‘Do Not Be a Hero’

Kirk Mitchell writes for the February 15 Denver Post:

“If danger presents itself, flee the area, if at all possible, or seek sanctuary in a locked classroom, restroom,” according to one memo sent to staffers and students at metro campuses of the University of Colorado. “Do not be a hero. Be a good witness. Report what you have seen as soon as you can notify the campus police.”

Vincent Carroll has responded with mild criticism:

People don’t need exhortations to flee danger. That’s what they will do almost every time without a prod.

But why the explicit warning against heroism?

Of course a university shouldn’t encourage reckless behavior in a crisis, or try to shame people into taking chances they would otherwise avoid. Most of us aren’t cut out for heroics anyway.

But do we really want to insist that people avoid heroics, as if there were something faintly disreputable about those who spontaneously risk their lives on behalf of others?

As my readers might expect, I want to offer a somewhat stronger criticism.

Generally, the advice to flee is appropriate for students. The problem with the advice is that it is not always possible to flee. In some cases, heroic action is the only reasonable way to protect one’s life. Students who are unable to flee or “seek sanctuary” should attack, as their only other option is to wait to be murdered. For example, at a school shooting in Oregon, the killer “was tackled by other students.” Here is a more detailed account of that story, as reported by the AP:

Jake Ryker was shot in the chest but managed to tackle a schoolmate who had opened fire in the Thurston High School cafeteria.

On Monday night, Jake’s father, a Navy diver wearing his full dress uniform, presented him with the highest honor in the Boy Scouts of America.

Robert Ryker’s hands trembled as he pinned the red ribbon with gold medallion of the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms to Jake’s chest before a crowd of about 300 people at Thurston Christian Church. …

Jake and his younger brother, Josh, 14, and three other Boy Scouts subdued the gunman after two other Thurston students were killed and 22 wounded on May 21.

Josh Ryker, Douglas and David Ure, and Adam Walburger all were presented Monday night with the Honor Medal, the second-highest honor in scouting. It was the first time in the 88-year history of the Boy Scouts that five medals for heroism were awarded at one time.

“I believe it was no coincidence that the five who stopped the shooting were Scouts,” said Jerry Dempsy, Oregon Trail Council executive for the Boy Scouts. “I’m so grateful they stopped the killing when they did.”

Jake was shot through the chest during the shooting spree. When the gunman ran out of ammunition and started to reload, Jake tackled him, and was shot in a finger. His brother and the three other Scouts piled on and held the shooter until help arrived.

Notably,“Jake Ryker gave credit to the fact that he had taken a marksmanship and safety training program given by the National Rifle Association. … His father, Rob Ryker said that both Jake and his 14-year-old brother, Josh, had taken the course.” Because of his training, Ryker knew when to tackle the killer. (Dave Kopel mentions Ryker in his article about “common-sense school protection.”)

And, sometimes, more mature and better-trained students may choose to intervene rather than flee, if they reasonably believe that they can save lives without putting themselves in too great a danger. For example, at the Appalachian School of Law, two armed students subdued a murderer.

Mitchell’s article does not make clear whether the “memo sent to staffers and students” was intended also as advice for staffers, or as information for staffers to pass along to students. If it was intended as advice for staffers, then the advice is despicable, for instructors have accepted as a chosen responsibility the care of their students. While no staffer should place him or herself in undue danger without good reason, instructors have a moral responsibility to take reasonable, heroic actions to protect their students, as Joel Myrick did.

Outside of the school environment, there is Jeanne Assam, who used her concealed, Beretta 9 mm semiautomatic handgun to shoot a murderer at New Life Church.

The rash of copy-cat school shootings, in part encouraged by irresponsible media coverage, reflect a cultural sickness in which moral relativism and nihilism undermine some people’s values and very lives. The solution to such problems is not to impose gun restrictions that fail to impede criminals but that only make self-defense more difficult.

CU’s policy is only helping to create what Jeff Snyder calls a “Nation of Cowards.” But cowardice only encourages criminals.

If CU’s administrators wanted to act to save lives in the event of a violent attack — as well as to deter such attacks — they would establish a policy of allowing trained staffers to carry concealed handguns. The memo to staffers should then read, “If someone starts attacking your students with intent to kill, then, within reasonable guidelines of safety appropriate to an emergency situation, shoot the bastard.”