Published 01/24/2002, in The Daily Iowan (U. Iowa)

Law school, guns, and a media bias

By James Eaves-Johnson

(U-WIRE) IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Last week, a disgruntled student at Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., went on a shooting spree. Peter Odighizuwa tragically shot six people, killing Dean Anthony Sutin, Associate Professor Thomas Blackwell, and student Angela Dales.

Most news reports pointed out that the situation ended when several students "confronted," "tackled," or "intervened." However, Tracy Bridges, Ted Besen, Todd Ross, and Mikael Gross did not merely "confront" Odighizuwa. Bridges and Gross separately ran to their cars to get their handguns once the shooting began. Bridges approached Odighizuwa with Besen's and Ross' aid. Gross was close behind. According to Bridges, "I aimed my gun at him, and Peter tossed his gun down." Bridges, Besen, and Gross had previously received police or military training.

Unfortunately, the media did not point out that the "intervening" students were armed. A Lexis-Nexis search revealed 88 stories on the topic, of which only two mentioned that either Bridges or Gross were armed. A Westnews search exposed worse results. It revealed 112 stories, of which only two mentioned the armed students.

With media bias like this, it is no wonder that people fail to see the benefits of gun ownership. This was a very public shooting with a lot of media coverage. Even here, reporters rarely presented the positive side of firearms. Instead, they preferred to default to the politically correct story portraying guns as something only the bad guy uses.

Of course, this media bias is not unprecedented. A more thorough Lexis-Nexis search by a Yale researcher revealed 687 articles on the school shooting in Pearl, Miss. Of those, only 19 mentioned that Assistant Principal Joel Myrick retrieved a gun from his car and stopped the shooters four-and-a-half minutes before police arrived.

Few will remember that an armed guard helped many students at Columbine escape and was thwarted only when shooters began using explosives. Fewer still will remember that a restaurant owner who was hosting a school dance for students in Edinboro, Pa., stopped a student shooter 11 minutes before police could arrive.

Our myopic view of guns leads too many of us to believe that if we disarm people, we will be safer. Unfortunately, mandatory disarmament only disarms those who are interested in obeying the law. Laws against gun ownership and possession are ineffective against those who would do us harm.

No one would believe that people in Iowa City don't smoke marijuana or that underage college students don't find ways to procure alcohol. Why should we be any more na´ve when it comes to rules against firearms?

I was unable to discover Appalachian School of Law's weapons policy, but if it is like almost every other law school in the country, it probably prohibits students from possessing guns on campus. That is probably why Bridges and Gross did not have their guns on their persons. Imagine what these men might have prevented if they could have responded immediately, guns in hand.

Unfortunately, at the University of Iowa, we are more defenseless. The university prohibits the possession of firearms. At our law school, as on most of the campus, people would be unable to run to their cars to fetch their guns, as the only available nearby parking is on university property.

Even worse, our Public Safety officers would be unable to protect us. Only last week did the state of Iowa Board of Regents decide to arm Public Safety officers with air Tasers. Most Tasers are ineffective at more than 21 feet, and they can be defeated with a heavy coat. The UI officers are trained to use firearms, like ordinary police officers, and they have the authority to do almost everything an Iowa City police officer does.

The university should allow responsible individuals with defensive firearms training to carry arms on campus. That begins with the officers who are responsible for our safety. Right now, we are at the mercy of any thug willing to come on campus with a gun. Many would be murdered before Iowa City police could arrive. The presence of responsible armed individuals on campus could reduce or prevent the harm done by a thug. Just over 10 years ago, the UI was visited by such a thug. We are just as defenseless today as we were then. Even the students in Grundy, Va., weren't so defenseless.

Law school, guns, and a media bias
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Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

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Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

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