ASU Students for Self-Defense assembled for its first meeting less than 24 hours before a heavily armed man opened fire on Oregon's Umpqua Community College Thursday, killing nine people. It was the latest of more than 142 such shootings to take place at schools since 2012.
Jacob Pritchett, outreach director for the newly formed activist group, argues that ASU's weapons policy, which also bans knives longer than five inches, and law-enforcement-grade chemical repellents, such as pepper spray, violates students Second Amendment rights and leaves them vulnerable.
“We have the right to protect ourselves,” he said.
In recent years, a growing number of state lawmakers have introduced legislation attempting to allow guns on campus, but few have been successful. All but eight states either prohibit guns on campus by law or, as is the case in Arizona, leave it up to schools to set their own policies. The vast majority of campuses prohibit weapons.
When news of the Umpqua Community College shooting broke, ASU Students for Self-Defense joined presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, the National Rifle Association, and hordes of others across the country in blaming “strict anti-defense” policies.
“There's a pattern here,” Pritchett said. “It seems like the people who commit these crimes specifically look for places where responsible citizens aren't going to be armed.”
However, although Umpqua Community College's on-campus weapons policy is similar to ASU's, students with permits are allowed to carry concealed guns in Oregon, thanks to a 2012 state Supreme Court decision deeming complete weapons bans unconstitutional.
Several people carrying guns were nearby when the shooter let loose. One student, John Parker, Jr., told MSNBC that he considered intervening but decided against it because he was concerned police might mistake him for a “bad guy.”
A recent Mother Jones magazine analysis of 62 mass shootings found that although many took place in areas where guns were permitted, none was stopped by an armed civilian.
ASU, which has a crime rate on par with the national average, maintains that its weapons ban contributes to a “safe educational environment” for students.
The campus, peppered with emergency call boxes, is patrolled by more than 80 police officers and detectives, said Herminia Rincon, a media relations coordinator at ASU. Safety-escort services are available for students, faculty, and staff who feel uncomfortable. The university has even developed a mobile app, called LiveSafe, that allows designated emergency contacts to virtually accompany students on walks using GPS mapping and live chat.
Property crime accounts for the majority of ASU's security issues, according to the university's latest tally. Police fielded nine reports of rape and 12 reports of criminal fondling last year on ASU's campuses.
Pritchett acknowledged the university's effort. However, he argued, even if it's easy to call police, there is going to lag time before help arrives.
“A gun is more effective than pepper spray and louder than a rape whistle,” he said. “It's a great equalizer, too. The best thing you can do if you don't have a physical advantage over a would-be attacker is carry a gun.”