Campus carry threatens our right to free speech on campus

Mia Carter

Valentine’s Day next week will be the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. According to the Gun Violence Archive, which uses a definition derived from multiple government agencies (four or more injured or killed in a single event), there were 340 mass shootings in 2018. 666 children (ages 0-11) and 2,833 teenagers (ages 12-17) were killed or injured over the course of the year. The total number of gun violence incidents in 2018 was 57,057, which resulted in 14,661 deaths and 1,613 unintentional shootings. In the fall of 2018, two additional mass shootings took place — 12 people were killed Nov. 7th in Thousand Oaks, California at a student line dancing event at the Borderline Bar & Grill (12 killed), the other with 11 casualties at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Tree of Life Congregation on October 27, 2019. An armed and well-trained policeman, Sgt. Ron Helus, was one of the casualties in the Thousand Oaks nightclub shooting. The gunman had a legally purchased handgun with a flashlight, laser sight and seven illegal high-capacity magazines. With these widely available private arsenals, why do our legislators believe that a campus-carrying student with a minimum of four hours of training would fare better than Sgt. Helus? A licensed and carrying good guy or girl’s grandest fantasies of heroism and rescue will most likely not protect us in any mass shooting event, so perhaps we could do something about the guns.

According to an article from the Annals of Internal Medicine, access to firearms increases the likelihood of suicide or homicide. In 2019, we know that we are vulnerable to exposure to gun violence in places of worship, relaxation and education. This fact is respected and taken into account with the clear bag policies at the University’s stadiums and concert halls. In its classrooms, not so much, thanks to Senate Bill 11. 

The United States of America has the horrific distinction of being the only country to experience this kind of ritualized gun violence and destruction. The spectacularly tragic mass shooting events overshadow the daily little tragedies, like the suicides and accidental shootings. We are very fortunate that the two handguns that were forgotten in bathrooms on campus last year, did not fall into the wrong hands and were not involved in accidental discharges.

Facts and statistics matter and, thankfully, research on gun violence in this country continues to grow and be supported with research funding. Our voices, debates and conversations matter, too. The Stoneman Douglas students and our own campus’s coalition of Cocks Not Glocks’ girls with dildos and Gun Free UT’s affiliated parents, students, alumni, faculty and staff have been inspirational role models, citizens and fighters for public safety and the common good. As memories of Stoneman Douglas’ will soon be recirculated in the media, and treacly thoughts and prayers will be recited this coming Valentine’s Day, perhaps we can consider what can we continue to fight for. Here are some ideas to consider as conversation starters. How about:

On campus, the First Amendment right to free speech and dissent, and the right to all students, faculty, and staff in private and shared offices who wish to work together and thrive in a gun-free environment to declare that desire and intent. The forced removal of Gun Free UT window signs is not a beautification issue, it is an attempt to make us forget about loaded lethal weapons in our midst, an attempt to normalize the presence of loaded lethal weapons in our daily lives. Gun Free UT supporters do not want to take any legal gun owner’s rights away; we want the “well-regulated” part of the Second Amendment to be taken seriously in this country, as a policy and promotion of public safety. We want the right to work and think and argue and debate, freely and fearlessly. We want the right to depend on our capable, courageous, and well-trained first responders, both on and off campus. You want to post a “Yahoo, Campus Carry!” sign? Feel free. We are a university community­ — we know how to rationally and responsibly agree to disagree.

Hey, Texas Legislators! How about: The right to opt out of SB 11. Nearly every single private college and university in the state of Texas that could opt out of campus carry did, because the idea of students and faculty carrying concealed and loaded lethal weapons on campus is widely recognized by educators as a threat to public health and safety, as well as an offense to common sense. Public community colleges and public universities should be recognized as equal before the law and be given those same rights. There is an excellent recent study sponsored by Johns Hopkins University that identifies the unique climate of colleges and universities. One major concern is mental health. Students in the age population are especially prone to depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety disorders. It is also the age of onset for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other serious mental health problems. Loaded lethal weapons on college campuses do nothing to enhance the educational environment and only further jeopardize young people.

How about: Common sense gun control policies and legislation such as background checks, gun bans for domestic assaulters, no silencers or extended capacity magazines, prohibition of arms’ sales to the mentally ill, etc.

How about: Mandatory liability insurance for all licensed gun owners. We have it for our motorized vehicles, why not try it for lethal weapons?

In 2012, I truly believed that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was going to lead us to address this country’s epidemic of gun violence. I was wrong; we remain in a state of crisis. Successful gun control legislation and action will be the result of committed struggle and citizens’ collective actions. This Valentine’s Day, I want to thank the Cocks Not Glocks’ young women wielding dildos to accentuate the absurdity of our state’s laws. I want to thank the Gun Free UT sign wielders and committed big-mouths. I want to honor this country’s grieving students and classmates, the survivors and victims of gun violence and their families. On gun control, I put my faith in the parents and children, educators, health professionals and first responders, and responsible gun owners who will continue to fight together, and lead the way. 

Carter is an associate professor of English.