The state of Texas is currently debating the idea of allowing carry license holders to keep their guns with them on college campuses. This subject all too often shuts down thinking, and that is a disturbing fact, considering that centers of higher learning are supposed to be havens of free thought.
One response, written by Jessica Smartt Gullion, assistant professor of sociology at Texas Woman’s University, illustrates what I’m talking about. In “Will Guns on Campus Lead to Grade Inflation,” Dr. Gullion speculates about the possibility of students using the threat of carry guns to receive higher grades than they earned. She cites an example from her own experience of a belligerent student and cases of professors who have been killed on campuses.
Consider one of those incidents, a shooting on the University of Arkansas campus in August of 2000. I teach college English in this state, so this one hits close to home. A disgruntled student who was being dismissed from a graduate program took out his frustrations by killing one of the professors in his major’s department and then killing himself.
What Gullion acknowledges, but then dismisses without comment, is the fact that in each example she names, carrying firearms on campus was illegal at the time of the shootings. This is a key point, one that people who object to campus carry have to gloss over. Will someone who intends to commit murder be deterred by the additional worry of committing what in my state is a Class A misdemeanor? Asserting that they will is especially absurd when we consider that many such killers intend to kill themselves as well.
Education requires the development and exercise of rationality, and educated people commit fewer crimes. But more than this, there is an assumption, often unacknowledged, that because we are law-abiding, everyone else will also obey the law. If we declare that carrying a firearm on campus is against the rules, then naturally, no one will come to campus armed. My claim may seem unfair, but I can’t see any other explanation for the thinking that looks a lot like a belief that gun-free zone signs create a magical circle of protection around the college. Gullion actually called bans on carry as “a layer of safety.”
What these laws against campus carry do is make sure that the people who are of the least concern will be unarmed. The minimum age for carry licenses is 21 in most states—the same age as the minimum for legal consumption of alcohol. One argument about guns at college is that drunken 18-year-old freshmen will roam the campus firing off rounds at random, but this presumes that someone who is breaking one law will comply with another. If underage students will bring one product, alcohol, into the dorms, will they be impressed by being told not to bring another product, guns?
These days, the demographics at colleges are changing. Many students are no longer 18 and straight out of high school. They’ve been out in the world for a while. A lot of them are working to pay their bills and put themselves through school. In other words, they’ve realized that no one owes them a living and success must be earned. They’re adults. And if they’ve been issued a carry license, they’ve passed a background check.
But what about the idea that desperate students will threaten teachers who don’t give them the grades they want? I’ve taught college students since 1998. One semester, I gave a quarter of a literature class an F for plagiarism and was asked by the dean if I couldn’t find it within myself to be more forgiving. I’ve had students storm out of the class in a rage and make threats to file false reports about me. Could a student threaten me with a gun? Yes. Does my campus’s ban on carrying prevent that from happening? Of course not. What that ban does do is keep me from being able to defend myself and my students. People who intend to commit felonies won’t be stopped by asking them to leave their guns at home. They can be stopped by members of the faculty and student body who have been checked and licensed to carry effective tools of self-defense.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.