Stay Focused

My editor at College Planning and Management recently sent me a news article about the raging gun control debates stemming from the Virginia Tech shooting. As with other high-profile shootings in public places, the terrible incident has created considerable interest from both sides of the gun control issue. There have been cries for new laws ranging from legislation allowing universities and colleges to prohibit individuals with a concealed weapons permit from carrying a gun on campus property to pleas for complete prohibition of private firearms ownership. On the other side of the coin are those who advocate that students, employees, and visitors who qualify for a concealed weapons permit be allowed to carry a gun on campus. While at least one college shooting rampage was averted when the violator was shot and killed by civilians when he prepared to fire his 30-plus-round carbine into a crowd of several hundred people, there are legitimate concerns associated with having students and others carry guns on campus as there are legitimate concerns for law-abiding citizens who wish to own firearms.

While the ability to have these types of debates is one of the things that makes our nation and its institutions of higher learning so great, they can become distracting to the point of causing those with the power to implement positive change to lose focus on things they can affect. I am reminded of a K-12 school administrator who appealed to the Georgia legislature to ban private firearms ownership in order to make his schools safe. The district was confiscating hundreds of guns from its students and had experienced a number of shootings. The district also had a terrible safety reputation in many other ways, and had not implemented many of the proven security measures in use by other area school systems with far lower violent crime rates. While this is an extreme example, it illustrates how people can sometimes get so focused on what are really not the primary issues while failing to do the things they have the power and ability to do to reduce risk. While this administrator was asking the legislature to make a dramatic legal change that might not solve his district’s safety problem, he was unwilling to consider that it was time to catch up with proven best practices, which he had the power to utilize.

While the issue of students and others carrying firearms on campus is a legitimate topic for debate, those who wish to legislate tragedies like the shooting at Virginia Tech away may be wishing in vain. When reporters ask for my expert opinion of the effectiveness of gun control legislation on campus safety, I always reply that it is not a proven way to make American campuses safer from weapons violence and is largely irrelevant to the issue of campus safety. The largest loss of life on an American campus due to an act of violence was at a Catholic K-12 school in 1958, when a fourth-grade student killed more than 90 people using fire as his weapon. The second-most fatal event involved the use of explosives with more than 40 fatalities.

We have worked with universities and police agencies in countries that will quickly execute anyone caught with a single round of ammunition, let alone a firearm. While campus weapons assault rates do appear to be lower in these countries they are far from nonexistent, with more than a dozen fatalities in one shooting at a school in the People’s Republic of China. As we are a free society with several amendments to our constitution that prohibit the prompt execution of gun violators after a trial by judge as in China, I am not convinced we will have as much success reducing our campus weapons violence primarily through legislative action as totalitarian nations.

While the gun control debate continues, please take your position on these issues as you feel appropriate for yourself and for the needs of your institution. At the same time, be sure that your organization is doing the things it should be doing to prevent campus weapons violence. When my editor asked me to pen this column, I warned her that I would surely offend more readers with it than I ever have before, as many people have strong feelings on the topic one way or the other. Having had six rounds fired at me on campus when I was a university police officer, I feel I have a right to my opinion. Being a fiercely freedom-loving American, I also cherish the right of every reader of this magazine to agree or disagree with my opinions…  including this one.

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, non-profit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens Website at

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at