Sunday, April 29, 2007

Oct. 16, 1991, Killeen, Texas — 24 killed when a man drove his truck through a window of a Luby’s Cafeteria and walked around the restaurant shooting people as they hid underneath their tables.

n April 20, 1999, Littleton, Colo. — 13 killed when at Columbine High School.

n Aug. 10, 1999, Granada Hills, Calif. — five wounded when a white supremacist fires 70 rounds into a Jewish community and day-care center.

n Oct. 2, 2006, Nickel Mines, Pa. — five killed when a milk-truck driver entered an Amish schoolhouse, ordered all the boys to leave and began shooting the girls.

The above list is a tiny sampling of the growing number of multiple-victim shootings, including at least 39 school shootings in the United States. What do all of the above have in common? Each occurred in a “gun-free zone.” The recent killing of 32 innocent students and teachers at Virginia Tech adds another tragic chapter to this horrible book of violence and death. I, like many fathers, consider this reality when I send my sons off to school each morning.

The response to gun violence has been predictable and consistent. We’ve held candlelight vigils, worn ribbons and heard speeches, all properly intended to make us feel better. We’ve passed laws forbidding guns within 1,000 feet of a school and the manufacturing of “assault weapons.” Now, in the wake of the Blacksburg shootings, calls for stiffer gun-control laws have become louder and more strident.

What has not been tried is the obvious: The time has come for us to defend our children and ourselves, and take steps that will drastically reduce the number of attempted mass shootings and provide for a defense of the innocent when they do occur.

The phrase “gun-free zone” is the ultimate delusion. A more accurate expression would be “defenseless zone.” Like most mass murderers, the Virginia shooter was smart enough to choose victims who could not fight back. The Virginia Tech “defenseless zone” policy that made bringing a gun on campus an expellable offense was like a neon welcome sign to him, offering very high probability that he could achieve a high body count. The threat of expulsion or firing was effective in preventing law-abiding students and faculty from bringing a gun to school to defend themselves, but it did not deter the perpetrator. That’s the insanity of gun-control laws; the only ones who abide by them are the law-abiding citizens.

Well-intentioned people argue that we should restrict access to guns. However, scientific research has consistently shown that restrictions on gun purchases and carriage cause large increases in violent crimes like rape, murder and multiple-victim public shootings.

In fact, research by economist and author John Lott and Bill Landes shows that states that allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns enjoy a 60 percent decrease in multiple-victim public shootings and a 78 percent decrease in victims per attack. The Commonwealth of Virginia allows concealed carriage of handguns (except in “defenseless zones”) after a criminal background check, and we have lower crime rates overall than nearby states with more restrictive gun laws. In a state like Virginia, where law-abiding citizens can legally purchase guns and carry them concealed, it is no surprise the Virginia Tech killer chose one of Virginia’s “defenseless zones” for his attack.

As an airline pilot, I knew pilots who carried guns in their flight bags prior to 1987, when the Federal Aviation Administration effectively disarmed all pilots. I did not own guns then, and I thoughtlessly bought into the conventional wisdom that airliners should really be “gun-free zones.” The September 11 attacks jarred my perspective, and I quickly came to realize that I had been living in a fool’s paradise. I became a leader in the effort to arm airline pilots. Dire predictions of arguments turning into gunfights, accidental shootings and degradation of safety proved to be completely false. Instead, we have provided an essential layer of security as a deterrent to terrorists.

Similarly, the Virginia Tech massacre must be a wake-up call for all of us. Our undefended school campuses are a tempting target for cowardly mass killers and terrorist groups alike. We’ll never be able to have a police officer in every school or every classroom, but we can take down the flashing “defenseless zone” sign that attracts killers. We must insist that our state legislators resist the calls for more gun-control laws and instead pass legislation allowing law-abiding citizens with concealed carry permits to carry guns on school campuses.

There was legislation last year in the Virginia House of Delegates that would have allowed concealed guns on college campuses. When it was defeated, Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said, “I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus.” Did any of the victims of the massacre in their final moments feel secure, appreciative and safe knowing that guns were not allowed on campus? Or were they more likely praying that some fellow student or teacher had broken the rules and put a gun in their backpack?

There is nothing more tragic than laws intended to make us feel safer, when in reality they do just the opposite, especially when it is our children and our brightest college students who pay the final price for our failed policies.

Capt. Tracy W. Price is a pilot for a major airline and one of the leaders in the effort to arm airline pilots after September 11.

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