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Guns on Campus Make Colleges Less Safe

By: Javier Auyero
May 31, 2016

Published in the New York Times

Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed SB 11, also known as the “campus carry” law. The law allows licensed holders to carry concealed handguns in university buildings and classrooms, extending the reach of a previous law that permitted concealed handguns on university grounds. The law goes into effect Aug. 1, 2016 for Texas public colleges and universities, and a year later for community colleges. How will this law affect life on campus?

To answer this question, let me go back to the debate that took place in the Texas Legislature last year. The debate – if we can call it that – was not about logical, evidence-based arguments, but guided by the interests and ideological commitments of the state legislators and the organizations that support them. Had it been about logic or evidence, the reasons put forward by William H. McRaven, the chancellor of the University of Texas and a former Navy SEAL, and Art Acevedo, chief of the Austin Police Department – both of whom know a thing or two about the subject – would have been heeded. They both opposed the new legislation with a similar argument: Allowing concealed weapons on campuses will create “less-safe” environments. When there are more guns around, there is more risk – it’s as simple as that.

Allowing guns in classrooms (against the will of the overwhelming majority of professors, staff and students) will not only increase risk but, as has been argued elsewhere, will stifle classroom debates – an essential component of learning. It will furthermore irredeemably hurt the national and international reputation of the flagship University of Texas at Austin and other Texas universities. Reputations take a notoriously long time to build, but a short time to destroy.

Do I dread the potential presence of young vigilantes – because, let’s not be euphemistic about it, “vigilante” is the right word for the people (mostly men) who will carry concealed guns – in my classroom? Certainly. But I don’t want to concede an inch to fear mongers: University campuses are some of the safest places in the United States. What I do fear, what I am truly scared of, is that we will get used to the presence of guns. I fear that sharing a classroom with students “packing heat” will stop shocking us as it now does, and that we will become something other than what we are: Women and men committed to teaching and learning in environments where everybody can freely express his or her ideas.

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