Many professors on Georgia's public campuses opposed campus carry; few were as willing as Matthew Boedy to take a public stand and spend time researching the issue.
An assistant professor at the University of North Georgia, Boedy investigated the impact of campus carry lite, a law enacted in Georgia last year legalizing stun guns and Tasers on campuses. He found no reported instances of defensive use.
He also looked here and here on how campus carry was working elsewhere in the country. In one such state, Utah, Boedy asked campus police chiefs from the two largest universities for reports from 2004 to 2016 of a victim using a firearm to stop a crime in progress. Neither university had a single example.
Despite polls showing the majority of parents opposed guns on their children's public campuses, Gov. Nathan Deal signed the law making campus carry legal in Georgia as of July 1.
Boedy gives us a sense of how the new law is affecting him and his students.
By Matthew Boedy
Everyone wants to know how “campus carry” is affecting me and my students. Am I wearing a bulletproof vest like a professor in Kansas? No.
Am I seeing guns in illegal places? No. And neither are others, according to the AJC.
And with this lack, many argue guns on campus are not a problem.
But there are damaging effects on me and my students. Effects as concealed for the moment like the guns.
One effect can be described with a phrase from an essay I have my freshman English students reading and writing about – an essay written by a fellow English professor, Richard Miller, as he ruminates on the changes in education after Columbine. In response to this “new normal,” Miller wonders about the “felt experience of the impersonal” that defines higher education. He writes that “the hierarchical, exclusionary environment” of education “fosters feelings of rage and helplessness that cannot be contained.”
The rage by mainly young, white men at the fear of being replaced which echoed through the University of Virginia is just one example of this.
But it is not just at elite institutions like UVA. At the state regional university level, where I work, we have students from small towns where some whisper a college degree is not worth it or not needed. Yet some of these students, tasting all the promise that a college degree offers, also believe they are being left behind by an educational system and nation that promotes others before them. And the experience of that loss – the feeling of that annulment of a common good, shared by all – has produced fear and anger.
It is the same fear that suggests we need guns on campuses because there were already guns – guns in the hands of those who do harm. This is a claim with no evidence. Yet the “fake news” remains because those who believe that myth also believe higher education is about individual success, always competing with another individual.
This is why I have my students read Miller’s essay. We are producing graduates, awarding degrees, but Miller (and I) wonder about the kind of education we are practicing.
One important effect of “campus carry” is that it further encourages us all to see education as an impersonal and therefore individualistic affair.
A business transaction for a business degree. A series of negotiations over work and effort for an education degree. And in the end, skills and competencies for a job market that will either crush or recruit them.
There is a connection between how we define education and the desire to have guns on campus. If freedom is protecting what’s mine, then education is getting what’s mine. And if either is threatened, then guns are the answer.
And I feel that dogma more now that there are actual guns.
But I can only feel it because I can’t see them, the guns concealed, hidden under coats or in bags.
Do I think about the guns around me daily? No. And in that, the gun rights advocates have won. They want us to see guns as part of the day-to-day life of a student, equal to the pencils and paper they also carry.
But that is another myth. Students use paper and pencils to become more aware of what they don’t know. They use them to become more human.
Guns are an obstacle to education as a humanizing activity. They are the most effective way to depersonalize the student-teacher relationship. If, as Miller argues, educational institutions are charged with “nurturing [in students] both a sense of self and a sense of connection between self and society,” guns on campus teach the first but not the second. In education defined by guns, guns inhibit a connection to the world by positioning the gun as between the world and its owners.
Luckily, there is no one over 21 in my Freshman English classes. So no guns. But most of my sophomore English major class are eligible for a concealed carry permit.
I am teaching memoirs to this group so they can inhabit the skills of genre, a needed dexterity in the writing they will do as professionals. We are reading authors morally reckon with themselves and with how they were educated. And my students will write their own memoirs. They will have to wrestle with how they have been affected by the design flaws in our education system.
Do I fear a student will write something about me or another professor and place us in the crosshairs? No. But that is the path the gun lobby wants me to go down. That’s why we need “good guys” with guns, to paraphrase the NRA. Only they can protect us from those bring their guns, no matter the laws, to do harm.
If I accept this thinking, my office door would be closed all the time. It is open now and will remain open. It must.
Miller does not wonder about a divide between good and bad students. Instead he argues that while we “internalize institutional influences” differently, the “utterly mysterious” effects are also “utterly predictable.” Miller asks in our sad era of impersonal education why we all don’t become school shooters. I wonder at a less dramatic question in the same educational context: why don’t we all carry guns on campus?
Can we stem this tide? Or better, is there any encouraging signs from guns on campus?
When I announced on the first day to the sophomore English class that no one should bring their guns into my office, they all chuckled. They laughed because they understood like me the absurdity of that action. They appreciate why guns and education don’t mix – if indeed education is a personal affair, a relationship between teacher and student where each comes to be something different, something more human, in the interaction.
While the university system says I can’t discourage anyone from following the law and so then literally can’t say to students, “please don’t bring your guns to campus,” my memoir course is doing just that, if the early writings of the sophomores are any indication. They understand more clearer what education should be now that there are guns on campus. And maybe the freshmen will get there, too. If I can just get them to do the reading.