Wisconsin Colleges Shouldn’t Be Badgered into Allowing Guns in Classrooms
[The following is a guest post by Lisa Geller, who interned with CSGV during the summer of 2015.]
There are over 7,000 colleges and universities in the United States, the majority of which prohibit students from carrying firearms on their campuses. Unfortunately, I happen to attend a school that has been forced to allow guns in “right-of-way” areas, and which might have to permit them in my classrooms soon as well.
On November 1, 2011, a law went into effect in Wisconsin that allows people with concealed carry permits to carry firearms on public college campuses, including my university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fortunately, that law gave schools the option of prohibiting carry inside campus buildings, which my university did. Wisconsin is one of nine states that now allows guns on campus. Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, and Utah have similar policies.
As a senior at UW-Madison who has been passionate about the issue of gun violence for several years, this policy is extremely troubling to me. I am currently pursuing a degree in political science with a focus on American government and constitutional law. Finishing my degree, graduating with honors, and planning for my future should all be the things I worry about during my senior year, not whether someone with a history of violence will exploit this law to bring a hidden gun onto my campus.
The story gets worse. On October 12, 2015, state Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and state Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) introduced a bill that would allow those with concealed carry permits to bring their guns inside campus buildings and classrooms. While Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker hasn’t officially taken a position on the bill, there is no doubt in my mind that he will support it. He does, after all, have an A+ rating from the NRA. Sadly, the governor has consistently chosen the financial well-being of the gun lobby over the lives of his constituents.
There is, however, opposition to the legislation. The University of Wisconsin-Madison administrators and the UW-Madison Campus Police expressed their disapproval with the proposal shortly after it was introduced. In a statement, the UW-Madison police wrote:
Allowing concealed weapons inside a building like Camp Randall Stadium, filled with 80,000 people, creates a major security issue. The training required to obtain a concealed carry permit is minimal. We urge our legislators not to change the existing law. Doing so would put the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and guests at risk.
Several UW-Madison professors have also come out against the proposal. Don Moynihan, a professor at the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, tweeted, “It’s hard to think of a policy that would make me feel less safe at work.” David Vanness, an assistant professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, tweeted, “You have got to be kidding me.”
UW-Milwaukee’s student body president, Mike Sportiello, wrote an open letter to the Wisconsin legislature, saying, “We need to base our decision on how to best create a safe society on evidence and peer-reviewed research before we choose to flood our classrooms, workout facilities, and residence halls where we eat and sleep, with weapons.” He cited the CDC and Harvard School of Public Health when noting that an increase in firearms on campus would also likely increase the number of suicides. The heads of student government at my university expressed similar concerns.
I cringe at the thought of someone walking around campus with a concealed firearm. In the case of a crisis, how would I know if someone was lawfully using his or her drawn weapon? How would I be able to distinguish a “good guy with a gun” from a “bad guy with a gun”? How would law enforcement?
The gun lobby’s myth about “gun-free zones” should have been put to rest on October 1, 2015, when a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, killing nine people and injuring several others. John Parker Jr., a student at Umpqua Community College, had a concealed carry permit and was on campus during the massacre with other veterans who were carrying their firearms. He told MSNBC shortly after the attack, “Luckily, we made the choice not to get involved. We were quite a distance away from the actual building where it was happening, which could have opened us up to being potential targets ourselves. And, you know, not knowing where SWAT was on their response time, they wouldn’t know who we were, and if we had our guns ready to shoot, they’d think we were the bad guys.”
I’m also deeply concerned about the academic impacts of allowing guns at my university. Recently, Daniel Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, quit in response to Texas’s new policy allowing concealed carry on public college campuses. The law, which goes into effect August 1, 2016, “would allow licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons into classrooms and university buildings.” Dr. Hamermesh correctly noted that the law would increase the “risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom.”
How many other faculty are currently weighing a decision about whether to continue working on an armed campus? How long until the resulting Brain Drain begins to affect my education, and the education of other students at public universities in Wisconsin and the eight other states mentioned above?
Had I been more knowledgable about the campus carry debate in Wisconsin when I graduated high school, I may not have chosen to attend UW-Madison. We shouldn’t have to fear for our well-being in classrooms, libraries, sports stadiums, etc. Colleges and universities are institutions for learning, not gunplay, and I see no place for weapons on their premises.
[Please sign my petition and ask Governor Walker to veto the new Campus Carry legislation should it come to his desk.]