Last night, I received notice from a couple of graduate students on Twitter that the Texas Legislature is about to pass a law allowing students and faculty to carry concealed weapons in class.
“Texas is poised to approve a measure allowing college students and professors to carry guns on campus, an initiative with strong support in the state legislature that critics concede they can’t stop.
The legislation has been championed by Gov. Rick Perry, co-sponsored by over half the lawmakers in the state House, and approved two years ago in the Senate. Texas would follow Utah, the only state in the nation to have a similar law.
“It’s strictly a matter of self-defense,” state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a Republican, told The Associated Press. “I don’t ever want to see repeated on a Texas college campus what happened at Virginia Tech, where some deranged, suicidal madman goes into a building and is able to pick off totally defenseless kids like sitting ducks.”
From web site The Raw Story – Texas to pass bill allowing guns on college campuses By Sahil Kapur published Monday, February 21st, 2011 — 9:44 am
A lot of this is supposedly because of Virginia Tech and possibly Amy Bishop in Alabama, but this is not a new idea. Now I know at least Arizona and Nebraska are seeking similar laws. There are likely others.
Besides not wanting guns in my face-to-face classroom, especially since accidental shootings tend to happen more often than intentional ones, the Virginia Tech instance seems to just be an excuse for something that has been pushed for a while here and in other states for K-12 schools and higher education. It isn’t a new idea and one school district in Texas already has this policy. The concealed gun law came about because of the Luby’s massacre in 1991 and the law was passed just as I moved to the state.
The justification for allowing teachers to have guns in a school district was the “Amish situation” and Virginia Tech. I have relatives who were at Virginia Tech at the time as engineering students. They tell me they would prefer that the school had actually taken complaints about the student’s behavior seriously to prevent it rather than arming the student and faculty body. In Florida, a teacher shot a student in self-defense without a law allowing his weapon in the school.
I will not say that there have not been instances of violence and fear from guns in schools, but I fear that having a highly armed faculty and student body just returns us to a wild west mentality that is inappropriate to a modern civilization. I’m sure there are people who disagree with my view.
While I have been trained in gun safety and learned to fire black powder muzzle loaders at Cole Canoe Base as a Boy Scout and am a pretty decent marksman (like my retired Army Lt. Col. father), the guns I have inherited stay at my folks’ place outside of Houston locked up or in their safe deposit box. We will not have them here in the house. I enjoy seeing my friends’ pictures of shooting at the gun range and think that I would enjoy going to the range again myself at some point and think it is great that they enjoy it.
However, because it does directly impact me as a father of an 18-month old boy and 4 1/2-year old daughter as well as my wife who also teaches at the university, I feel like I should at least get my views on the record. While I definitely do not want an armed student showing up and killing myself and/or my wife, I do not know that everyone (or even several people) my being armed is a reasonable solution. To me, the entire idea communicates only fear. It is likely a fear born of distance from computer-mediated communication and isolation. There is also the distinct feeling that there is a lack of understanding of “the other” and everyone is increasingly the “other” that we do not understand or empathize with any longer.
Why not look at the systemic factors with the school shootings and spend more money on the psychological well-being of students and faculty instead of pushing for reactionary band-aids that seek to address the symptoms when it is too late? Is it overly liberal to think that ensuring the mental health of students as a preventative is a better approach than ignoring their needs and arming ourselves just in case a student has a nervous or psychotic break? It may be.
Smaller classes and support systems for entering students in order to help identify students who are challenged by the transition to college may be a good start. Viewing students as humans with important needs rather than as consumers or systemic inputs ($) may also help. Spending money to conduct research with our own school populations and then developing programs to support them may be better than buying a lot of computers that will often sit in labs and gather dust while teachers struggle to prepare their students to pass a high-stakes test.
I do not think that there is one answer to the problem of gun violence in schools and tend to think that taking an organic or ecological systems view of things. In this view, the school as an organism made up of lots of smaller organisms living in a symbiotic relationship. This is as opposed to the mechanistic system view in which learners, faculty, staff, etc. are just a series of inputs and outputs that can be easily labelled for their individual value and decisions can be made without thinking about the larger health or the organism or the affective impact of the decisions made.
A doctoral student last night suggested that we study the impacts of this law on teaching and learning at our university once it is implemented as a filmed documentary. I think this is and excellent idea and one we shall pursue if allowed. I don’t know if we will be able to find a faculty member to follow who will come to class armed, though this is a region where it might happen as opposed to more liberal Austin.
In the meantime, there is a lot of thinking to be done and I am very apprehensive about this whole idea of guns at the university. I’m listening to my daughter sing a song from the TV to her little brother and laugh. This can give you an idea of what they are like to be with every day.
I think I’ll go spend more time with her and try to forget about the idea of one of my students sitting in class with a Glock for a while.