The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. is unshakable. As a student, it is difficult to imagine such a situation, such a shadow of grief hanging over a school, a campus.
The 17 students killed in Parkland are part of a larger network of unimaginable pain, splintered families, and broken communities. This story is not new. According to CNN, there have been 17 school shootings since the start of the year. We again and again have seen fiery town halls and marches in the streets, have seen politicians offer condolences and promises for legislation that will change something, anything.
Nothing seems to be working.
Meanwhile, on college campuses in several states, students and faculty with a permit can legally carry a concealed weapon on their person. Most recently, Georgia’s “campus carry” law went into effect on July 1, 2017, a decade after the deadly Virginia Tech shooting.
Campus carry seems to be a reaction to the sort of brute violence seen in shootings like Parkland and Virginia Tech, a visceral movement to arm citizens to stop mass shootings before they happen. Proponents of these bills argue that arming students and faculty could prevent future bloodshed of the same magnitude as Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Parkland. Guns, to them, are symbols of safety, guaranteed by the Constitution as legitimate as our First Amendment rights. But is it safe, in light of increased gun violence, to give more people guns?
Advocates for campus carry may say that guns in the hands of the “good guys” can prevent mass shootings from occurring. However, according to a study conducted by the National Gun Victims Action Council mentioned in The Trace, seven out of 77 participants who were placed in self-defense scenarios would have shot an innocent bystander. In addition, most of the participants themselves would have been killed. Evan Defilippis and Devin Hughes, authors of this compilation, conclude, “none of the participants came close to the accuracy or judgement required to stop an active shooter or a criminal.”
Minkah Makalani, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in a brilliantly written piece in The New Yorker, cuts to what he calls the “intellectual costs” of guns on college campuses. He writes, “Faculty members have generally opposed campus carry because they suspect that allowing guns in the classroom will hinder our ability to teach about controversial subjects such as state surveillance, sexuality, race and racism, and radical social movements … Many of us entered the profession without knowing that we would have to consider whether a student who is upset about his grade, uncomfortable with a lecture on black queer sexuality, or disagrees with our placing slavery and white supremacy at the center of American history might have a gun holstered on his waist.”
In a world where anyone could be carrying a gun, offending someone could lead to disastrous consequences. This new weaponized culture could silence opinions deemed too controversial — how, then, can we learn about anything considered controversial in such an environment? How can we trust that the people around us will accept or argue against our views respectfully and peacefully without fear of violence?
We came to this university, no matter where we’re from, for a common purpose. To learn and grow, to challenge our ideas, and to reinforce our places as citizens of the world. A privilege of attending this University is being able to engage in such conversations, no matter how provocative, without fear. Most of us left home, travelled cities, states, oceans away just for this opportunity for fearless debate and the fearless seeking of knowledge. Every day, we take this simple freedom as something for granted, debating fearlessly with peers and professors alike.
This freedom is something that rests on the fundamental safety of our campus. Campus carry and the fears it brings undermine the goal of education and truth seeking. It is imperative, in today’s environment, to view campus carry as a serious burden in an intellectual sense, as Makalani writes, and in a physical sense.
While editing this piece, I had to edit the number of school shootings that occurred since the beginning of the year three times. I watched as the number went from 13 to 17 in a startlingly short amount of time.
Arming educators and students is not the answer — instead of fostering a safe environment, it creates a dangerous space in which words, ideas, and our individual freedoms are repressed. The number of school shootings will continue to grow. Now more than ever, we must do our part to protect education and its place in society as we know it — as a haven for knowledge and as a place of safety.
Maya Eashwaran is a first-year from Alpharetta, Ga. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.