College campuses not place for guns



Column by J. Seth Lee

People during the week of April 5-10 will see a peaceful protest on UK’s campus in support of the legalization of concealed weapons on college campuses.

Participating students will wear empty holsters “to symbolize that students, faculty, and guests are left defenseless on college campuses,” according to literature the protest’s organizers provided.

I own a handgun, and I’m aware the laws regulating the control of firearms are both important and very real issues for people.

I admire this coming protest’s organizers for their dedication to stressing the protest’s peaceful nature, but I cannot sit idly by and remain silent in the face of it.

On April 16, one week after this planned protest, I’ll face the third anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings. I attended Tech for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees and was teaching on campus the morning of the tragedy.

The responsibility for the safety of my students fell on me. I know colleagues who lost students and friends — one of my own students ended up in the hospital with a gunshot wound.

I experienced firsthand the emotional turmoil left in the wake of such violence, and I feel especially repulsed by this planned protest, peaceful though it may be.

In so short a space I cannot fully articulate my feelings, so in the interest of brevity I hope only to raise questions in the minds of those choosing to protest and those who will undoubtedly encounter those protestors.

I admit not all the ideas below are my own. I’ve drawn inspiration from the late David Foster Wallace’s mediations on the future of America. Still, the essence of his argument applies here, so I’ve adapted it.

We’d likely all agree some places exist where people should feel safe and be safe: our own homes, our places of worship and our schools.

Sadly, we all know that none of these places are truly safe.

Each is equally penetrable by those wishing to harm others. Yet I cannot help but question whether or not the ideal that these places should be safe should be motivation enough to practice reasonable gun control.

What you have in your home is your own business. Individual religious communities or divine mandates decide if a place of worship should countenance weapons.

That leaves me with college campuses, which should be an ideal place of peace, tolerance and the free expression of ideas — a place where weapons should be seen only as a reminder of why we work to better humanity.

For many people, idealism seems a rather foolish reason to place themselves at risk, but is some idealism worth the risk? Are some ideals worth dying for?

Should college campuses — spaces set aside for the free exchange of ideas, debate and work towards the betterment of humanity — accept such risks willingly in order to be different from everywhere else?

Or do we allow college campuses to become just like so many other places in our world — full of fear, paranoia and cynicism?

I have no easy answers, so I offer none. I know only what I believe, and what I hold to be valuable and worth dying for, and I completely reject the goals of this protest.

I do not intend this to be a letter protesting the right to bear arms. I mean this only as a way to begin a thoughtful conversation about the space of the university — its purpose and function — and how we, members of its community, should think about its bounds.

I’ve been a part of a similar debate at Virginia Tech, which remains a weapons-free campus. I am not convinced that concealed weapons on campus increase individual safety; they create only the illusion of safety.

And perhaps that’s enough for some people. It’s not for me.

J. Seth Lee is an English graduate student. E-mail [email protected].