Students discuss ways they choose to protect themselves while off Main Campus.
It was only a week into the school year when gunfire erupted between a student and a local youth near Main Campus. But while the Sept. 5 incident left the two hospitalized, it also caused some to question the presence of weapons in North Philadelphia and, more specifically, in the posession of students.
Robert Eells was with a friend on his front stoop in the early hours of Labor Day when a 15-year-old male came up and demanded money.
When Eells’ refused, the youth took out a gun and shot him in the stomach, reports state. The juvenile tried to flee, however, Eells, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, drew his own gun and returned fire, shooting the youth in the back. Both Eells and the assailant were hospitalized and both are expected to make full recoveries.
The event draws attention to students’ interest in protecting themselves by carrying weapons. In addition to firearms, some students carry knives, bats and pepper spray for self protection.
According to Pennsylvania law, one must be 21 to qualify for a concealed carry permit. Applicants must visit a sheriff’s office and perform a background check before being issued a permit.
Junior history major Alex, who spoke on the condition that his last name would not be printed, went through the procedure three months ago when he turned 21 and claimed that it was relatively simple. The more difficult aspect for him was deciding to own a weapon and then pursuing that responsibly, he said.
“It’s not an easy decision, it’s something you need to think about and be really committed to,” Alex said. “It’s not something to take lightly. It’s OK to want a firearm but there’s a difference between owning one and knowing how to use it properly. And if you aren’t confident with the laws and regulation of the state or federal government, then you should really evaluate whether or not you should own a firearm.”
Alex chose to apply for a permit and own a weapon for self-protection within his home. He cautions against carrying a firearm in one’s possession because it may attract unwanted attention.
Temple’s policy dictates that even those with a permit to carry cannot have a firearm anywhere on campus.
In February 2010, Temple Student Government voted unanimously to adopt a resolution relating to gun violence. The resolution urged the Pennsylvania General Assembly to support state legislation intended to reduce illegal handgun trafficking and accessibility to illegal handguns in Pennsylvania.
“We had met with CeaseFire[PA] in the fall of 2009, we had been talking a lot about the violence around campus that was a problem as it still is today,” Temple Student Government Study Body President Colin Saltry said.
“We really latched on to their mission of trying to control guns,” Saltry said. “We were one of the first universities in Pennsylvania, student bodies, rather, to pass their resolution basically expressing our desire to see common sense gun laws in Pennsylvania.”
CeaseFirePA is a Philadelphia-based organization committed to reducing gun violence as well as illegal gun trafficking.
“The Second Amendment in this country is sacred to many people. Off campus, it’s their legal right. I can’t say this is the safest neighborhood in America and certain degrees of self-defense are required but I think that we have to be very careful in what we’re doing,” Saltry said. “I don’t think guns solve the gun crisis.”
Still, students choose to carry other weapons in order to protect themselves while off campus.
Freshman entrepreneurship major Sam Gordon chooses to carry a knife while off campus.
“Iʼve been hassled before and I donʼt trust people around here that I donʼt know,” Gordon said. “A lot of people prey on students that they think have money.”
Despite studies showing that pepper spray blowback can be as harmful to the person using it as to their attacker, senior strategic and organizational communications major Katie Morris still chooses to carry it.
“I’ve always had pepper spray, and if I’m by myself it’s a reassurance that I have self-protection,” Morris said.
Neither Gordon nor Morris have been the victim of a violent crime.
Junior economics major Chad Dunkelberger said he has always carried a knife, but with the intention of using it for utilitarian tasks.
Last year, Dunkelberger was in his bedroom in an off-campus house when he found himself looking down the barrel of a gun.
An armed man and his accomplice had forced their way into the house and made Dunkelberger and his roommates lie on the floor while they proceeded to rob them of their laptops, televisions, cell phones and wallets.
“[The incident] definitely made me a lot more cautious,” Dunkelberger said. “It has changed my perception entirely and made me more aware of my surroundings.”
Though he professes an interest in one day owning a handgun, the only action the crime prompted in him was to move away from the Temple neighborhood, he said.
“If I did get [a gun], I don’t think I would carry it on the streets, I would probably just keep it in my house,” Dunkelberger said. “[The robbery] didn’t scare me into wanting to have a firearm on me at all times or anything like that. Paranoia is definitely not a good reason to own a gun because you’re more prone to just use it irresponsibly.”
Acknowledging the possibility of increased student firearm ownership, Dunkelberger expressed some concern but generally supported students protecting themselves.
“There are plenty of Temple students that the last thing I would want to see in their hands is a gun,” Dunkelberger said. “But there are others that would be perfectly responsible with them. As long as the student knows how to use a gun, knows their way around a gun, is comfortable having a gun and isn’t just doing it out of fear, I have no problem with it.”
The Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association is a group focused on educating the public about firearm safety and laws.
PFOA Media Relations Director Christie Caywood said she got involved with the organization after experiencing crime on her college campus.
Caywood advocates gun ownership as an option for students, but emphasizes the necessity of pursuing firearm ownership through proper legal avenues.
“Folks need to be educated, whether they are using their hands or they are considering a license to carry,” Caywood said. “They need to know about the laws in place and they need to know concepts about force. I think people just need to generally think about self-defense and whatever level they are choosing, they need to be in line with the law.”
“I hope students donʼt start making the [assumption] that they can just take a gun they might have at home and carry it around in their backpack without going through the proper permit and training process,” CeaseFirePA Executive Director Max Nacheman said. “If you are going to accept the responsibility of carrying a ﬁrearm like that for defense, you have to make sure you use that responsibility wisely and responsibly.”
Senior sociology and political science major Beth Cozzolino, president of the Temple Democratic Socialists, a campus group that also advocates gun control, objects to students owning firearms in general.
“I understand the feeling of living in this high-crime area and feeling particularly vulnerable because you’re a college student,” Cozzolino said. “But do I think that Temple would be safer if more students carried handguns? Absolutely not.”
Alex agrees that gun control is a good idea but argues that it is impractical.
“Criminals are still going to be able to find ways to get weapons,” Alex said. “Arming yourself and knowing how to use a firearm is a viable way of ensuring your own personal security.”
Kate Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.