I am opposed to the current bill—House Bill 1243—that would allow licensed faculty and staff to carry a concealed weapon on college and university campuses in Arkansas.
I speak from the perspective of a university professor. I am neither a criminologist nor a police officer; nor do I have special expertise in the statistical analysis of violence.
So I will avoid dealing in numbers and statistics.
I will simply tell you my story, the story of an American professor who has spent over 25 years of his life reading, writing, and teaching at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. My experience here has been wonderful, and I would like to tell you why.
College campuses are unique environments in many ways, and that is part of their special appeal and their essential value. Students arrive here in pursuit of their lives, in effect, at an age when many of them have only the haziest notions of where those lives will lead them. Our faculty thrives on introducing these students to their own talents and potential, an odd job that requires, by turns, skepticism, patience, tolerance, exploration, backward steps, and new beginnings—over and over again.
American campuses have traditionally provided the last safe haven where our students can undertake this kind of self-exploration and discovery without penalty or embarrassment—and it’s an educational process that thrives, like an orchid, in a very specific climate.
For our students and our faculty this climate has always been one of trust and tranquility.
If we introduce guns to this environment, then our educational system, like the orchid, withers and dies.
The fact is that guns and their constant companion, violence, have an impact on the free expression of ideas, and wherever guns are accepted as the normal accompaniment to books, laptops, backpacks, and iPhones, the strength of our ideas will wane, and higher education will respond in the only way that it can—by condoning those ideas that are the least likely to excite controversy or to spawn disagreement and free inquiry.
In this environment, we will begin to mistake frightened agreement for vigorous examination, acceptance for investigation. This will happen by degrees, unnoticeably at first, but it will happen. And slowly our ideas—and the values that accompany them—will conform to the environment that has nourished them: an environment of hostility, aggression, threat, and retaliation.
This is not the kind of education that has distinguished this country for the last 250 years. This is not the American educational system that encouraged me to devote my life to it.
Good teaching, of course, like any profession, is an activity that requires an array of techniques and strategies. Therefore, much of our teaching occurs by example, by the policies that we enact and support, and by the lives that we lead—policies and lives that our students watch unfolding day by day.
We also teach our students, then, by putting our lives on display, by showing our students that the most powerful ideas of our culture, the ones that we meet in our books and discuss in our classrooms, can also structure our lives and our society.
To allow faculty, staff, and eventually students to carry concealed handguns only strengthens the feelings of degradation, fear, and paranoia that give rise to the very culture of violence that we all work to dismantle in our classrooms every day. And it quietly sanctions the notion that we are now authorized by the laws of the land, no less, to respond to violence with violence—a notion that, on a college campus, can only lead us to an unspeakable tragedy.
We do not create a peaceful campus, one that encourages the very specific pursuits that distinguish higher education, by allowing those who live, work, and learn together to carry into the classroom the weapons that can destroy that peace in a few seconds.
The most powerful weapons in our book-bags, the real tools we use to dismantle hatred and violence, have always been our books and the education they bring. If this were to change, our mission would be irretrievably compromised.
The Presidents and Chancellors of the colleges and universities of Arkansas have voted unanimously against this bill.
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