My Position on Gun Control

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I intentionally focus my public comments (op-ed pieces, blogs, etc.) on issues related to higher education and Catholic higher education.  Often, I comment on social trends as they relate to higher education.

Like most college presidents, I have many other ideas and opinions.  But I am always careful to limit my statements to those about which I legitimately have some knowledge and professional expertise.

Last week at an event I attended, I was chastised for not publicly supporting the gun control issue.  The person who spoke to me was both uninformed and misguided.  In fact, college presidents across the country have been actively involved in lobbying for more gun control legislation.  And I am one of the presidents involved in this movement.

There have been two presidential initiatives to address concerns about gun control and gun safety.  One initiative was led by President Lee Pelton of Emerson College and began with a letter sent to President Obama in December, 2012 which I co-signed with 255 other college presidents:

 Dear Mr. President,

Following your eloquent remarks at the Newtown memorial service, I am writing on behalf of the many college and university presidents who have signed this letter in support of your plans to “use whatever power [your] office holds to engage [our] fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

We are writing to lend our individual assistance as well as that of our academic communities in supporting a long overdue national conversation about mass killings and gun violence.

We acknowledge, as you have, that these are complex issues that bring into play competing interests that will require us to balance the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms with the concerns of those calling for more stringent restrictions on gun ownership.

Nevertheless, we ask that urgent attention be paid to developing measures that would have the effect of curtailing easy access to assault weapons, especially guns that can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition without reloading and have no place in the hands of civilians.

After the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School where young children and adults were gunned down in a blink of an eye by rapid fire weapons of human destruction, we believe that it would be nearly impossible for anyone with heads that think and hearts that feel to conclude that the status quo is acceptable.

We also ask that serious and sustained consideration be given to a comprehensive assessment of mental health and other societal issues in the United States that might have contributed to the numerous mass killings that our nation has endured in recent years.

History requires that we not stand idly by.  We will be judged by our actions in the days and weeks ahead, by how we answered, as a nation and as individuals, the question “what will we do?”

Our nation looks to colleges and universities to solve its most pressing problems and these are issues on which we stand ready to provide a way forward.

We, therefore, pledge to do what we do best in our academic communities: engage thought leaders, faculty, students, staff, trustees and friends in meaningful debate and dialogue, which, in turn, might lead to positive action.

We write to you in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the nation’s most effective prophets and servers of the community, who said, “I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.”

 The White House acknowledged receipt of the letter in late December.  Subsequently, these presidents established a website: The College Presidents’ Gun Violence Resource Center.  The Resource Center has four main features:

  • Permit signatories to post their campus events, news, and announcements about their efforts to lead discussions about gun violence.
  • Enable signatories to view all posted campus initiatives.
  • Provide links to speakers, gun violence research centers, news, and other information that will help signatories design, plan, and facilitate their campus activities.
  • Offer a forum where signatories will be able to communicate with one another in confidence on topics of interest to them.

 The second initiative also included a public statement in December co-endorsed by 350 of my colleagues:

 December 19, 2012 

On the same day our nation learned in horror that 20 first graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, young people around the country were learning if they had been accepted to their favored colleges and universities.  For many years now, our nation’s leaders have engaged in fevered debates on higher education, yet lawmakers shy away from taking action on one issue that prevents thousands of young people from living lives of promise, let alone realizing their college dreams.  That issue is gun safety.

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.  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.

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 educators and parents, we come together to ask our elected representatives to act collectively on behalf of our children by enacting rational gun safety measures, including:

  • Ensuring the safety of our communities by opposing legislation allowing guns on our campuses and in our classrooms

  • Ending the gun show loophole, which allows for the purchase of guns from unlicensed sellers without a criminal background  check

  • Reinstating the ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons along with high-capacity ammunition magazines

  •  Requiring consumer safety standards for all guns, such as safety locks, access prevention laws, and regulations to identify,  prevent and correct manufacturing defects

The time has long since passed for silence and inaction on the issue of reasonable and rational gun safety legislation. We hereby request that our nation’s policy leaders take thoughtful and urgent action to ensure that current and future generations may live and learn in a country free from the threat of gun violence.

In January, the group involved with this initiative held an event in Washington, DC at the Capitol and a number of college presidents were joined by Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, as well as other national associations who share our views.

Next week, I will share why I joined these two initiatives.  My reasons have to do with both my views on gun control, as well as my views on the role and responsibility of college presidents in the public square.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)



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