Harold Hedrick II is 19, two years too young to have a gun permit. Yet the University of Central Florida sophomore regularly joins fellow students at an Orlando-area gun range to pop off a few rounds.
The 2007 River Ridge High grad is a member of the fledgling Knights Rifle Association, a group formed on the UCF campus soon after the Virginia Tech shooting massacre last April. They want students who have gun permits to be able to pack their pistols along with their textbooks when they go to class. And they've become even more vocal following last month's Northern Illinois University campus shooting that left six dead. Hedrick and his KRA mates argue that legally armed students mean less bloodshed, not more.
"I feel more safe if I know that a student next to me is carrying a gun. He'd be able to shoot back," said Hedrick, who is home in New Port Richey for spring break this week. "The goal is to save lives."
Hedrick took his group's message to a national audience Wednesday night, when he and local gun rights advocate and Pasco County Republican chairman Bill Bunting were guests on Cam and Company, a pro-gun rights show that airs on Sirius satellite radio.
Like most college campuses, UCF, a school of 48,000 students, is protected by a small police force — 60 officers. Having students armed and ready would not just deter suicidal shooters but reduce the carnage, Hedrick argued.
"We would have protection in a matter of a second or two," Hedrick said. "That means the difference between life and death."
This is a persuasive argument; we hear it all the time. More and more people believe it: 487,000 Floridians have concealed weapon permits.
Politicians are paying attention. Bowing to pressure from the powerful gun lobby, a legislative committee this week reversed its stance from a year ago and approved a bill allowing employees with concealed gun permits to take their weapons to work and leave them in their locked cars.
While schools are excluded from the legislation, the gun lobby doesn't want to stop at warehouses and factories. Nationally, they're pushing legislation modeled after a Utah law that prohibits colleges from banning possession or use of a firearm on campus. In Utah, 18-year-olds can carry a handgun to class.
In the chaos of a campus shooting, if many students are packing heat, how do police tell hero from villain? A 12-hour weapons training course won't prepare a 21-year-old student to respond during moments of crisis. A would-be hero could end up hurting innocent victims.
"There have been no massacres at the University of Utah," Hedrick countered.
He's a pretty smart kid. The former Pasco-Hernando Community College dual-enrollment student represented River Ridge High at national science competitions two years in a row. He's studying aerospace engineering. His life is full of promise.
Because we've seen too many promising lives destroyed by random gun violence we're powerless to prevent, it's tempting to go for the simple solution: more guns. But if we arm our students, a bad situation could easily get a lot worse.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.