I've been a faculty member at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, since 1986.
I grew up around guns.
I'm not afraid of guns, and I know how to use them.
And I don't want guns on our campuses. Here's why.
House Bill 1077, introduced by Representative Charlie Collins in the 90th General Assembly, would allow faculty and staff with the proper credentials to carry a concealed handgun on the campuses of Arkansas colleges, community colleges, and universities. The current bill, as a cursory reading of it reveals, is exactly the same as the current law, Act 226, with one important exception.
HB 1077 removes the opt-out clause from the current law, the clause that gives to the various Boards of Trustees the final decision on whether or not to allow handguns on the campuses that fall under their supervision. Since Act 226 became law, the Boards across the state have twice had an opportunity to opt out of the law, and twice the Boards have spoken with one voice, choosing to prohibit guns from their campuses.
I have publicly applauded the Boards for their good sense and courage in resisting this violent legislation.
But Representative Collins has decided that if the Boards of Trustees do not agree with his wish to arm our campuses, the very campuses that these Boards oversee and govern, then he will remove their power to make such decisions.
This is the kind of governmental over-reach that moderates and conservatives in this state, and across the country, have always resisted.
Self-governance has been disregarded in HB 1077, and now the bill should be resisted.
HB 1077 is nothing more than a solution in desperate search of a problem that in Arkansas thankfully does not exist. In the 12-year period between 2001 and 2013 (numbers gathered according to the Clery Act and available through the FBI site), there were four murders on Arkansas college campuses involving guns. None can be classified as mass-shootings. In fact, if you are seeking a safe haven from mass shooters, one of the safest places in America is a campus of higher education in the state of Arkansas. In the same period of time, you were more likely to die of a lighting strike in our state than you were a gunshot on an Arkansas college campus.
The problem is amplified when we realize that adding guns to any environment increases the risk that they will be misused and that innocent people will be seriously hurt or killed. A recent study from Stanford proves conclusively that in right-to-carry states gun-violence increases exponentially.
Surely, this is not the environment that we want for our colleges and universities in Arkansas.
But what about defensive gun use, the real crux of this bill?
Another recent study appearing in Politico, and drawn from the work of one of our country’s imminent researchers in gun violence at Harvard, shows that those numbers have been seriously skewed to aid arguments in favor of right-to-carry. In fact, defensive gun use, particularly when involving the kind of mass-shootings this bill is designed to address, is almost nonexistent.
Also, we often hear that gun-free zones, such as college campuses, are invitations to mass-killers. This too is false. In an exhaustive study published by Mother Jones, it was discovered that among the 62 mass shootings over the last 30 years, not a single case includes evidence that the killer chose to target a campus because it banned guns. The school was chosen because of the stressful, often bullying treatment the killers had received there as students.
So, gun-free campuses do not invite such tragedies, and placing guns on campuses does nothing to prevent them. In fact, placing guns on campuses invites other tragedies that we certainly wish to avoid here in Arkansas.
And finally, what about the intangibles? What about open discussion and freedom of speech—one of the hallmarks of higher education?
In October, 2014, at Utah State University, where campus-carry is legal, one of our country’s leading feminist and media scholars, Anita Sarkeesian, was scheduled to lecture. Threats on her life were received, and after conferring with the administration and learning that they could not guarantee her a safe, gun-free environment because of their concealed-carry law, she had no choice but to cancel her lecture. This was the subject of a lead article in The Chronicle of Higher Education—our country’s major publication on higher education—and the damage done to the reputation of Utah State is inestimable. Speakers, dignitaries, artists, politicians, writers, all have been served notice—Utah State cannot guarantee a gun-free, safe environment for their visits.
So, at Utah State, guns have compromised the freedom of speech. And they will do so at Arkansas as well, even at the classroom level, as teachers and lecturers avoid discussing the controversial topics that are the backbone of history, politics, philosophy, and ethics.
To voice your opinion on this issue, email or call Representative Bruce Cozart, the Chairperson of the House Education Committee that will determine the fate of this bill. You can also contact Representative Charlie Collins, the author of the bill, by email here, or you can visit his House page here.
—Sidney Burris, Professor, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville