officer to carry his authorized concealed firearm without prior permission from the school. Essentially, COC is a “gun-free-zone”.
The common argument against creating so-called “gun-free-zones”, is that they are creating a “victim-full-zone” where the area or location is filled with potential victims that aren’t allowed to defend themselves. The Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) released a revised report showing that 92% of mass public shootings between January 2009 and July 2014 took place in “gun-free zones”.
This campus is a special case, as it is a community college and not a CSU or UC campus. This is important because CSU and UC campuses have their own dedicated law enforcement officers on campus. They are P.O.S.T. (Police Officer Standards and Training) certified Peace Officers which means they have powers of arrest and they carry firearms. COC has unarmed security officers which have limited powers of arrest compared to regular Peace Officers. One can make an argument that that alone makes us more unsafe compared to other college campuses around California. This means that if there were ever to be an armed attacker on campus, it would translate into a longer response time for rescuers to arrive and respond to the situation.
The average response time for law enforcement when dispatched to an emergent call is anywhere between four to seven minutes. In 2014, CBS LA reported that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had slower response time in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles county. On average, emergent response times were at 10 minutes. According to the LASD, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff Station has 22 areas of responsibility in its jurisdiction. From where the 5 and 14 Freeways split in the southern part of the valley, all the way up to Gorman in the north. From Stevenson’s Ranch in the west, all the way to the border of Agua Dulce in the east. Add that up to the manpower shortage that is currently plaguing the department, you have a recipe for potential disaster.
Just because the COC campus in Valencia is right down the street from the current SCV station (there is planning for a new station that will be located on Golden Valley Road where Los Angeles County Fire Station 104 currently is located), that does not guarantee a rapid response, not to mention the Canyon Country campus is even further away from the station. Then add in traffic issues, medical emergencies, road closures, etc. Response times in these situations gets even longer, and the theoretical situation on campus continues without anyone to stop it.
According to Michael Wilding, the Vice President of Student Services, there have only been two incidents in recent history, that a firearm related incident occurred on the COC campus. Both incidents occurred “at least seven to eight years ago” said Wilding. One incident was a student that brought a relic firearm (revolver) to class and began to load it in front of a fellow student. He was detained and arrested without any further incident and the school was told that the firearm was most likely inoperable in its current state. The other incident was a non-student who drove onto campus to pick up his student girlfriend and had a rifle in the trunk of his car. Both incidents were handled by the school as well as the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station personnel.
The campus security officers have a close working relationship with the Sheriff’s Department and coordinates with them to plan for emergencies on campus. But if it takes the Sheriff’s department 5 minutes to respond to the campus, another 5 minutes to form an entry team (a team of deputies that will make entry in a building) and make initial contact with the suspect(s) and or victims, what good does that working relationship do for us? That is potentially 10 minutes, more or less, of sit and wait to be saved or killed. What if someone with a license to do so, had a firearm in that scenario?
Wilding has a strong opinion on not allowing firearms on campus at all. “It’s safer for everybody to actually not have weapons on campus,” said Wilding, “the presence of firearms and inserting them into a spirited debate can potentially change it.” Wilding is making reference to the fact that there are situations in a classroom setting that a debate could get very passionate. “Say if you are in a poli-sci class and you’re discussing a heated social topic like Roe-Vs-Wade and there are strong feelings in the class,” said Wilding, “it’s not inconceivable to me that someone could use a firearm.”
This is a valid argument, however, the person in this “heated discussion” is someone who has a permitted firearm who passed an extremely stringent and lengthy background process. In LA County, one must demonstrate “proof of good moral character”, have no criminal convictions, no mental health issues and pass over 8 hours of training. This is not the person we should be worrying about; as a matter of fact, this is the last person that would do harm in a situation like this.
The general consensus in the discussion about whether to allow legally permitted CCW holders on campus is ones fear of the unknown. “It feels to me that it would change the nature of discourse in higher education,” said Wilding. But this scenario is being blown out of proportion a little by the opponents of campus carry.
In case of an active shooter incident at COC, the administration wants students and staff to shelter in place, lock any and all doors and to wait for authorities. Knowing the average response time to the campus, students and staff that are caught in an event like this could be waiting for an extended period of time before any help were to arrive.
By the simple addition of a CCW holder on campus, in their mind, it would drastically alter the academic environment. But why is that? It seems that the one thing driving the policy, is a fear of firearms in general. “Do you know how many people die every year because of gun fire?” asked Wilding “32,000, that includes accidents, murders and suicides.” Mr. Wilding is not that far off; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 there were 33,736 deaths caused by gunfire. However, that is not where the discussion ends.
Out of 33,736 deaths from firearms, only 8,124 of those were felonious murders according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system. That leaves 25,612 people that were either killed accidently or took their own life with a gun. Let’s break that number down further. In the same year, according to the CDC, there were 586 fatal accidents caused by firearms; 586 out of 136,053 fatal accidents in the country.
That means that firearms were responsible for only 0.4% of fatal accidents, with poisoning, motor vehicle traffic accidents and falls, taking the top 3 spots in a combined 79.2% of the fatal accidents in 2014. Out of a total of 2,626,418 deaths in the U.S. during 2014 according to the CDC, firearms cause 0.01% of those deaths.
Now on the opposite side of criminal, suicidal and accidental deaths by firearms, the unspoken benefit of being able to own/carry a firearm for protection is huge. Based on survey data from a 2000 study published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, U.S. civilians use guns to defend themselves and others from crime at least 989,883 times per year. Almost 1,000,000 uses of a firearm to save lives is almost half of the number of people that die in this country on average. These statistics show that use of a firearm in defense of one’s self and property is a legitimate and proven form of defense. Why should that tool be removed or limited to the population?
Wilding’s view, along with countless others, has a somewhat slightly generalized fear of firearms for their reasoning to not allow them at certain places. This isn’t to say that folks like Wilding hates guns or gun owners, but merely paints a picture of misunderstanding. “Initially I think it’s scary to have people walking around with guns,” Beatriz Becerra says, “but I feel like people with bad intentions will carry guns regardless.” Becerra, a 20-year-old nursing major at COC, believes that “we should give people with good intentions” and training “the right to protect themselves” and potentially others as well.
“Campus safety has had support from the school staff for quite some time now,” said a school employee who has wished to remain unidentified. “I highly support the allowance of CCW holders to carry on campus; the problem is that management and the Vice Presidents at COC are giving false information to the school employees and students,” said the employee.
The employee is making the (correct) point that a lot of information that is being used by the school administrators comes from sources that have been known to the media and the general public as biased against the use of firearms, or basing policy off of personal feelings, rather than factual data.
There is a sharp divide on campus when it comes to allowing CCW holders (both student and employee) on campus. It is evident in the administration at the school as well as in the students that attend. It appears that when it comes to firearms and allowing them on campus, there will be no concession unless forced to change by legislation. At the state level, this seems highly unlikely, while at the Federal level, it may change. However, one cannot predict the future, so only time will tell.