Because of the gun violence on our campuses and in other public spaces today, I think more and more about those confrontations.
In the first instance in Chicago, a young male student said to me that I would not “get away” with the grade I had given him. Even though I was in my 20s, athletic and a former Marine, I never again relaxed on campus. The second confrontation occurred in Fort Lauderdale, when a female student brought her father to my office to argue her case for a higher grade. The father became so angry and threatening that I telephoned security to escort him and his daughter from my office.
Over the years, several colleagues have told me about similar threats. Some took the threats seriously. Others saw them as part of the job.
Call me cowardly or super-sensitive for believing that the growing gun violence on school campuses, the easy availability of guns, and laws in an increasing number of states that permit concealed weapons on campus will turn our institutions of higher learning into places of open fear.
Now 35 states have campus concealed-carry laws. The University of Colorado is the latest to join this gun-toting madness. Florida considered a concealed-firearms law in 2011, but in a rare move the GOP-led Legislature voted down the measure.
The legislation’s failure had little to do with logic or reason or common sense. It had almost everything to do with the power of Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican. As chairman of the Rules Committee, Thrasher persuaded lawmakers to reject the law.
Here is what transpired: On Jan. 9, 2011, 20-year-old Amy Cowie saw her twin sister die after an accidental gunshot at Florida State University from their friend’s AK-47. According to the Miami Herald, the shooting “involved a contact close to Thrasher.”
One positive outcome of this tragedy is that it encouraged Thrasher to use his power to block the law. If passed, it would have allowed students in Florida to legally enter campuses with concealed firearms.
I teach writing as an adjunct at St. Petersburg College. I vowed that if Florida passed the concealed firearms law, I would not teach on another Florida campus. I still hold that vow. I refuse to stand in front of a classroom if students have the legal right to carry firearms. And I refuse to expose my students to the potential danger of concealed firearms in their presence.
Instead of being hostages to the bullying of lawmakers obsessed with guns and paralyzed by their fear of the National Rifle Association, our colleges should be beacons of moral clarity and learning. They need to follow the findings of scholars and the observations and conclusions of physicians who treat the victims of gun violence, who are trying to develop a science-based, workable approach to dealing with the carnage.
Gun ownership has become second nature to us. How, the experts ask, can we prevent violence as a result of too many guns? To start, we need to treat the gun like a virus. Evidence shows that following each well-publicized shooting, people get caught in the contagion of buying guns either for protection or retaliation.
We need a public health approach to the problem. We need to be working on ways to prevent more harm from guns, not ways to easily own more guns.
Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a gun violence expert who treated victims of the Sikh temple shootings at the emergency department he directs in Milwaukee, told the Associated Press: “What I’m struggling with is, is this the new social norm? This is what we’re going to have to live with if we have more personal access to firearms. We have a public health issue to discuss. Do we wait for the next outbreak or is there something we can do to prevent it?”
Experts and scholars at our universities should lead this cause and not run away from it out of fear of political reprisals. And they should convince lawmakers that guns do not belong at our institutions of higher learning.
Bill Maxwell is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.