An armed society is a polite societyThe weight of events was heavy on our thoughts. The news reports were frightening and the college district had reacted. Department meetings featured safety lectures and the college had conducted an “active shooter” drill, in which the campus cops and local law enforcement rehearsed their emergency response procedures and tested their readiness for a Virginia-Tech-type situation.
—Robert A. Heinlein
It was not unusual for a student to approach me before the start of class for a private word, although it was just a bit strange to have one standing so close. I knew him better than most students. He had been enrolled in one of my classes before. He was unfailingly polite and applied himself diligently to his work. He spoke very quietly, so it helped that his lips were close to my ear.
“I don't want you to worry, Dr. Z, if any of the students give you any trouble,” he said.
I raised my eyebrows.
“Thanks,” I said, “but that hasn't really been a problem so far.”
“That's good,” he replied. His eyes flicked toward his classmates who had nearly filled the classroom. “It's just that I know some students get resentful when you're a strict grader and these days you never know how they might react. I just wanted to say that I've got your back.”
His coat was unzipped. With his left hand he pulled it open slightly so that I could see the holster nestled near his armpit.
“I've got a concealed-carry permit and you can rest easy. I've got your back.”
Hoping that my face did not show my surprise, I calmly replied, “Thanks. Thanks for letting me know.”
Mission accomplished, he returned to his seat.
The class continued without further complications, but every so often I threw an extra glance in the student's direction. Everything seemed the same on the outside, but the entire atmosphere of the room was changed for me. While my rational brain had reasonably reassured me that the active-shooter scenario was merely an extremely remote possibility (how many colleges are there? how many of them got shot up? we're talking good odds here!), my animal hindbrain insisted on stroking the panic button. Now, however, there was some additional solid data to process: A loaded gun was present in my classroom.
While gun-rights advocates like to quote Heinlein's aphorism about gun-mediated courtesy, they appear to care little for simple numerical arguments. Guns are an accelerant. People without guns can scream at each other and live to argue another day. Put guns in their pockets and the odds that someone will get hurt skyrocket. If a gunman strides into a movie theater and starts to shoot innocent bystanders at random, an armed citizen could presumably take him out, save lives, and be a hero. On the other hand, the result might just be more people killed in a crossfire—especially in a darkened theater and especially if more than one armed citizen joins the fight. And when the police arrive, at whom do they shoot?
Still, it's not as though there is no evidence on the side of the gun advocates. History suggests that Tombstone was a very polite town. Quiet, too. At least over at Boothill.