Now Reading
Dorm stabbing victim reflects: Guns don't kill but split-second decisions can

From the archive: This story is more than 5 years old.

What the Devil won't tell you

Dorm stabbing victim reflects: Guns don't kill but split-second decisions can

  • Tony Young/Flickr

Real life-and-death scenario: Your kid has just moved into his new dorm room on campus. The child you raised through colic, lost teeth, first Santa, Tooth Fairies, skinned knees, Little League, big Santa talk, the infernal middle-school years and then drove to college is finally making friends at the University of Arizona. No longer a cave-dwelling new kid in town in an off-campus apartment, your college freshman is a newly minted resident of Mohave Hall on the UA campus.

He's sitting on his bed meeting a trickle of guys who also live on his wing, when it happens: A kid he just met bolts into the room. It's an aggressive move and a neighbor is, in fact, an assailant, flashing a knife from behind his back. It's a big knife, a military-style K-Bar with a six-inch blade and it's coming straight for your kids' thorax. The knife isn't stopping. Your kid is defenseless.

Should he be?  

It's a ridiculous question. When that baby boy got made 18 years before, sewn into his DNA is the survival instinct. Your kid will defend himself. Guaranteed. The cerebellum and medulla oblongata read the situation and won't let the cerebrum into the debate. Instinct strikes faster than the knife. Protect vital organs. Your kid's closest hand flies toward the blade.  

Yet he's got a bad defensive position. He's seated. He's on his bed. He leans forward with a hand out and his legs are now crossed under the weight of his body. Flight isn't possible. It's life or death and nanoseconds are in short supply.

Is he screwed? Are you going to get that horrible phone call, mom and dad?

Let's replay the scenario with new information. You have raised your kid so that training takes over. He knows how to defend himself — specifically how to defend himself with a gun. He's fired a multitude of weapons and done it often enough to be quite the marksman. Reaching for the gun is second nature. The gun is a part of him.

You've instilled in him the wisdom that even the most innocent of moments can turn deadly. Strangers are potentially friends but, until they prove themselves trustworthy, they are still strangers.

When a stranger comes at you with a knife, he's not trustworthy. He's a bad kid with a knife but your son is prepared at that moment. You made sure he knows to keep his treasured 9 mm Glock with him at all times. He doesn't reach out with a desperate open hand to block a knife moving at his lungs. His hand instead reaches for the gun. He raises and fires twice striking center mass. The threat is neutralized, and the bad kid with the knife is dead before he hits the floor.

The kid your son just killed is named Brian.

Brian studied engineering. He grew up on Tucson's East Side and was one of the UA's great rapscallions. His hair was too 1970s. Folks thought his girlfriend was too pretty for him. He rarely stopped smiling and his daily enthusiasms never stopped coming. He loved military history and war movies. He dug the Rambo movies. He owned a “Rambo knife” and just wanted to show your son how cool it was with a bit of tomfoolery. He just misjudged the distance and got too close.

Yeah, the day I met the kid who would be captain our dorm intramural football team, would play drummer in the Mock Rock band and would help introduce me to college life, he stabbed me in the hand. It was a defensive wound where the knife's tip drew blood but didn't even require a stitch. I sat on my bed and Brian walked around the closet that blocked my view of the door. He lunged with a “HAH!” Immediately followed by an “Oh shit! I'm sorry dude!”

Five words he got to say because I was unarmed and unskilled at defending myself with a gun.  

What's odd is that in all those years since October 1986, I have barely thought of it. It's kind of a funny memory. Had I shot and killed Brian, I guarantee you that I would have thought of it every stinking day.

Gun control, schmun control. I'm not going there

Today, carrying a gun in a dorm is illegal, of course, but gun advocates say they should be allowed so students can defend themselves against threats like a crazy kid wielding a knife or a gun. The shooting Friday morning at Northern Arizona University will have gun advocates arguing that the good kids should have had guns, too and the bad kid wouldn't have been in a position to open fire. 

I'm not going to make any arguments about shoulds and shouldn'ts. I'm not arguing for more gun control laws, I think they are a tangential pre-existing desire among some who just hate the idea of firearms. Guns, millions of them, are a fact of life in America and I'd rather just understand that as a starting point for understanding the issue — but that's just me.

My daughter just turned 18 and will be going for her concealed weapons permit as soon as she's legally able. She has to wait until she's 21 to concealed carry in Arizona, but she's already making plans. Am I OK with it? She's my baby girl. Part of me wants her to have eight guns tucked away and a Bowie knife strapped to her thigh. I also hope she never has to make a life or death decision with so much haste. The gun is only as accurate as the intel its possessor wields.

It's tricky in the best of circumstances: Armed with satellites, night vision and assets on the ground, the U.S. military just bombed a hospital in Afghanistan, and the hospital didn't lunge at American forces from behind a closet in Manzi-Mo.

I knew some of the people at the Safeway the morning Gabrielle Giffords was shot and six people were killed. Hearing the story first or even second-hand, what stuck in my mind at the time were the words, “It happened so fast.”

I can tell you that when a knife came at me, a gun would have been useless had it not been strapped to me or in my hand. If I had a firearm at the ready and had been trained to act, my actions were only as good as my ability to read the situation and read it fast. I know little about this but Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle couldn't judge a situation as lethal and paid with his life.

Oh, but Brian meant no harm, you say. Then why was I likely within my rights to kill him?  

Arizona law allows me to claim defense of myself or others and the state then has the burden to prove I wasn't. The rules are crafted even more in my favor because I was in my own dorm room. It was my domicile and Brian technically, by the letter of the law, committed aggravated assault by coming at me with a knife

Safety or danger? Go figure ... 

Danger presenting itself 100 feet and 30 seconds away gives gun owners time to defend themselves. They can draw their weapon and command a “safe” perimeter. Gathering threats can be neutralized. Some can be avoided by de-escalating the situation, but in Arizona our laws don't require that. Who wants to look like a wimp, right?

Police define a “safe” perimeter as 21 feet. Inside that circle, an officer had best have his weapon drawn if confronting a bladed-weapon wielded by a wanton offender. If not, the perpetrator can be on top of him faster than the 1.5 seconds it takes a trained officer to draw, aim and fire two rounds center mass. One one thousand, two one th – time's up.

How hard is that? Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL and he has about that much time to read a defense, spot a receiver and release the ball. Here's what he also has: Five behemoth linemen protecting him, hours upon hours of watching game film to learn opponents tendencies, a defense he's recognized from its formation and receivers running routes drawn up and practiced hundreds of times. The worst thing that can happen is that a defensive back can jump the route, intercept the pass and return it for a touchdown.

It's not just me or stories related from Jan. 8, 2011, one of the leading trainers of police today (and critics say a reason for more liberal use of deadly force by law enforcement) argues when you see the weapon, you are already dead. When Brian flashed the knife, I was screwed. When a motorist pulled over for speeding decides to shoot his way out of the traffic stop, the cop is dead as soon as the gun is pulled, says Michael Lewinsky, a Ph.D. in psychology, professional expert witness in officer-involved shootings and a guy who leads training for police departments around the country.

Understand what zero-restriction gun advocates are saying: We want to be able to be able to act as the police, facing the same dangers in the same way but without the training. They want to put themselves in the position where when they see the gun it's too late, and then trust that surface preparation will lead them to a wise decision—when all that's on the line is life and death.

A gun is classified as a “stand-off weapon.” A defender or attacker can fire a gun standing away from (standing off) the target's defenses. Unlike knives or clubs, a gun lets its user be lethal safely.

So don't insult my intelligence by saying a gun is no different than a fire extinguisher or a blender. It's just a tool. No it's not. Please.

If Brian had meant to stab me, his first act of aggression bought him a tiny puncture wound in my left hand and he's in my perimeter. He'd have had to come back with a second assault and a third or a fourth. If he wanted to shoot me, he could have come around the corner, fired and I'd have had less time than was afforded.

Sam Colt and equality

Guns may be tools but they aren't just tools. I've heard they are no different than a knife, club or fire extinguisher.


I quote an Old West saying about the inventor of the first mass-market revolver: “God made man. Sam Colt made them equal.” Or I can quote Paul Allen, the Tucson Citizen's gun enthusiast: “A gun means I don't have to be 6-5, 240 pounds to defend myself.” Strength, speed and skill with fists or knives are no match for a bit of torque on a trigger from 20 feet away.

Guns are different than knives, clubs and fire extinguishers. We argue a lot about the Second Amendment in this country. We don't argue the weapon they meant when they discussed “the right to bear arms.” They weren't talking sticks and knives. They meant guns.

Guns trump sticks. They beat knives. It's why mastery of the firearm let Europeans dominate the world. It's why we want them.

Remember: The Brians of the world were also raised by parents, who nurtured them through colic, lost teeth, first Santa, Tooth Fairies, skinned knees, Little League, big Santa talk, the infernal middle-school years and then sent them off into the world, freaked out about how fast their childhood went. You reader, are one of those kids, too.

Self-defense is a noble goal and a hell of a responsibility. When you carry a gun, you are empowering yourself with the authority believers ascribe to God. Who lives? Who dies? 

It's an easy decision, is it? 

One one thousand, two one th – times up.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.
This column has been updated to clarify Morlock’s daughter’s plans to obtain a CCW permit.

— 30 —

Best in Internet Exploder