Military veteran John Parker Jr. was among the students on campus during the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, on Thursday, during which Chris Harper Mercer killed 10 people and injured seven. Parker was legally carrying a concealed weapon but chose not to intervene for fear of being mistaken for the gunman, he told MSNBC on Thursday night.
Parker and his fellow students sought refuge in a classroom, where they waited for two hours. Had the gunman come near them, Parker said, he would have defended the group.
"I do happen to conceal carry, myself — for defense of myself and others — just in case a tragedy like this happens and I have to be in close proximity to where I can be involved to try to help save some lives," Parker said during the interview. "When we found out there was an active shooter on campus, we were going to go and see if we could intervene. ... If there was something we could do, we were going to do it."
"Luckily, we made the choice not to get involved," he told MSNBC. "We were quite a distance away from the actual building where it was happening, which could have opened us up to being potential targets ourselves. And, you know, not knowing where SWAT was on their response time, they wouldn't know who we were, and if we had our guns ready to shoot, they'd think we were the bad guys."
Parker's story contradicts the common line of argument among pro-gun advocates, who attribute shootings to the presence of "gun-free zones." Such advocates believe that if citizens had the right to carry weapons, they would be able to defend themselves.
"The gun-free zones are the areas that tell licensed gun owners that you are not allowed to carry your weapon in this facility," Lt. Col. Rick Francona, CNN's military analyst, said a few hours after the shooting. "So, they do serve a purpose to let everyone know that this is a 'gun-free zone.' If you're going to perpetrate some act, you know that most people are not going to be armed [there]."
Retired Navy SEAL Jonathan Gilliam shared a similar sentiment on the CNN segment, offering that Francona's assessment was right and such tragedies would be averted in the absence of "gun-free zones."
"This shows you how quickly these things can go bad, and these 'gun-free zones' just like happened in Tennessee that this shooter that went onto a military installation, which was a gun-free zone," Gilliam said on CNN. "We see that the only thing that's going to stop a gun is another gun."
Despite the protestations of gun rights advocates, Umpqua Community College is not actually a "gun-free zone." In 2012, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education unanimously voted to ban guns inside university buildings, but not on campus grounds overall. While UCC is not dictated by the SBHE, its policy on weapons is reportedly comparable.
But even when ordinary citizens are allowed weapons in these situations, usurping the role of law enforcement can actually harm the situation rather than improve it, according to Parker. It can endanger ordinary citizens even more.
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