Come July 1, a law going into effect will shake the very foundations of the University of Kansas.
The Personal and Family Protection Act, which authorizes “conceal and carry” on campus, will permit the presence of firearms in nearly every sector of the university.
When polled, more than 80 percent of the faculty, staff and students expressed their opposition to the law. Their displeasure was echoed last week in Topeka. A well-informed contingent of school-affiliated and private citizens from across the state flooded the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee hearing room and spoke passionately about the problems of conceal/carry. Their protest was a direct response to the mistaken belief that Kansas colleges, universities and community colleges are largely indifferent or unconcerned about the implementation of this law. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Though self-governance has been a foundational principle of higher education, state universities and colleges in Kansas were not provided an opportunity to opt into this policy. Had we been consulted, we would have provided studied analyses of the many implications of allowing guns on campus. The results arguably might have been a reasoned, less divisive debate on the matter. The overall climate might have insured inclusivity, allowing for a thorough vetting of all points of view.
Now the discourse has deteriorated into partisan rhetoric and an inability to engage in a civil exchange of ideas. Indeed, there is no evidence that the pro-gun lobby actually desires a meaningful discussion of the issue. Still, the goal for many of us is quite clear. We must press for the right to determine whether — not how — to allow guns on campus. One of our tasks is to get the Legislature to understand that colleges and universities are the best judges of appropriate policies that govern actions on campuses.
In this spirit, my hopes are buoyed by reports of allies among new and returning legislators. News and other sources report that a number of legislators have begun seeking to repeal or possibly delay the implementation of the law. I loudly applaud them. My enthusiasm is tempered only by two realities. In the absence of concrete data, we simply have no numbers telling us how many people might represent this revised view. The conditional word “might” simply suggests something within the realm of possibility; it does not promise specific results.
Second, I am unwilling to agree with any change that does not mean a permanent exemption from conceal/carry. For me, the “middle ground” proposal that has been floated is troubling. It is disconcerting because it accepts the current law as a fait accompli. It merely delays its implementation until accommodations can be made for those who do not wish to be in the presence of guns. I advocate passage of legislation that permanently exempts universities from conceal/carry, not one that simply “kicks the can down the road.” In the meantime, we are left to confront a law fraught with problems.
The Personal and Family Protection Act is flawed legislation. At KU, there are instances of sexual assault, religious intolerance, violence against gender nonconforming people and much more. None of these transgressions, however, necessitates guns as a remedy.
The law is also discriminatory because students younger than 21 as well as international students are not eligible to carry a weapon.
The law is simply untenable. Studies have shown no correlation between guns and a safer environment. Research into domestic violence, mental illness, suicidal tendencies, and more reveals that readily accessible weapons dramatically increase the possibility for dire consequences.
And in the interminable debate about Second Amendment rights, banning guns from campus has absolutely nothing to do with abridging or terminating one’s individual rights. A campus is a “safe space,” a place where ideas are shaped and formed in the crucible of intellectual exchange. Civility and mutual respect are foundational in the life of ideas. Guns have no place in this environment. They would seriously disrupt an educational process intended to facilitate the search for knowledge and independent thought.
We must therefore force the issue. I agree with Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.” We must fight against this law as if our very lives depend on it, which, in a very real way, our lives do.
— John Edgar Tidwell is a professor of English at the University of Kansas.