Published in the June 27, 2014 Santa Maria Times.
As a teacher, I have a high regard for the learning process, which best takes place in an environment where both the teachers and the learners feel safe.
A college campus should be a haven for learning, research and open inquiry. It is not and should not be a place where firearms are openly carried and aggressively displayed. Other than in the hands of trained law enforcement personnel, guns should not be a part of campus life.
Sadly, mass shootings are becoming an almost weekly occurrence in America. Eighty-six Americans are killed every day through gun violence. An American is 20 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than someone in another developed country. American children are 16 times more likely to be accidentally shot and killed than children in other advanced nations.
In the 18 months since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, there have been 74 school shootings, in both public schools and institutions of higher education. That is an average of over one per week during a typical school year.
In every instance, the response from the gun lobby has been the same — arm more citizens. Let them carry guns wherever they go, including college campuses. Seven states have passed laws allowing college teachers and student to bring guns to school.
If there is a shooter on campus, so the argument goes, an armed student/teacher would be able to deal with him — the only-a-good-guy-with-a-gun-can-stop-a-bad-guy-with-a-gun theory.
As a gun owner who once chased an intruder away by brandishing a rifle at him, I can see some merit in this argument. But a great many variables are involved, and if any one of them went wrong, a bad situation could be made much worse.
The armed student/teacher would have to know exactly where the shooter was and be able to identify him with split-second precision. He would need to be a better-than-average shot to prevent hitting a bystander. The police, arriving on the scene, could mistake him for the shooter. And if more than one person has brought a gun to school, they could end up shooting each other while the bad guy continues his killing spree.
Al Avila, chair of the Administration of Justice Department at Allan Hancock College, said, “Arming academic employees on college campuses may deter gun violence,” but adds, “there will likely be collateral injuries and deaths as a result of accidental shootings, mistakes, and errant rounds.”
Luis Sanchez, vice president of Hancock College, speaking for himself and not as a spokesperson for the college district, agrees, saying, “The danger posed by having college students and employees carrying loaded weapons is greater than any deterrent value served.”
The tragedy in Isla Vista last month, so close to home, was a reminder to us that these kinds of horrors can happen anywhere. But the images of men carrying their loaded semi-automatic rifles in department stores in Texas are not something I want to see in my classroom at Allan Hancock College.
In 1999, the NRA’s Wayne Lapierre said, “Schools should have absolutely zero tolerance for weapons of any kind, except in the hands of law enforcement.”
The issue of mass shootings, both on campus and off, is far too serious to be solved by a quick-fix solution. The campus is a place for learning. It should remain that way.
Mark James Miller, President, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, CFT Local 6185, Santa Maria, CA