Over 300 College Presidents Aim to Ban Guns on Campuses, Reform Gun Laws
Amid the current controversy regarding gun control laws in the U.S., stirred by the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, over 300 college presidents have signed an open letter to American lawmakers and policy leaders requesting improvement and enactment of gun safety laws in order to prevent further gun-related violence in educational institutions.
The idea to issue the open letter came from Lawrence M. Schall, president of Georgia’s Oglethorpe University, after he found himself unable to sleep after the memorial service held for the 26 victims of the school shooting.
“I was just sort of haunted by the challenge of the president when he said this is America and we can do better,” said Schall. “I just began to think, what can I do?”
After Schall began drafting the letter, he began to contact fellow educators in the hopes of rallying support for new gun control legislation, including Elizabeth Kiss, president of Agness Scott College, also located in Georgia. As more college presidents joined in the initiative, many of whom were military veterans, the letter’s message began to coalesce.
“I think all of us were so wrenched by this terrible tragedy and looking for some good to come out of it,” said Kiss. “The letter really spoke to me.”
The requests enumerated within the letter include opposition to any laws allowing for guns on school campuses, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, requirements for new safety standards on all guns, and an end to the gun show loophole.
For Kiss and Schall, the first request flies in direct opposition to the opinions of many lawmakers within their own state of Georgia, including recently-elected State Rep. Charles Gregory, who is introducing various pieces of gun rights legislation today that include allowing for concealed guns on college campuses.
“Georgia is a tough state on the gun safety issue,” said Schall. “I’ve certainly got my share of feedback from people that don’t agree with my position.”
In addition to the above requests, the letter also cites numerous statistics regarding children and teenagers killed within the United States as a result of gun violence:
Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80% of all gun deaths occur in the United States and 87% of all children killed with guns are killed here (Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery). In 2010, 2,694 young people were killed by gunfire. 1,773 were victims of homicide; 67 were elementary school-age children. If those children and teens were alive today, they would fill 108 classrooms of 25 each.
The letter goes on to specify the bi-partisan nature of the initiative, while also stating that the underlying issues behind gun crimes, such as mental health practices, must also be addressed:
We are college and university presidents. We are parents. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We urge both our President and Congress to take action on gun control now. As a group, we do not oppose gun ownership. But, in many of our states, legislation has been introduced or passed that would allow gun possession on college campuses. We oppose such laws. We fully understand that reasonable gun safety legislation will not prevent every future murder. Identification and treatment of the mental health issues that lie beneath so many of the mass murders to which we increasingly bear witness must also be addressed.
As Kiss, Schall, and numerous other contributors to the letter prepare to go to Washington, D.C. in hopes of lobbying lawmakers in person, many similar statements have been written by higher education officials aiming to stem gun violence in American schools, such as the 266-signatory letter to President Obama by Emerson College President Lee Pelton and a statement by the Association of American Universities, a joint U.S.-Canada nonprofit organization.
“As presidents, we’re very nervous about saying anything on the big issues of the day and the political issues that matter,” said Schall. “That is not the way that college presidents used to be. They spoke out about the issues and people paid attention to them.”