For those of you that don’t know, I am currently employed by Texas A&M University, which is, of course, in Texas. What some of you may not know is that Texas is one of a few states that is currently looking at a law allowing residents to carry concealed weapons, including handguns. It is being debated in the legislature as we speak. This will potentially mean that all residents over the age of 21 are eligible to go through a background check, qualify on a range, and go through a safety course which concludes with their ability to carry a weapon in college buildings. This is different from the current law, which allows students to carry them on the campus but not indoors. The new law would prevent them from being carried in bars and at sporting events (at least in its current iteration). There has been some interest in addressing the issue of guns being stored in residence hall rooms, but the final details of the bill are still being worked on.
A lot of people are talking about the safety of our students and what happens if there is an active shooter situation, in which the emergency responders are looking for anyone not in a uniform with a weapon. I understand all of these points, but for this post, I want to focus in a different direction. I want to talk about teaching civility, education, and discourse in a land where students carry guns.
First off, I am not the type of person who believes that if this bill passes, students are going to start shooting them into the air to celebrate getting an A on a test or resolve roommate conflicts by shooting one another in the foot. I do, however, think that adding a weapon into an equation changes the dynamic of a lot of things. For instance, do you think that the same level of disagreement will happen over one roommate being a night owl and the other being an early riser if one roommate has a gun on the desk? Violence isn’t inevitable, but can act as a deterrent to certain disagreements. What about heated issues in a classroom? Will those be able to happen with the hidden wonder if a student is armed? I would hope so, but am not positive.
The other thing that is worth considering is what about our student staff that has to confront situations? I am thinking about my RA staff, when they are on duty, they are often asked to address situations of alcohol, noise, or general shenanigans that occur in the building. How do we support them if they are walking into a room that may or may not have armed and drunk residents in it? Do we have police come in for all confrontations now, or do we train and arm the RA’s?
Overall, I think my main concern with this bill is the number of questions it leaves un-answered and the challenges it presents to student affairs administrators in writing policy and doing our job in an environment with armed students. Maybe we should be taking some extra time and exploring these questions before we jump in and try to learn on the fly, because in my opinion, trying to figure it out when the cost of a mistake is a student life is not worth it. If we do explore and come back to the same law, then at least we have taken the time to figure it out.
I would love to get some discourse going on this topic in the comments section. What are your opinions on the topic, and how do you think student affairs divisions should be responding to this?