Firearms – with the exception of those carried by official law enforcement personnel – do not belong on college campuses. Period.
Institutions of higher learning, as the name suggests, are meant to serve as open spaces in which students can ask questions, provide answers, and — wait for it — learn from one another. Doing these things in the presence of firearms, however, is quite difficult.
Last semester, I took a Liberal Arts Honors class called Boundaries and Dilemmas. The conversations we had in this course were emotionally-charged and, at times, tough to stomach. We discussed abortion, capital punishment, torture, and yes, gun violence. Though the majority of the students were often on the same page, there were a few instances in which half the class fell on one side of an issue, and the other half of the class fell on the other side. I remember being confused by and frustrated with others’ viewpoints – but I never felt unsafe. In fact, I knew that every student in that class respected one another independent of political beliefs, religious practices or social opinions.
When you add firearms to the mix, things could get dangerous — or fatal. Had Campus Carry been passed prior to my taking Boundaries and Dilemmas, I can’t say for certain that I would’ve felt nearly as comfortable expressing dissenting opinions — or any opinion at all, for that matter — for fear of the opposition losing their temper and resorting to gun violence. This does not mean that I think all individuals who are licensed to carry are looking to carry out a violent agenda, nor does this mean that I’m in favor of stripping the American people of their Second Amendment right. This means that firearms, by nature, make people uncomfortable, which, in an academic setting, may limit the extent to which students are willing to engage in challenging, thought-provoking conversations.
Unfortunately, no matter how compelling of an argument I present in opposition to Campus Carry, Senate Bill 11 — which allows individuals who are licensed to carry to bring concealed firearms on campus — passed. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, then, because we have to abide by and uphold the law while guaranteeing the safety and security of students, faculty, and staff members. I don’t think these things are necessarily mutually exclusive, but I remain convinced that the former makes the latter quite difficult.
Campus Carry goes into effect today, which means that we all have to get used to a new normal. In doing so, I think it’s important that we, as a student body, remain committed to creating a warm, welcoming and inclusive campus for everyone. If you join me in opposition to Campus Carry, I applaud your stance. I also encourage you to continue asking questions, providing feedback and expressing your concern in a productive, respectful way — I know I will. If you happen to fall on the other side of the argument, I urge you to continue sharing your opinions, too. Lastly, if you’re a student who chooses to carry a concealed weapon on campus, I encourage you to really think about what the firearm in your backpack has the capacity to do.
This issue, with all its moving parts, is complicated to understand. What is not complicated to understand, however, is the difference between concealed carry and open carry. If you see a firearm — or even the outline of a firearm in someone’s pocket — on campus, call 911 immediately and they will address the situation.
Our world — and the United States in particular — is plagued by gun violence, and adding more firearms to the equation won’t solve anything. At any rate, we must play the cards we’ve been dealt — I hope we’re able to do so with unconditional respect and unprecedented amounts of caution.
Helgren is a neuroscience and psychology senior. He is also the student body president.