(Don’t) Arm Yourself

I never thought I’d have to write about why guns don’t belong in school. Then the Campus Carry legislation was passed.

Campus Carry, which goes into effect today, is a law that makes it legal for permit holders to carry concealed weapons in buildings on public campuses in Texas. It is an extension of already existing laws that permitted concealed weapons on campuses, outside.

A clearer way of describing the change is: it was always legal to have guns on campus. Now you can have them in the classroom.

When I moved to Texas five years ago, I believed that all guns should be illegal. No guns for anyone! I no longer hold this position. I have too many friends now who shoot or hunt or collect weapons as a hobby. For these people, guns are part of their family heritage. I do not share this, but I respect it.

When I first heard about campus carry, I felt fear. That fear was the product of indoctrination. It is illegal for citizens to shoot their guns at people, and the people who commit gun crimes on campuses do so with intent to break the law. Under campus carry legislation, while it is legal to have a gun on campus, it is illegal to so much as show it to anyone else. The fear-mongering tactic of opponents to the law is counterproductive.

Nevertheless, I am strongly opposed to the increased presence of guns on campus likely to occur because of this law. Here’s why:

  1. Guns raise suicide rates: Many people first begin to show symptoms of mental health disorders between the ages of 18–22; this is also a time when young people lack the resources to manage their mental health effectively. While there is no evidence of increased gun violence among the mentally ill (without the addition of drugs or alcohol), the risk of self harm increases when depressed individuals have access to deadly weapons. I worry about students killing themselves.
  2. Guns create an environment of fear: Let’s talk about how many of my colleagues report feeling harassed, threatened, or afraid of (a small number of) their students. I have witnessed first-hand how few resources graduate students have to protect themselves from this kind of threat, and how feelings of fear can degrade an individual’s ability to work and live. I have witnessed physical altercations in classrooms; instructors being followed home from work; and verbal and written threats in cases of intellectual disagreement, grading disputes, or sexual desire. These events are not uncommon, and student instructors are institutionally unsupported in most cases. I worry that the presence or threat of guns will further degrade the working conditions of student instructors in these scenarios.
  3. Guns escalate violence: Because of the unique conditions of universities, they tend to concentrate acts of sexual violence, bullying, and harassment. Recent reports about rape on campus draw attention to these risks. So do reports about violent altercations directed at people of color and LGBTQ youth, particularly at Texas universities. What will happen if guns are present in these altercations? If guns are present in cases of bullying or harassment, there is a greater risk of physical injury. If the guns are in the hands of those being harassed, they run the additional risk of being drawn into the criminal justice system, where, as we know, the cards are stacked against them. It is clear that campus carry is not intended to protect our most vulnerable populations. It is also clear that they are the ones most likely to be harmed by the new legislation.

I am on a fellowship so I don’t have to teach this year, and I’m completing graduate school so I will never have to teach or study at a Texas university again. This makes me more fortunate than most of my colleagues. So let me be explicit: the fact that it is legal to carry guns in classrooms in Texas makes me less likely to apply for or accept a position at a public university in that state.

I support the right of private citizens, with proper training and without a history of violence, to own guns. I do not believe that weapons designed for the purpose of ending human lives belong anywhere near a university, inside or out. I have no interest in working for an institution, or for a government, that does not see the protection of its most vulnerable populations as its top priority.