How I could end up in Valhalla

On October 1, 2015 we had a lockdown drill at the college I where I teach. The professors had been told about it a few weeks in advance and told exactly how it would work. We would get an alert on our cell phones, and then were supposed to lock the classroom doors (which we have to go out in the hallway to do, since they don’t lock from the inside), turn off the lights, and get everyone to get on the floor where they can’t be seen through any windows. Then people would come by to check and see if we did anything right.

I thought it was dumb because the science labs all have emergency exits that go to the outside. They were probably put there in case of fire, but it would seem to me that the best thing to do in an active shooter situation would be to crawl out that back door and then run like hell, not sit there like fish in a barrel waiting to be shot. Especially since last semester they had us watch a training video that told us that the best thing to do is to try to escape the building and only hide in place if escape is not possible. But that video was for workplace shootings in general and not schools specifically. Maybe they were just trying to figure out some kind of one size fits all plan since most of the classrooms in most of the buildings only have one door.

Well, I went through the motions, but decided that if this really happened, I wouldn’t follow their directions and would direct my students to crawl out the back door. I was grateful that I mostly teach in classrooms that do have more than one escape route so it’s much less likely for us to get trapped.

As usual, on my commute home, I turned on NPR, and that’s when I found out that there had just been a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. It was a complete coincidence that it happened on the same day my community college did our lockdown drill. I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. What are the odds that on that same day that we did a lockdown drill there would be a shooting at another community college? Not that low, I guess, with how commonplace mass shootings have become. Looks like this is something I really do need to take seriously.

When I got home and took off my Valknut that I wear to work every day, I had a realization. I associate Odin with my job as a professor, but I always saw that as being separate from his warrior side. I’m not one of Odin’s warriors. I deal with a completely different aspect of him.

Or do I? Now college professors are going to have to be warriors too. Now part of my job is not just teaching my students how to dissect fetal pigs or look up peer reviewed scientific articles, but also to protect them from mass murderers should the situation arise.

The Texas Legislature had already been working on a campus carry bill, but after the Umpqua shooting support for the bill soared. I hear over and over again, “I bet those students and professors in Oregon really wish they had guns.” The bill easily passed, and in August 2016 public universities will allow concealed guns on campus. Community colleges have until August 2017. Private colleges are exempt from the law, and most of them have already opted out.

The thing they don’t mention much is that Oregon already had campus carry. It didn’t stop the shooting. I saw an interview with a student on TV who was on that campus at the time. He was a veteran and had his gun with him, but he was in another building. He said he considered going to stop the gunman, but decided not to and let the SWAT team handle it. He said he didn’t want to be mistaken for a bad guy himself. This sounded very reasonable, but it also made me angry. Everyone’s been telling me I’m supposed to feel safer if I know my students have guns. They can save me from an active shooter. But what if they decide not to intervene? It’s the job of the police to run towards gunfire and not away from it. Civilians with personal guns have no such responsibility. Mind you, I don’t think they should either, but the scenarios people keep coming up with involves brave students and professors running in there and taking the bad guy out themselves before the police arrive. I can’t count on that happening even if they are allowed to have guns on campus. Most people are still going to try to escape first.

OK, so I can’t count on any of my students to save me. I guess it’s time for me to “take personal responsibility” and bring my own gun. After all, I’m the one watching the training videos. I’m the one that is supposed lock the door and tell my students to turn off their phones and be quiet and spread out and not huddle together in one spot. It’s obvious that, as a professor, and therefore in a leadership role, it’s my job to keep my students safe. Should part of that responsibility involve me carrying a weapon to class?

The problem is, despite growing up in Texas my whole life, I’m not a “gun person”. I’ve only shot a gun once. When I was a teenager, my mom’s boyfriend had a small rifle and was shooting Coke cans off a stump. I tried to shoot the can, and kept hitting the stump until the can fell off from the vibrations. Not too impressive, huh? I’ve never felt the desire to get a gun or to learn how to shoot. My husband did get us a couple of bows and some practice arrows and a target. Now that’s fun!

My husband is into guns. He owns three handguns. I think he’s a responsible gun owner. He has a concealed carry license. He’s been in the military. He used to shoot at shooting ranges regularly and knows all about how to safely handle a gun. He doesn’t own any rifles, because rifles are for hunting, and he’s not a hunter. His guns are for self-defense and target shooting. He doesn’t see the point of having anything bigger than a handgun for self-defense. He doesn’t think he’d need an AR-15 to shoot a burglar.

When we have a kid, I want his guns locked away in a safe with the ammo locked away in a different place. No more keeping his guns in the nightstand drawer, because the likelihood of him shooting a burglar is much less than a toddler living in the house getting a hold of it. He agreed with me.

But that still leaves the issue of campus carry. My husband said if I really wanted to get a concealed carry license and learn how to shoot, he would be supportive, and I could have one of his guns. But even if I did go to the trouble of doing that, I don’t think it would be much help in an active shooter situation. People who think professors should be armed don’t seem to have thought this through. Where am I going to keep my gun anyway? Would I be allowed to have it holstered? That would look really weird with the business casual clothes I wear to work, but at least I’d have it close at hand. I think it would have to be concealed, so I guess I’d have to put it in my briefcase. Would a small handgun stuck in my briefcase help at all if a man with an AR-15 took us by surprise? How much time would I have to go find my briefcase and dig my gun out and shoot back at him? I’d probably be much better off just sticking to the original plan of trying to get everyone to escape out the fire exit instead of trying to have a shootout with a deranged gunman.

But what if the deranged gunman ends up killing some of my students anyway, despite our best efforts at escape? Would it then be my fault because I could have had a gun, but chose not to? All this “they should have had guns” talk they have after all mass shootings seems like victim-blaming to me. You wouldn’t have gotten shot at that movie theater/elementary school/church/nightclub if you had a gun with you, they always say. It just makes it sound like they think those victims got what they deserved for being wimps by not carrying guns.

It’s still unlikely that I’d ever be in an active shooter situation. They’re still relatively rare. With campus carry, I might be more likely to be accidentally shot by one of my students. I’ve heard several stories of accidental shootings happening in restaurants or stores or parking lots where people were carrying guns and dropped them or otherwise mishandled them and they went off by mistake. I could imagine incidents like that becoming more common on college campuses after campus carry goes into effect.

But I live in Texas where the common wisdom is that more guns make people safer. I guess we will find out with this little experiment (though since the CDC doesn’t research gun deaths, we won’t actually have any data for this experiment). My point is that I’m skeptical of the common wisdom that what we need is more guns. Even my gun-toting husband made a point to remind me that if I do start carrying a gun, I also take on some risk that I didn’t have before. Not just from accidental shootings or children getting a hold of the gun, but the gun could also get stolen out of my briefcase and perhaps used against me. He even said if it becomes commonplace or even expected that professors should all be armed, active shooters would just know to take them out first.

(I first started writing this post back in October when the UCC shooting happened, but then I got busy and didn’t have time to finish it. Since then several more shootings have happened, including the one at the Pulse nightclub, which was protected by armed guards. I had this scheduled to post last week, but then the Dallas police shooting happened, and I decided to postpone it another week because I had it scheduled for the day of their memorial service, and I didn’t want it to post then. Obviously the police officers killed in that mass shooting were all armed, and since Texas is now open carry in public areas, some of the protesters were armed too. Yet none of them managed to shoot the gunman.)

It wouldn’t seem likely for a college professor to end up dying in battle and going to Valhalla, but maybe it’s not quite as unlikely as it seems. Every time there’s a school shooting, stories come out about brave teachers putting their bodies between students and shooter, heroically sacrificing themselves for their students. I guess that’s part of my job now. If that happens to me, I hope there will be songs sung of my bravery. I guess that’s the Heathen way to look at it.

There have been college professors resigning over this law. That’s their choice, but I think that’s going too far. I’m not resigning, at least not just yet. I think my chances of being shot at work will still be low after campus carry goes into effect. I just have my doubts that my chances will be lower after campus carry goes into effect, and they might actually end up being slightly higher.

I still wear my Valknut to work, but I don’t want Odin to take me any time soon.

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