To the many incredible teachers, professors, and administrators that I know who are currently upset, confused, and scared by the recent ruling in Texas regarding conceal carry on campus:
First, I respect each of your brilliance and your dedication to your art, your passions, and your students. I also respect your fear and confusion. The recommendations set forth and shared that advised professors to “avoid certain words” and “angry encounters with students” were not only terrifying but also very misguided and worked to cultivate a culture of fear as opposed to discussion.
I want to open that discussion by explaining, if you will allow, the realities of conceal carry, what it means, how it is used, and how it impacts you and your classroom.
I have worked for several years remotely. Before that time, however, I worked in a traditional classroom with non-traditional students. Many of my students were police officers and former marines, working towards an advanced degree and the dreams that would be realized from that accomplishment. I never asked if they came to class with their firearms as well as their uniforms. I assume that many did. This was never a problem or an issue. In fact, I must also admit, I felt safe when my students would walk me to my car. Our night class was taught in a stereotypically “bad” part of town. Gang violence, shootings, rapes, etc. were common. My students knew this. And every class, twice a week, for eleven weeks, they would walk me to my car and watch me until I turned left onto the highway.
I never belittled their concern or their reality with my lofty academic and idealist theories regarding firearms. In fact, I respected the reality of where we were, of what could happen, and I was thankful for their concern, their support, and their protection.
While teaching in Colorado, I encountered many individuals and students who had what is known as a Conceal Carry License.
A conceal carry license offers an individual the right to carry a firearm, knife or pepper spray concealed on their person or in their vehicle.
Obtaining a conceal carry license (CC) is not necessarily easy. The laws for each state differ; I am most familiar with the laws in Colorado. In Colorado, mandatory classes are required. In addition to fire arms training, one must also receive training in the legal aspects of self defense. In many classes, the content is focused on conflict management. The course teaches, very effectively, that an ideal outcome to a potentially violent situation is one in which everyone walks away. One also reviews, in addition to peaceful conflict management, the basics of firearms safety.
Following these courses, one must then undergo an extensive background check and waiting period. In addition to the fees for the proper training, there are also fees to apply for the license. One’s address and all information must be kept up to date. While carrying, an individual must have their license on his/her person at all times. There are strict rules regarding conceal carry and any violation of those rules will result in the license being revoked and criminal charges being filed.
I want to stress that an individual who has devoted the time, money, and resources to obtain a conceal carry license is one who fully appreciates and understands that responsibility, one who takes it seriously, one who understands the law, one who recognizes and values the importance of human life.
That understanding is the reason why many individuals choose to conceal carry -to preserve human life, to protect it.
The individual who has his/her CC is NOT one who will react with violence to a term or idea that you may state in class.
The misguided and mentally ill individual who enters a classroom with the intent to do harm is NOT the individual who has gone through the countless hours of training in conflict management and firearms safety.
An individual who wishes to do harm in your class will NOT invest the time and money in taking the CC course, paying the necessary fees, waiting 90 days, etc. to obtain their license. In fact, the individual with a CC is the one who will defend that classroom from that threat.
How do I know so much about CC? I am in the process of obtaining one.
Recently, a woman in my community became the victim of a horrendous sexual assault. Her story is not unique. I was also the victim of sexual assault twice – once in Wooster, Ohio and once in Boulder, Colorado. In fact, I have found college campuses to be the space where I feel the least safe. No counseling, intellectual ideals, or shiny blue phone has compensated for the fact that in that moment she was unable to defend herself, that I was unable to defend and protect her, that I was unable to protect and defend myself. Following these events, I learned Aikido as a form of self-defense. I also began carrying pepper spray and a knife with me after my night classes. I later learned that this was illegal. To carry any weapon concealed in Colorado, one must have a CC.
It was then that I began the process.
Conceal carry is allowed on many campuses in Colorado, including Western State Colorado University, campuses where I have studied, worked, and taught. I can assure you that this law has not, in any way, inhibited the free exchange of ideas in our classrooms. The law in Texas is not a revolution, nor is it anything new. In fact, CC is allowed on many campuses and has been for many years. The fact that many are expressing outrage over this ruling expresses, I believe, a lack of knowledge and understanding.
Thus, to my amazing friends and colleagues:
My career in academia and my instructors – you – have taught me to approach disagreement with knowledge, to fight conflict with information. You taught me that, when an idea, a person, an issue, or a point of view causes me discomfort that I have an intellectual and human obligation to maintain an open mind, to learn the facts and details, and to base my reaction on knowledge and compassion – not emotion or stereotypes.
If a student, professor, or administrator is carrying concealed, you will not know it. That is the point of a conceal carry license and the act of conceal carrying. Carrying a firearm does not inherently make one more violent or more prone to violence. Self defense and self protection is a constitutional right which we all have and should use and celebrate.
That being said:
You have every right to have a no-gun policy in your classroom – any teacher does. A classroom is a space where you and your students should feel safe to exchange ideas, to celebrate discussion, to promote learning and individual growth. However, you also have an obligation to understand the law and to educate yourself regarding this policy. You have an obligation to promote knowledge – not misinformation and fear.
I hope to start that process by first, reaching out to you to break the stereotype that many in the academic field are promoting.
An individual who has earned a CC and who chooses to carry is not mentally ill, is not a criminal, is not a “right wing nut,” is not violent, is not eager for a fight, is not _____(insert negative adjective/stereotype here). What we are is far simpler:
- We are concerned citizens who respect and celebrate human life, who are willing to take on the responsibility to protect and defend life.
- We are highly educated and aware.
- We are responsible and reliable.
- We are highly trained in fire arms safety, conflict management, and self defense.
We all hope to live in a world where we never need to defend ourselves, where there is no threat of violence from anyone – no war, no poverty, no crime, no loss. But we are not naïve. That world does not exist nor will it ever exist. We do live in sometimes violent world. There are people, and there always will be people in society, who wish to cause immense harm and suffering to others. Rather than ignoring this reality and hoping against it, I have chosen to take the steps necessary to protect myself and those around me, to constantly work towards compassion, love, and peace while being prepared to do whatever it takes to defend that peace and to protect human life.
Conceal carry does not inhibit discussion or free speech. It does not make our world any more violent or dangerous. In fact, I believe a CC does just the opposite.
Rather than promoting the gross generalizations and stereotypes which you taught me to defeat and dissect, I would encourage you to examine this law, to speak with CC license holders, to analyze and discuss the reasons why someone would choose to conceal carry, and to then form your policy and your position.
I am always one for intelligent and meaningful discussion. Please reach out to me at any time if you have any questions or if you would like to discus and compare our visions and experiences.
Professor Kristi K. Yorks
Assistant Professor English Composition