Your Turn: Professors address guns, safety at KU

Lawrence Journal-World opinion section

Sixty-four members of the Council of Distinguished Professors at Kansas University have sent a letter to Chancellor Gray-Little expressing concerns about the July 1, 2017, implementation of the Family and Personal Protection Act permitting the concealed carry of handguns on campus.

In a previous public statement, we, members of the Council of Distinguished Professors at KU, urged the state Legislature to repeal the concealed carry law or to exempt colleges and universities from this law.

If the law is not changed, we urge KU to reframe the discussion from a focus on guns to a focus on safety. Our understanding is that the purpose of the concealed carry law is to make Kansans feel safe. We embrace that goal. The purpose of the new policy at KU, then, should be making all students, faculty and staff feel safe. We recommend the new policy be a campus safety policy, not a policy on concealed carry of guns. A campus safety policy should make safety of the whole community its top priority.

We feel endangered by concealed carry of handguns because a premise of the concealed carry law is false. The law assumes armed people will behave rationally. While this may be true for most of the people most of the time, it is not true for all people all of the time. Some students, faculty and staff behave irrationally as a result of undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses. A second reason for irrationality is the use of drugs and alcohol. Otherwise rational people behave irrationally when drinking or on drugs. A third reason is that people become upset and angry. These emotions are not limited to those with mental illness or on mood-altering substances. A fourth reason is that people are inattentive and distracted: Handguns, while easy to conceal, are also easy to lose, misplace and mishandle, resulting in gun thefts and accidental shootings.

In carrying out our duties as employees, we often encounter students and colleagues who seem upset, angry or irrational. Most people do nothing dangerous in response to these stresses. But, as we have seen on other campuses, irrational, upset, or angry individuals with guns sometimes kill people.

? Students feel angry about grades, frustrated by difficult course material or upset by lectures and class discussions about controversial issues.

? Employees feel angry about performance reviews, salaries, behavior of coworkers and supervisors, and other issues.

? Students and colleagues feel upset or depressed because of problems with families, illness, money, and relationships or because their friends and relatives were killed in mass shootings.

The fear of being shot by students or colleagues, may lead us to delete controversial material from the curriculum, even when important for the topic of the course, give high grades and performance evaluations, even when unwarranted, or teach and meet with students online to avoid potentially lethal confrontations in classrooms and offices. These options are unacceptable. A comprehensive policy on campus safety would not only address compliance with the Personal and Family Protection Act but also address broader concerns affecting campus safety:

? enhance resources for training students, faculty and staff in gun safety, peaceful conflict resolution and anger and crises management;

? expand training for how to identify and respond to potentially dangerous or troublesome behaviors. The approach taken by the “Student of Concern” review, including bystander education and other efforts directed at prevention, education, consultation and assessment, should be extended to address faculty and staff behaviors, as well as those of campus visitors.

These and other actions in response to the law permitting concealed carry of handguns on campus will be costly. Meeting these costs will impact the essential mission of the university. We ask that the university provide an analysis of the financial and personnel costs incurred in response to this law. We ask that the chancellor communicate these costs and their impact to the Kansas Board of Regents, the Legislature and the campus community

We must address gun safety through education and training; we must reduce the risk of suicide and accidental shootings through a focus on mental health, anger management and peaceful ways to protest; we must restore a climate of trust, respect, tolerance and openness to diversity, inquiry and free speech. Without addressing these concerns, there is little here to defend — either with words or with guns.

— Distinguished professors Susan Kemper, psychology, and Ed Russell, history, wrote this column on behalf of KU’s Council of Distinguished Professors.