Sunday, March 22, 2015

Guns on Campus House Higher Ed and Workforce Committee Meeting, March 18, 2015

On Wednesday, March 18, I saw firsthand again the smugness of legislators who have no idea what life is like to teach on college and university campuses dismiss our concerns and vote against the interests of so many who do: university presidents, university police chiefs, faculty organizations, and student organizations as well as the university system itself. Now, I would never proclaim to represent all faculty. Indeed, there are faculty members who think having guns on campus is a good idea, and I respect their opinion even though I don’t agree. But the resolutions passed by the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) and the FSU Faculty Senate showed that a large majority do not want guns in their classrooms. As the President of the FSU Chapter of UFF, as a professor, and as a citizen of Florida, it is my right—and obligation—to represent my colleagues who agree that guns on campus is a bad idea for so many reasons, including, as I argued, that firearms on campus will have a chilling effect on recruitment and retention of faculty and that many view the presence of guns on campus as a challenge to academic freedom and the very mission of our colleges and universities. We were told by one of the Representatives on the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee that our perceptions do not matter (you can watch the meeting here). That smacks of arrogance and ignorance. I don’t see those same folks arguing for guns in the rooms where legislators meet. But they’ll force guns on me and my students who do not want them and who fear the consequences of guns in the classroom so that the gun lobby can continue to scare and harass people into buying more guns.

I am so disturbed by the gun lobby and legislators’ primary argument that guns are necessary on campus so that women can protect themselves from rapists. Sexual violence is a very serious issue that must be addressed by universities and colleges as well as the community at large, but the very real consequences of sexual violence must not be used to further a political agenda for guns everywhere all the time. I cannot find any evidence that guns on campus reduce sexual assaults. And many who have experienced sexual assault do not want guns on campus.  Further, the argument is problematized by the fact that most women on campus are 17-20 years old and would not have that presumed protection, that statistics show that in 90% of sexual assault cases, the perpetrator is someone the victim knew, and that arming 21-year-olds means arming the perpetrators as well (the bill does not specify that only women can carry concealed firearms). But one of the most compelling arguments against this notion is one that was brought up by one of the speakers: the argument that women must have guns to protect themselves perpetuates the culture of rape that blames the victim: She shouldn’t have been wearing those clothes; she shouldn’t have been drinking; she shouldn’t have been out that late; and now add, she should have had a gun.  

If these legislators and gun lobbyists really care about sexual assault, they would be pounding their chests to make sure that the state government provides the necessary funds for prevention programs, not force guns on a community that does not need them and does not want them.  Representative Kerner said it well: "I refuse to believe that the policy answer, the legislative answer to the culture of sexual assault, the culture of mental health and mass shootings on our campus is arming our students with weapons.”

I am also disturbed by the fact that the bill sponsor continues to say that guns on campus will not cost anything. According to the Associated Press, in Idaho, the costs of guns on campus are staggering: “Five of Idaho's universities and community colleges say they've spent more than $1.5 million for additional security since lawmakers approved a law allowing concealed guns on campus. The Idaho Statesman reports the schools sought $1.55 million this winter plus another $2.17 million for the rest of the budget year to help with expenses. But Boise State University, Idaho State University, the University of Idaho, the College of Western Idaho and North Idaho College will likely have to absorb the costs. Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter didn't include the money in budget planning and state lawmakers are not likely to add the money. The law went into effect July 1. It allows retired law enforcement officers and holders of enhanced concealed-carry permits to bring firearms onto campus.” Since guns would still not be allowed in sporting events, will we need to install metal detectors like the ones they have on the way into the Capitol? That costs money. Additional security costs money. Ensuring that those carrying weapons have a license costs money. To hear the sponsor insist that there will be no costs is mind-blowing. 

The gun lobby and guns on campus sponsor also continuously say, “I can take my guns anywhere else so I should be able to take them on to campus, too.” But then they are forced to acknowledge that they can’t take their guns everywhere. There’s a very clear list in the statute: bars, sporting events, rooms where legislators meet, courtrooms, police stations, airports, polling places, etc. So no, you can’t take your gun anywhere, and for good reason.  Those are places where emotions can run high, where people may be intoxicated and make bad decisions when under the influence, where people are angry or desperate or both, and so on. Hey, that happens on campus, too, unfortunately, which is why campuses were excluded in the first place.

I also have to point out that in all these other states that some of the representatives referenced that allow guns on campus, 23 of them leave the decision up to the institution, and most of the seven states that allow guns on campus have limitations, like the Idaho bill. So it’s not that the case that anyone with a concealed weapons license can carry firearms anywhere on campus. But in the Florida bill, there are no limits regarding gun security measures, enhanced concealed weapons license requirements, etc., and I’ve heard that the bill sponsors will not consider any limitations. I would venture to guess that even some of those faculty members and students who support guns on campus would want some limitations—at the least, provisions about gun security. So again, this is not about making campus safe—it’s about selling more guns.

I know this sounds so bleak, but we can’t give up. We simply can’t. I’ve been hearing that people who have testified against the bill are not coming back because they feel they are not being heard, so why bother. That’s how the gun lobby wins! That and intimidation tactics

Do not give up—get fired up (no pun intended). We need to double our efforts. Bring more people to the meetings, have more people call and write their legislators, anything we can do to show  legislators and the public that universities and colleges do not want or need guns. We need more money for mental health and violence prevention programs, not more weapons!