Temple University: Take Your Guns to Town?

How student Robert Eells feels about being shot outside his North Philly rental ... and the fact that he returned fire

On September 5th, at 1:45 in the morning, 21-year-old Temple student Robert Eells and his roommate were having a cigarette on the porch of their North Philadelphia home. The block was pretty quiet. Three teens approached the porch and demanded money. One had a gun. Eells didn’t comply with their request, and the boy shot him in the stomach. Eells, who had a firearm in his sweatshirt pocket, shot back.

Eells has a license to carry for just this reason (and has owned firearms since he was 18), and he says while he never expected to actually be involved in something like this, he wasn’t surprised. An Arcadia University senior myself, I could never picture taking a gun out in public. I was floored that Eells, whom I went to high school with, owned a gun. Then again, I live in a quiet complex in Glenside, not North Philly.

Gun ownership isn’t exclusive to just this Temple student. One senior I know confesses to owning two, though he keeps neither on campus with him. Another student owns one, but he keeps the weapon at his mother’s house. Now he’s reconsidering getting a license to carry.

According to Temple’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report from 2010, the most common crimes plaguing the Temple population are burglary and theft. Let’s disregard these (despite the very staggering statistics) because, by definition, physical threats are not involved. Though it might be tragic to have an iPod snagged from your car, it doesn’t merit the need to carry a gun.

Robbery, on the other hand, is defined as stealing through force, threat or intimidation, and from 2007 to 2009, there were 110 robberies recorded by Temple University. Only 14.5 percent of these occurred on campus. The rest occurred off campus, which indicates that while Temple does a good job keeping the campus patrolled and secure, surrounding areas are indeed less safe―areas where many students are walking while coming and going to the campus. As for aggravated assault, which involves a dangerous weapon and results in serious bodily harm, there were 67 reported incidences over this period. More than half were off campus.

After the Eells incident, will more students soon be walking the streets packing more than just lunch? Eells supports responsible gun ownership and says, “not just any jock or burnout should be getting and carrying guns.” He believes you need to be both responsible and mentally and emotionally stable. With all those requirements, I’m not sure I know anyone who should have a gun, including myself. I’m not thrilled about walking back from class in the dark, but I don’t need a Glock strapped to my thigh.

Another issue: To protect yourself walking home after class, you’d actually need to bring the gun to class. Temple has a strict no-weapons policy for all campus areas, and Eells confirms that having a license to carry is no exception. But if students are genuinely afraid to travel to and from Temple without protection, they might consider carrying anyway if they don’t think they’ll get caught.

Eells says, “That’s one of the old clichés you hear a lot: concealed means concealed.” I thought about that for a second and then asked, “So people could have them, and we wouldn’t know?” Eells’s response? “People DO have them, and you don’t know.”

If Temple students want weapons for protection, I hope they’ll take the time to learn how to properly handle them as Eells has. The purpose of a gun isn’t just for show, and Philly doesn’t need more shootings. Eells practices at a shooting range every few weeks. He believes “you need to be confident that you can hit your target” and warns that if you miss, it could be fatal. Think In Bruges fatal, where hit man Ray (played by Colin Farrell) accidentally kills a little boy. No one wants to live with that.

Eells goes farther to say, “It’s not a magic wand,” crushing the idea of wielding a 9mm like Harry Potter and yelling, “Avada Kedavra!” while blasting enemies. My childish fantasies about gun ownership disappear. So has, it turns out, Eells’s desire to live in North Philadelphia.

He’s moved out of the house and won’t be residing near Temple anytime soon, unless it’s on campus. He believes, like many others, that “Temple does an excellent job protecting campus … everything outside, not so much.”

A last piece of advice?

Eells says, “I’m not gonna’ quote Spiderman here,” but we get the picture.

With great power comes great responsibility, Philadelphia. Make sure you’re ready.