In my Sociology of Guns class last Wednesday, we not only reviewed what I have dubbed “The Standard Model of the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership,” we also read a chapter of my book-in-progress, Gun Curious. The title of the chapter is “Pascal’s Wager and Firearms,” and in it I consider the process of risk assessment that goes into my (and others’) decision to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
As it turns out, the assigned reading was extremely timely. A couple of points in the chapter intersected with real life for my students and me in ways I would never have wished for. These real-life events were a good reminder for all of us that we are probably, but not certainly, safe when on or near the Wake Forest University campus.
The idea that members of the Wake Forest community are probably, but not certainly, safe is one I elaborate in the chapter by telling the story of Lins Barwick, a Wake Forest student who was robbed, shot, and left for dead in the street a few hundred yards from campus after escorting another student home from a party. (See my earlier blog post, A Student at My University Was Shot Last Week, It Could Have Been Me.)
The weekend before the class in which students were assigned to read about Lins Barwick, four Wake Forest students were robbed at gun and knifepoint while walking back to campus from an off-campus student neighborhood. Like Lins, they were within sight of campus when this happened. Fortunately, none were physically hurt.
None of this is to say that if Lins or these other students had a gun they would not have been victimized, or potentially even made the situation worse. But Gun Culture 2.0 is not just about guns as “hardware.” It is also about the “software” required to be a responsible defensive gun owner. I address this in the book chapter also.
I discuss, for example, how practices of avoidance, awareness, and preparedness can lower people’s risk of needing to defend themselves in the first place. Far from “shoot first and ask questions later,” I learned these risk-mitigating strategies in defensive gun training classes and through media like Michael Bane’s TV show The Best Defense.
Although students (including my own son who attended Wake Forest) routinely walk from off-campus parties back to campus in the wee small hours of the morning, there are other, safer options available. Avoidance, awareness, and preparedness are, as Bane says, your best defense. They don’t make you safe, but they make you safer.
The other timely part of the “Pascal’s Wager” chapter had to do with the things I personally do to reduce my risk of criminal assault. But I also note in the chapter (see image above) that it is not possible for me to reduce that risk to zero. I can be safer but never ultimately safe.
Among the reasons for this is, “I give students bad grades.” It is extremely unlikely that a student that I have given a bad grade will seek retribution while I am in my campus office, a “gun-free zone.” But the probability is not zero.
The same day we discussed this in my Sociology of Guns class — in fact, while we were in class — a former graduate student shot and killed a University of Arizona professor in an office on campus.
Students and faculty are probably, but not certainly, safe.