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UW Struggle: Guns and the TL;DR Edition

Beginning

I am afraid of guns. This is not a mild fear. Even if a police officer stands too closely I move away—I see the holstered gun and need to put space between us. I believe that handguns and automatic weapons are instruments of death and death only, thus they are evil. I do not use the word “evil” lightly, as I find evil in the world as real and tangible as guns themselves (I do have a bachelor’s degree in history, which too often doubled as the study of war and weapons).

But enough about my fears, right? What’s the point? Well, two legislators in Wisconsin are seeking sponsors for a bill to allow concealed weapons into college buildings and classrooms. This is where I work and make my living.  I will say this plainly: I cannot do my job if there are guns present in the classroom, concealed or not. I will save the usual trolls the energy of response (Well then get another job! What a pussy! Man up!) Will anyone care? Will anyone in the legislature stand up for me, particularly on the Republican side, when it is now that I, and employees and students who feel similarly, need you most? Will the people who rally for the objections of someone like Kim Davis rally for my conscientious objection to feeling threatened and scared in my workplace? This is not a rhetorical question.

Let me divert into the personal for a moment, as that is one thing I try to do in this blog—attach human faces and stories to issues that don’t get such treatment in writing that is strictly partisan bomb throwing.

People who were close to me have died because of gun violence. We’re talking cold murder and random shootings.

Many years ago a  friend of mine from high school, a math savant and lover of chess, was murdered in a robbery. He was a wonderful person with the sense of humor to match. (If he would have been armed, he might still be alive! See! It’s his fault!) He was indeed unarmed at the time of his death, but it wouldn’t have mattered. He was shot in the back of the head. He was driving a cab and was killed for what might have amounted to a few hundred dollars.

Not long after that, a former co-worker of mine was shot and killed in California. (We worked part-time jobs together in a local grocery store while beginning our college careers.) She was a vivacious, funny person, and we were two teenagers who flirted with each other and the idea of dating. I have a vivid memory of walking with her one day, outside of work, holding hands. With her being African-American and me being white, we drew a lot of looks (that was an incredibly uncommon sight in Buffalo at the time). Let’s just say that that short walk taught me more about race than any lecture I’ve ever heard; that lesson is secondary to how brilliant her smile was. Although she was in the military at the time of her death, she was also unarmed. It didn’t matter. She was sitting in a bar when someone in a car driving by fired randomly at the people standing in front. I guess bullets have unintended consequences.

I won’t name these people, as when have the names of people killed by guns mattered?

Middle

So here we are in America and here I sit in Wisconsin. Fortunately, the campus police at UW Madison have issued a statement of opposition to this proposal, which was joined by a short press release from the UW President and Chancellors.  But will this matter? I have my doubts. Upon hearing the news of the proposed legislation, I immediately tweeted to my representative in the state assembly. I expressed my fear of guns, the trouble I would have doing my work, and here are some of my tweets and his responses:

 

I do not post these tweets to inspire the usual partisan wrangling that bores me to real tears. But I do post them to highlight a divide and to wonder aloud what the value of ‘civil discourse’ is when you have 0% chance of getting any help or empathy. Do people change their minds anymore? I do. Quite a bit.

First, when Representative Steineke asked me if I can focus while walking around town, I think the question was rhetorical and that he assumed the answer to be, “Of course I can focus!” But I do feel differently now, and I wonder if he is surprised by this. When I used to see students running on campus, I assumed they were late for class; it used to make me smile. But now—and this happened as recently as yesterday—I see a student running and my body clenches, I look around for other movement. I don’t ask what they are running to, but what they are running from. I also don’t go to the movies much anymore—just this week I delayed responding to an email about going to see a film with some friends because of my anxiety about guns. And my family has not attended the wonderful Farmers’ Market downtown since this happened:

 

Downtown Green Bay

Downtown Green Bay

I don’t really see anything concealed about the weapons above, so I guess the AR-15 will be welcome into classrooms as well?

Representative Steineke also makes a gesture that is common in today’s gun “debates”—he asserts control over my agency, seen when he says that I am an “easier target.” The implication is that people like me, who object to guns and refuse to carry them and be near those who do, are somehow defective and live unsafe lives. We are “defenseless.” I do not consider myself defenseless. To me, being unarmed in public is a virtue and indicates strength and confidence. It indicates the bravery of trust.

Representative Stieneke’s first response to me also includes the hashtag #wiright, which immediately dehumanizes (politicizes?) what I believed to be a personal appeal. He is, after all, my representative, though I am immediately made to feel like an other. Maybe that’s a problem with Twitter, with political discourse, or something else. But I’m really just a person expressing a fear of dying from the immediate presence of technology designed to cause death. Can I assert a right to life, or am I not of the correct political persuasion?

Furthermore, let us look at the claims made by one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Jesse Kremer:

The unfortunate reality is that campus gun-free zones merely serve to concentrate populations of vulnerable targets on campus and surrounding areas….We won’t be providing a steady stream of defenseless, unarmed victims around these universities.

Where to begin?

  • Many campuses (though not all) have something called police, who are armed. Communities also have things called police departments. Is he saying that these officers and departments are useless? That the presence of the police still leaves everyone on campus and in the community defenseless? If so, why do we have them and why are we militarizing their equipment if it has zero benefit for our safety? Why not then close down all campus police (and police in general, for that matter) and transfer that money to raises something else?
  • To argue that “campus carry” works as a deterrent is ridiculous.  If the thought of murdering multiple people is not deterrent enough for these shooters who want to die anyway, then the presence of more guns simply increases the likelihood of their desired outcome. When all is done, campus shooters don’t want to be apprehended—that is their greatest fear; they want to be killed, so I guess now we’ll try to provide them some more certainty in that regard. Great.
  • Speaking of agency, just try to digest the phrase “We won’t be providing a steady stream of defenseless, unarmed victims around these universities.” I didn’t realize that Rep. Kremer was involved in human trafficking, because who else provides a steady stream of people? If I might gently remind you, Rep. Kremer, you don’t provide universities with people, armed or not. I know working in government infuses people with certain feelings about power, but students actually go to college campuses for reasons beyond your magically willing them to do so.
  • I have no doubt that Rep. Kremer and Rep. LeMahieu, when conceiving of this legislation, picture a certain type of student taking advantage of its intent. I also have no doubt that the student they picture is white and male. So I’ll ask this: given the heavy push to diversify campuses, at all levels, and given the recent incidents and headlines that have resulted in phrases like “black lives matter” being discussed in Presidential debates… explain to me who the non-white student is who says, “I definitely want to go to the school where not only the police have guns, but so do almost all of the white male students who make up a majority of the population there.” In short, are these legislators imagining armed students who are non white? I have my doubts. Can we agree that this might, just maybe, matter when there is a report of an “armed black man” on campus?
  • Finally, the implied argument is that society is not “right” unless there are guns in every possible space. Of course, this points to the real driver here—consumerism. Bills like this, disguised as “gun rights” or “second amendment” initiatives, are really nothing more than product placement for a  specific business interest seeking expanded markets. Guns are no different than networked, smart devices in this respect—their content must be everywhere, all the time, or something is wrong. To that point, when the police on my campus came to speak to our department about what to do in an “active shooter situation,” they mocked me for choosing not to carry a smartphone. This is not the first time someone has equated that personal choice with gross negligence. But maybe now is the time to appeal for sponsorship and a raise. So, how about it Glock? If I get licensed to carry a weapon and choose your brand for my classroom, will you pay me to advertise?

If you look at the tweets above, you’ll see that I initially appealed to Speaker Robin Vos as well. Those nine readers who follow this blog (hi mom!), remember that I wrote an open letter to the Speaker inviting him for pizza. He graciously responded and we met last week. Here is the evidence:

Hi Speaker Vos! Thanks for meeting with us!

Hi Speaker Vos! Thanks for meeting with us!

When I tweeted our thanks to Speaker Vos after this meeting, he responded right away. I have received no response regarding my campus carry tweet. I read the news, so I know Speaker Vos is extremely busy. That said, Speaker Vos, if you or someone on your staff stops by this blog, please don’t forget us! When we met, we expressed our fears to you about losing the lives we’ve built in Wisconsin, and how heartbroken we would be because we love this state so much. We were just talking about economics then, but I’d now like to retroactively add guns to that worry. Please consider our plea to keep guns out of campus buildings. We would deeply appreciate any support you might provide.

End

But here’s why I am really writing this. I don’t know what to do. I cannot work in a room or setting where there are guns. (Then get another job coward! Be a f–ing man!) Yes, I realize that campus shootings are happening frequently, independent of concealed carry or campus carry as an issue. Maybe this is an appeal for us to remember the “well regulated” portion of the second amendment. I remember being a 17 year-old freshman. I remember crying my eyes out because I thought I was feeling something called heartbreak. I remember watching other students drink continuously, fight, threaten each other until sunrise and vomiting. I remember seeing domestic abuse because a girl had the audacity to break up with some guy down the hall. It was horrible, yet I’m glad it was his fist and not a gun. I am a lesser person for even typing that.

There’s more…

I have written about this before: my wife and I work on the same campus, in the same department; we work with many of the same students (this is not uncommon; I have colleagues in the same situation). We are often to be found in the same place at the same time, and we have two miracles for daughters. Yes, I know I am talking about my wife and I like we are the President and Vice President, but America is now a place where it is dangerous for parents who are teachers/school employees to work in the same location. I worry about my wife being killed; I worry about myself being killed; I worry about my children not having either of their parents. (This says nothing about how diseased it is to also consider, even for a moment, that my children go to the same school and sit in adjacent classrooms.) I believe that this legislation increases the odds of that occurring. Look at the headlines: these fears are not unreasonable. (Then get a gun you f–ing crybaby!)

Should I quit my job? Should I encourage my wife to quit her job?

Where to begin?

Of course, the stereotypical male in me prefers that I stay at work; therefore, if something happens, the kids will still have their mother. There’s a problem with that: my wife is better at this job than I am, and the students are better served by her. Not to mention, the campus would lose yet another important female role model for a largely female student population. (Also of note—I’m not really one to be able to tell my wife to do anything.)

Okay, so she stays and I quit. Then what? If something happens to her, then the kids still have me, who likely would be worthless now that I no longer have my wife anymore.

None of this even covers the fact that we’re a middle-class family: even with two incomes, as each of us makes less than half of what the misleading “average UW professor salary” graphics indicate, we just get by. With one income we’d struggle. So if I quit I better be able to land another job fast. Oh, right, there are no jobs for me in my field. So it’s not merely quitting we’re talking about, it’s changing professions entirely. You know, easy stuff. (Shut up already. Welcome to the real world, loser!)

I shouldn’t have to think about this. Look, I support traditions such as hunting. (Even though my grandfather kept his rifles under the couch and I once pulled one out, aimed it at my sister, and pulled the trigger. My grandfather was a World War II vet. The gun wasn’t loaded.) Newsflash: Gun control is not about hunting. I am a state employee; I am afraid of guns; and I morally object to guns. For the past year I have heard nothing but arguments for “making exceptions” when it comes to beliefs about birth control, “religious freedom,” and same-sex marriage. So how about now? Do I matter? Do people who feel like me matter? Will anyone in our legislature stand up for us?  By that I guess I mean Republican legislators, since that’s what it would take given that one party controls all branches of our government. So how about it Senator Cowles? Just one more time as the go-to spine?

I am a teacher. I am good at my job and want to continue doing that job for the state of Wisconsin. Just because I do not, and will not, carry a weapon does not mean that I am “defenseless.” The best defense I’ve ever had in this world and life is my education, and I’d much rather die with a book in my hand than a gun. I know that sounds stupid to many who might read this, but it’s true, and I’m hardly the exception.

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13 Comments

  1. Chuck Rybak October 16, 2015 — Post Author

    Also, the roots matter: http://chronicle.com/article/How-Guns-on-Campus-Became-a/233786

  2. Paul Gaertner October 16, 2015

    I’m not sure what in my earlier and considerably longer post would lead it to be excluded from the comments, unless simply the fact that it’s not a blind endorsement of your post as are the others. Perhaps an extremely brief version will be more acceptable:

    A sign saying “No Guns Allowed” does not currently guarantee that there are not guns in your classroom. However, today you can be assured that the only people carrying them are not interested in following the law.

    • Chuck Rybak October 16, 2015 — Post Author

      Paul, I have no interest in pursuing this with you. It’s the same argument that writes itself and I don’t have the time. Sadly, research disagrees with you: http://www.thetrace.org/2015/07/defensive-gun-use-armed-with-reason-hemenway/

      Also, read this: http://blog.uwgb.edu/alltherage/guns-on-campus-a-terrible-idea-and-what-we-can-do-about-it/

      I’m not interested in any response that is not a peer-reviewed study, actual published research. Anything else posted will be unread and deleted.

      In terms of what comments make it through. This is my space. I pay for it. I do not get paid to write in it. Usually, I have the comments closed. This is a blog, not a newspaper or magazine. That said, thanks for taking the time to read–I genuinely mean that. It’s just that, unlike other online spaces, I have no desire for combative comment threads.

      • Paul Gaertner October 16, 2015

        I appreciate your response, Chuck. I understand that you don’t want to debate your position, and have every right to reject my comments as a result. I will keep this response to your narrow requirement.

        Peer reviewed research: https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/abstractdb/AbstractDBDetails.aspx?id=208339

        This peer-reviewed study does disagree with that referenced in your Trace article, quite considerably. If we include them both in our assessment, it is either significantly better or no different to defend oneself with a firearm, based on the very limited NCVS data (NCVS self-defense incidents are limited to those who consider themselves to have been victims of a crime, thus ignoring the majority of DGUs, which are brandishings that result in the lack of a crime). There remains no indication that defending with a gun has _worse_ results than defending unarmed or with less effective weapons.

        Non-peer reviewed highly relevant brief of the Colorado experience: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/04/20/guns-on-university-campuses-the-colorado-experience/

        • Chuck Rybak October 16, 2015 — Post Author

          Thanks for your time, Paul. The warning about the small sample size in the study you provide is interesting. Either way, the position holds firm–we don’t need guns in every space of our lives, and I don’t want them in every space of mine. Period. But trust me, I don’t expect you, or anyone, to care about my mindset and ability to perform the job I’m hired to do–that’s why what I wrote functions as a personal account in a larger social narrative that seeks to erase such accounts. I don’t expect you to sympathize with my expertise related to teaching and leaning and what makes classrooms work—I get it, you want guns in classrooms and you think guns everywhere make you safer. Trust me, I’m used to it. Thanks for following up and for taking the time–again, I genuinely mean that. Take care. I’m traveling for a bit and won’t be able to monitor the blog.

          • Paul Gaertner October 16, 2015

            Full knowledge that this post won’t be seen by anyone but you and I, Chuck. And thanks for your replies previously. None expected here, based on your statement.

            Kleck’s observation of a small sample is an honest one. I don’t know if Hemenway is as honest, but his study uses half as many years of NCVS survey data (5 vs. 10) and a period in which US rates for violent crimes were significantly lower (2007 -2011 vs. 1992 – 2001… violent crimes rates peaked around 1993). In other words, this observation is quite a bit stronger for the study cited by TheTrace, as Hemenway will be using a sample size less than half of Kleck’s.

            More generally, I had thought — still think, in fact — that some of the facts in my initial response would significantly ease your concerns…. both those that point out factual misconceptions in your blog post and other basic observations.

            1 – Automatic weapons are a non-entity in US crime, simply because they’re not good crime guns. There are two notable exceptions: organized crime in the 1930’s and the Hollywood Shootout of 1997. No one will be lawfully carrying a concealed automatic weapon, nor is any person intending harm going to bring one into your classroom before or after this law.
            2 – Campus carry laws are clearly NOT some form of marketing for gun manufacturers, as you’ve claimed. They don’t involve more people eligible for carry, but more places for those already licensed.
            3 – There is no concern that “everyone” (or in your case, nearly all white men, for some reason) will be armed. First, somewhere around 30% of college students aren’t old enough to be licensed in WI. Second, WI has issued around 170,000 CHLs… in a state of 5.7M, that is about 3% of the population. Experience gives no reason to expect a flood of new licensees, nor a higher percentage of students licensed than the general public.
            4 – A large number of states have extensive experience with campus carry, and it simply does not generate the sort of events those opposed claim to fear. You should not expect bad things to happen, because in the extensive history these bad things have not happened elsewhere. Are those on campuses in Wisconsin less responsible than those on campuses in Utah or Colorado? I believe the rational expectation would be “no”.
            5 – Nothing currently prevents anyone from bringing a firearm into campus buildings now, because neither a sign nor a law stops them. If someone is willing to break the law — as a person setting out to shoot people must be, of course — they can illegally carry concealed in your classroom just as easily today as under the proposed law. Any sense that you now have that there are not guns in your classroom is fictional.
            6 – Finally, I will add this. Every study (sorry, no peer reviewed publications, but that doesn’t make state data unreliable) has shown those licensed to carry concealed to be exceptionally law abiding. More so than police in the same state, in fact.

            This sort of factual observation may not change your opinion about firearms or where they should be legal to carry, but I certainly hope it addresses the level of fear you perceive related to the potential of carry becoming lawful in your classroom and other WI buildings. Certainly a decade of experience in thousands of other classrooms, at the very least, must count for something.

            Safe travels,
            Paul

          • Chuck Rybak October 16, 2015 — Post Author

            Your #2 and #3 are really misunderstanding what I wrote in the original post, but that’s okay. What I’m saying about race is related to assumptions about race, not actual data about who carries guns. For me, a really important distinction. I’m not making a statement about who carries there, but about social perceptions, and assumptions, that lead to a law like this being proposed because of “crime in Milwaukee.”

            In terms of #3. I disagree entirely. Guns are business. To say that lobbying has nothing to do with that business is disingenuous. That said, maybe the point we can both agree to observe is if the number of permits increases as a result. Maybe it won’t, and you are correct. Maybe it will.

            But, as always, what gets conflated here is guns in society versus my very specific argument about guns in classrooms. We don’t need guns in every space we have. If the argument is we do, then consumerism really is at issue whether we think so or not.

            Take care. Again, I appreciate your thoughts and time.

  3. Don October 15, 2015

    They want you scared–that’s precisely the point. They’ve moved beyond law and order. Anarchy is cheaper.

  4. Curt October 15, 2015

    Thank you for posting. I remember being an undergraduate and having a loaded gun pointed at me by another student, just because he wanted to show that he had it (when he pulled it out, I assumed it was unloaded – after having it pointed at me, he showed me it was loaded too). I still remember this scene vividly 30+ years later, and I have no trust for individuals like that student.

  5. Jim Perry October 15, 2015

    Chuck, I don’t think this proposal by a couple of loonies is going to make it to the legislature. Unfortunately, some legislators write bills and seek publicity just to keep their name in the news. That said, no one can predict anything with certainty. Maybe we’ll see our regents, chancellor, and especially the UW System President, who has sided with the majority party on just about everything, come out a little stronger than the tepid press release that was issued opposing allowing firearms in campus classrooms.

    For the record, RE: Rep. Steineke, consider the source. I’ve been on the same end of his [il]logic as you. And it’s a complete waste of energy asking him to represent your interests.

  6. Kathy Barton October 15, 2015

    When I was a professor at UW-Madison (late nineties), I had a student in one of my classes who I found very frightening. He acted strangely and in ways that at the very least were “off” and at worst felt threatening but in ways that couldn’t be easily reported. Besides acting strangely, he dressed oddly – he wore a military type vest with pockets bulging. Long story short, toward the end of the semester campus police took him away after he refused to leave the building when I wouldn’t change his grade for a higher grade, continuing to stalk the hallways where I worked. He was charged with disorderly conduct.

    (As I later learned, this student was already on probation for threatening a fellow student with a golf club in a PE class. I also later learned from the campus police that those bulging pockets were filled with batteries – no weapons. However, it was pretty clear the whole getup was meant to intimidate. But people are free to dress as they like and until he actually did something, as he did when he tried to intimidate me over a grade, I couldn’t report that either. )

    At that time concealed carry was not allowed on campus nor in the state of Wisconsin for that matter.

    If that same thing had happened in a state where students could legally carry a gun through campus and into a classroom, I know I would not have been able to teach effectively. And quite frankly, I probably would have given in to his request for a grade change. And I likely would not have shown up in court to testify against him as I ultimately wound up doing. It simply would not have been worth my and my family’s safety to challenge him. (And believe me, THAT was quite the circus since the student thought it would be a brilliant idea to represent himself and put me, the nine month pregnant professor on the stand. But that’s a whole different story.)

    I guess the reps pushing this law would say I could have and in fact should have armed myself – I’m just trying to imagine how I would draw on the chalkboard with my right hand while keeping my left hand on my gun. Not to mention there’s no way I could shoot anywhere near straight with my left hand. Or they would say, it would be up to fellow students to arm themselves so they could defend me – I’m imagining my grad students with guns in their lab coat pockets. It’s ludicrous. There is simply no way that we professors can both do our jobs and simultaneously also defend ourselves against crazies.

    Far better then to keep guns off campus and out of the classroom. It’s abundantly clear that none of these expansions of concealed carry will lead to a better learning environment or to a safer university. But then that’s not what this is about anyway, is it?

  7. Martha October 14, 2015

    Bravo! Thank you for articulating what I would have liked to say.
    BTW, there are more than 9 of us out here. My spouse and I just read this blog aloud and discussed how much we love you. Thank you.

  8. jenn October 14, 2015

    Chuck, you’ve asked all the right questions and made all the right points here. (As a Buffalonian I found myself tearing up at your human faces). I have many friends working in education expressing the same fears about guns in classrooms. Should they all quit their jobs? Should our nation’s students be taught by people who actively believe (or acquiesce to) the idea that a gun is what defines strength, and not the education?

    The other day a lady shot up a parking lot because she saw some shoplifters running and figured she’d be a hero and ask questions later. There was a man at Umpqua who DID have a gun on him but did not run toward the shooter. He did not want to risk his own life and was (rightfully) aware that when help did arrive, he could be mistaken for the perpetrator. The circumstances around guns can be complex and varied, but they have one thing in common: guns. Life is not a Hollywood action movie, and WI lawmakers (and others) are pandering to a base of people who think it is.

    I don’t know all the answers but I do know I don’t want to live in a country where your children’s parents, where my nieces’ and nephew’s teachers, where countless friends and colleagues are thought of as weak for not carrying guns into their classrooms. When in fact they are some of the strongest people to be found.

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