Research – not emotion – is the reason faculty ought to be empowered to ban guns in our offices & classrooms

*These views are my own and do not represent or reflect the views of the University of North Texas, nor the Department of Media Arts. This is a letter I wrote to our Campus Carry Task Force that I am sharing here as well*

Dear Campus Carry Task Force, President Smatresk, & the Board of Regents,

As a faculty member – like far too many (female) faculty members I know – I have experienced student anger and outburst in my office. These have been incredibly uncomfortable and have felt threatening (having a man much larger than I am, stand up, put a finger in my face, and yell at me is incredibly intimidating). But, in those moments I have never feared that the student had a gun (yes, of course it was possible, but it didn’t seem likely). Without fail, every time I confront a student about cheating or plagiarism, they cry, they get visibly upset, defensive, or angry at themselves. Some students get understandably upset about this, but others react in such a way that I am legitimately concerned for their well-being and safety. We have a responsive CARE team that I know has positively intervened in the lives of some of our students who felt desperate in such situations. On more than one occasion in my six years of teaching on Texas campuses, I’ve been concerned a student was suicidal. But I’ve not been concerned that a student would have access to a gun in my office in the moment of that confrontation. These are situations that are already uncomfortable, can feel vulnerable, or threatening. They must be handled with respect and diligence and an awareness that students are volatile and make poor decisions and react in ways that put themselves and others in danger. As such, guns have no place in these situations. They only provide access to a dangerous outcome and can escalate an already delicate, and at times heated, situation.

Thus, I am imploring the taskforce to empower faculty members to make decisions about the presence of guns in our offices. Why should a student’s right to carry a weapon trump my right to feel safe in my own office? A space that feels intimately personal and private. Further, I do not plan to ever carry a gun to work, something I will make clear to my students. Thus if they feel the need to bring a gun into my office, I don’t know how else to interpret that, other than they view me as a threat – as I’m the only one in my office. This is not a situation I feel equipped to handle or address.

Further, particular classes have a tendency to lead to heated discussions. In my classes – as with many in our department – we discuss domestic violence, online gender-based harassment, male privilege, white privilege, heteronormativity, abortion and reproductive justice, social inequalities, and other issues that often trigger emotional responses from students. The reactions might be based on personal experiences or a perception that their worldview (and sense of self) is being challenged. These discussions are typically respectful, but can and occasionally do get heated. I do not know how students can feel safe voicing unpopular opinions or perspectives (or disagreeing with their professor) if they know some people in the room may have a gun. Guns are tools of intimidation and will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Speech is also a protected amendment and right – it is of the upmost importance in a college classroom that it be protected and upheld. It is a space where students are actively encouraged to think, express their perspectives, and expand their worldviews via critical discussions – and guns threaten that freedom and ability to feel safe during these discussions. As such, I believe we absolutely must balance first amendment rights with gun rights. The right to carry should not trump or infringe upon the right to feel safe freely expressing oneself in the classroom (or office).  

Most significantly to me, is the fact that there is absolutely zero evidence that more guns on campus will make anyone safer – in fact, there is ample evidence to the contrary. Despite the evidence that CHL holders are law-abiding citizens, there have been at least 29 mass murders committed by CHL holders since 2007[1] and 41 citizens have been killed in Texas by someone with a CHL since 2008.[2] There is an incredible lack of evidence that the “good guy” with the gun can actually positively intervene in an active shooter situation (best estimate 8 incidents).[3] This “good guy with a gun” idea is a myth that has been perpetuated by news journalism, lobbyists, the NRA, politicians, and fictional media – but has no evidence to support it. Even highly trained military personnel struggle to overcome their basic survival instinct – an instinct to run, not fight. Army veterans – those trained to shoot in combat situations – have spoken out about not getting involved in active shooter situations and have vocally dispelled the “good guy” myth.[4] John Parker, an armed veteran was on the Oregon campus at the time of the shooting this semester; he explained why he made the wise decision not to shoot[5]. In other active shooter situations, we have seen that unarmed citizens, not guns, can positively intervene.[6] Very few CHL holders – who attained a license while shooting a  static target that did not shoot back – will be able to accurately and effectively take down an active shooter (a moving target shooting back). In addition to fight or flight, we know that many of us, including trained CHL holders, will just freeze.[7] The scenario of the “good guy with the gun” is much less likely than the scenario of suicides and accidental shootings.[8] Data consistently supports this. For every criminal killed in self-defense, 34 innocent people die.[9]

The statistics about CHL holders presented at the Campus Carry task force meeting did not take into account suicides and accidental shootings. We know college students are emotionally unstable and suffer from risk-taking and impulsive decisions. We do not need to put guns in that mix. If I confront a student about failing the course or plagiarism or disruptive classroom behavior, they understandably get upset or defensive; things can get hostile. I do not want to assess whether that student has a gun. Suicide could happen either way, but hopefully on the trip home they might call their mom, seek help, calm down, and not make an impulsive decision that they might otherwise make if they have access to a gun in the heat of the moment.

Nor did the research presented at the campus meeting take into consideration the increased access that non-CHL holders will now have to firearms, particularly in the residence halls. This is not simply about the “good” CHL holder, but also the “bad guy” (or mentally ill or emotionally unstable) who now has increased access to guns on campus via CHL holders. Just this semester a professor at Wyoming left his concealed weapon completely unattended.[10] This is an opportunity we do not need to make available on campuses. Study after study after study unquestionably demonstrates that more guns equals more gun violence.[11] Period. And reversely, fewer guns reduces gun violence.[12]

If we cannot appeal this law, then I urge you – listen to concerned faculty when we say guns have NO place in a classroom and NO place in our offices. At the very least, this ought to be a decision a faculty member is empowered and equipped to make. It is absurd that as faculty we can ban mobile phones in the name of distraction, but the law fails to recognize that the potential presence of a gun in the classroom is also a distraction. Someone else’s right to defense should never trump my right to safety in the workplace (again there is no evidence that guns make us safer, none!). Nor should gun rights trump the right of students to freely express themselves in the classroom and in the privacy of a professor’s office. I implore you to afford faculty the right to determine whether they will allow guns in their offices and their classrooms. If we are afforded the right to ban guns in our offices – that ban goes both ways, neither students nor faculty could have a gun in that space. It’s a neutral gun-free zone.

And I urge you to ban guns in the residence halls, a space wrought with alcohol (despite policies, we know the truth), volatile emotions, and peer disagreements – a recipe for disaster if guns are accessible. I have no doubt guns in the residence halls will lead to violence – whether intentional, accidental, or suicidal isn’t really the point – students will be safer in the absence of guns in their living space. Guns in homes increases risk of homicide and suicide, particularly for men. [13]

As campus sexual assaults are finally gaining more national attention, we need to consider how guns also put women at greater risk. Evidence demonstrates that guns do not allow women to protect themselves from assault, but rather escalate situations and increase the likelihood of violence.[14]  There is absolutely zero evidence to the contrary. None. Period. So make the decision to protect our student population by banning guns in the residence halls, where sexual assaults are likely to take place (since we know about 92 percent of women who are assaulted, are assaulted by someone they know – someone they very well may have invited into their room).[15] If a student insists on owning a gun, that means they are at least 21 years of age, which also means they are eligible for non-campus housing, which is a choice they can make. But student housing must be a gun-free zone. It is the safest way to keep college students safe.

This entire bill was passed based on emotion – not logic, not research, not data. Empower faculty to make a logical, evidence-based decision as to whether or not they want to allow guns in their classrooms and offices. Do not let the emotions and fears of second amendment enthusiasts trump the protected and vital first amendment rights and safety of faculty and students.

Thank you for your consideration & continued attention to this matter,

Dr. Jacqueline Vickery, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

University of North Texas

References:

[1] Ingraham, C. (2015). People with concealed carry permits have committed at least 29 mass shootings since 2007. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/26/people-with-concealed-carry-permits-have-committed-at-least-29-mass-shootings-since-2007/

[2] http://concealedcarrykillers.org/texas/

[3] See footnote 1.

[4] Gettys, T. (2015). Combat veterans shoot down NRA ‘fantasy world’ of ‘good guys with guns’. The Raw Story. http://www.rawstory.com/2015/10/its-insane-combat-veterans-shoot-down-nra-fantasy-world-of-good-guys-with-guns/

[5] Boggioni, T. (2015). Armed vet destroys gun nuts’ argument on mass shooters by explaining why he didn’t attack Oregon killer. The Raw Story. http://www.rawstory.com/2015/10/armed-vet-destroys-gun-nuts-argument-on-mass-shooters-by-explaining-why-he-didnt-attack-oregon-killer/

[6] A study of active shooter incidents in the United States between 2003 and 2013. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/september/fbi-releases-study-on-active-shooter-incidents/pdfs/a-study-of-active-shooter-incidents-in-the-u.s.-between-2000-and-2013

Ellifritz, G. (2013). 10 Lessons learned from the new FBI study on active shooters. Active Response Training. http://www.activeresponsetraining.net/10-lessons-learned-from-the-new-fbi-study-on-active-shooters

[7] Weller, C. (2014). Fight or flight, or freeze? Scientists find brain circuit behind third fear response. Medical Daily. http://www.medicaldaily.com/fight-or-flight-or-freeze-scientists-find-brain-circuit-behind-third-fear-response-279176

Schmidt, N.B., Richey, J.A., Zvolensky, M.J., and Maner, J.K. (2007). Exploring human freeze responses to a threat stressor. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 39(3), pp. 292-304.

[8] Desilver, D. (2013). Suicides account for most gun deaths. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/05/24/suicides-account-for-most-gun-deaths/

[9] Ingraham, C. (2015). Guns in America: For every criminal killed in self-defense, 34 innocent people die. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/19/guns-in-america-for-every-criminal-killed-in-self-defense-34-innocent-people-die/

[10] Thomason, A. (2015). College instructor apologizes after leaving a gun in his classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/college-instructor-apologizes-after-leaving-a-gun-in-his-classroom/106173

[11] Ingraham, C. (2014). More guns, more crime: new research debunks central thesis of gun rights movement. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/11/14/more-guns-more-crime-new-research-debunks-a-central-thesis-of-the-gun-rights-movement/.

Parker, C.B. (2014). Right-to-carry gun laws linked to increase in violent crimes, Stanford research shows. Stanford Report. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/november/donohue-guns-study-111414.html

[12] Fewer guns means fewer gun homicides. (2015). The National Bureau of Economic Research. http://www.nber.org/digest/feb01/w7967.html.

Less guns, less crime – debunking the self-defense myth. (2013). Armed with Reason. http://www.armedwithreason.com/less-guns-less-crime-debunking-the-self-defense-myth/

[13] Dahlberg, L.L., Ikeda, R.M., and Kresnow, M. (2004). Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home. Am. J. Epidemiol, 160 (10): pp. 929-936. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/160/10/929.full.

[14] Groch-Begley, H. (2014). Guns make domestic violence deadlier. Media Matters. http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/04/18/guns-make-domestic-violence-deadlier/198942

Fox, J.A. (2015). Guns don’t deter sexual assaults. USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/02/24/guns-college-sexual-assaults-james-alan-fox/23889451/.

Schwarz, A. (2015). A bid for guns on campuses to deter rape. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/us/in-bid-to-allow-guns-on-campus-weapons-are-linked-to-fighting-sexual-assault.html?_r=0

[15] Culp-Ressler, T. (2014). 5 important facts you need to know to understand the college sexual assault crisis. Think Progress. http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/01/29/3222151/important-facts-college-sexual-assault/

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