Dis­arm­ingly vo­cal

Stu­dents are tack­ling US gun laws

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS -

The US Bill of Rights grants Amer­i­can cit­i­zens nu­mer­ous free­doms such as those of as­so­ci­a­tion, re­li­gion and protest. Our courts and rep­re­sen­ta­tives have also sys­tem­at­i­cally ad­justed the scope of these free­doms to craft a safer and more eq­ui­table so­ci­ety for all, yet we en­counter a staunch op­po­si­tion to any dis­cus­sion of com­pre­hen­sive, sen­si­ble re­form when it comes to the right to bear arms.

Spe­cial in­ter­est groups such as the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion fi­nance po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates and wield re­mark­able con­trol over gun pol­icy, an area of re­form that more Amer­i­cans sup­port in 2018 than at any other point in our his­tory.

Such a mis­align­ment of pub­lic opin­ion and pol­icy at both the fed­eral and state lev­els sig­nals great cause for con­cern for our democ­racy – and a dan­ger­ous con­cern at that. Amid this trou­bling stale­mate be­tween fear­ful, frus­trated cit­i­zens and un­mov­ing, cow­ardly politi­cians, stu­dents must en­ter the arena and turn the tide of this, quite lit­er­ally, life or death con­ver­sa­tion.

Re­cently, Donna Brazile, the for­mer chair of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, called out gun vi­o­lence in our schools as the pub­lic health cri­sis that it is. The head­lines are typ­i­cally dom­i­nated by gun vi­o­lence on sec­ondary school cam­puses, but a re­cent in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Col­le­giate Times at the Vir­ginia Polytech­nic In­sti­tute and State Uni­ver­sity found that 320 peo­ple have been vic­tims of gun vi­o­lence on col­lege cam­puses in the 11 years since a stu­dent at Vir­ginia Tech killed 32 peo­ple in its grounds.

Pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion has no hope of serv­ing as the great na­tional equaliser if stu­dents and teach­ers do not feel safe to learn to­gether in their class­rooms.

On 14 March, I joined stu­dent lead­ers from all back­grounds and states in lead­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia’s class­room walk­out against gun vi­o­lence.

Stu­dent coun­cil mem­bers and I also led ac­tivists in chants and call­backs, de­mand­ing last­ing and im­me­di­ate pol­icy re­form to make our in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion safe places to learn and grow.

Col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties present unique safety con­cerns in com­par­i­son with highly reg­u­lated el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high schools given their more open cam­puses, steady flow of vis­i­tors and propen­sity for con­tro­versy as com­mu­nity pub­lic squares. Amid the re­mark­able groundswell of sup­port for gun law re­form, I be­gan to build a na­tional coali­tion of col­lege and uni­ver­sity stu­dents who could add depth and strength to this grow­ing stu­dent move­ment.

Over the past month, I have worked with a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion called the Na­tional Cam­pus Lead­er­ship Coun­cil and stu­dents from Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Florida to gar­ner stu­dent sup­port for a let­ter ad­dressed to lead­er­ship in the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the Se­nate and the White House.

In this let­ter, we pro­claim: “we have had enough. We refuse to al­low more vi­o­lence. This can­not be the norm or the price of be­ing a stu­dent in Amer­ica.” We have called for com­mon-sense re­forms start­ing with a de­crease in the num­ber of guns al­lowed on col­lege cam­puses through­out the coun­try.

More than 80 stu­dent body pres­i­dents from coast to coast signed this let­ter, a group­ing that rep­re­sents the voices of more than 1 mil­lion col­lege and uni­ver­sity stu­dents. I’ve en­cour­aged stu­dents to send this let­ter to their gov­er­nor and con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and also to sub­mit it to their school news­pa­pers. We hope that leg­is­la­tors will take se­ri­ously this state­ment of dis­con­tent with our cur­rent pol­icy in­fras­truc­ture. And we hope that they find in­spi­ra­tion in the young civic voice of our na­tion – a voice that cares deeply about the safety and wel­fare of the peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ties.

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