Would you be hesitant to freely voice your opinion in a room full of your peers if you knew that some of them may be “packing heat”? Eight states, including Colorado believe that the presence of concealed weapons does not unduly inhibit free speech-at least in college classrooms.
The issue is running through the current news cycle as a result of the concealed carry law in Texas due to take effect in August. The story, appearing February 24 on the NBC News website, detailed the concerns of faculty at the University of Houston.
In order to minimize the risk of violence resulting from concealed weapons in the classroom, professors have proposed guidelines. Among the proposals:
- Be careful discussing sensitive topics
- Drop certain topics from your curriculum
- (Do) not go “there” if you sense anger
- Limit student access off hours
- Only meet “that student” in controlled circumstances
Perhaps most alarming are the proposals to avoid sensitive topics and alter curricula in response to the new law. Ideally, colleges and universities encourage the free flow of ideas and opinions through respectful discourse. By veering away from sensitive topics and dropping certain subjects, free discourse is impeded, diminishing the schools’ efficacy.
In its presentation however, faculty did not cite data to support their proposals. The strongest arguments it provided were:
- Most parents don’t want their underage children to attend a gun-enabled campus
- The MILITARY doesn’t allow guns in barracks and classrooms (outside of weapons training), why should there be guns in dorms and classrooms?
- Vigilante justice has no place in a university
Absent data to support these arguments, the faculty’s position is weakened. A perusal of the other states that allow concealed carry on its campuses may be more instructive. Colorado’s concealed carry law was established in 2003. In researching the topic, I could not find any instances of gun violence involving students with concealed carry privileges on Colorado campuses from the time the law was established until now. Moreover, the argument that free speech should be restricted in order to enhance safety is not supported by evidence.
Absent supporting data, it is difficult for those in opposition to concealed campus carry to make a persuasive case. In spite of its intention to keep the campus safe, University of Houston faculty’s use of subjective opinion to further its cause does not bode well for achieving its desired outcome of banning concealed weapons from the university for those outside of campus security personnel.