- You may recall I fought very, very hard to keep guns off of Idaho’s college campuses. On day 6 of the semester, a gun went off in the middle of a class at a public university classroom on the other side of the state; a professor was negligent with his concealed firearm. Honestly, my money was on a student, later in the semester.
- I hope the students in that class are allowed to drop the class without penalty, transfer to another section, and sue the state. (I know for a fact there is pro bono legal assistance available; if you’re one of those students or another who was impacted by this crime, you can get in touch with me and I’ll put you in contact with the right people.)
- The concealed carry permit holders I spoke with who wanted this law passed all emphasized how highly trained they are before being issued this particular license. I was skeptical then, and I’m even more skeptical now.
- A nine year-old with an Uzi. A 5-year-old with a shotgun. An 8-year-old boy with an Uzi. Why do people give guns to children? Why is it legal for children to use firearms?
- I’ve seen people I admire post photos of their kids–some younger than Lucas–firing weapons. It chills me to the bone, and saddens me, too because both common sense and extensive research suggest this is not a good idea.
- I’m sad so many of my friends, both male and female, live in fear at a time when crime rates are at historic lows.
- In talking about recent incidents of gun violence, my mom and her sisters recalled my grandfather, a police officer who never really enjoyed being a police officer, told his daughters that “If you decide to carry a gun, do so knowing you likely will be killed by a gun.” (Research bears this out, by the way.) I’d extend his caution to family members: if you carry a gun, your family members are in jeopardy, too. (Especially in Idaho, which is second only to Kentucky in the number of domestic homicides committed with a gun.)
- It frustrates me when proponents of less restrictive gun laws claim the statistics, and researchers’ interpretation of them, are not objective. As a professional researcher, I can assure you they are.
- Here in Idaho, more of my friends own guns than don’t. They see guns as a solution to a problem that I see as improbable based on crime stats: the likely sudden outbreak of armed violence on a personal or community scale. And when there is an identified threat, the solution is always to be armed. Right now, there’s a lot of talk about a prowler breaking into homes in northwest Boise and its neighboring city, Meridian. I see locked windows and doors, good relationships among neighbors, a deep-barked dog, an alarm system, and neighbors’ willingness to call police as reasonable solutions. My friends suggest that a gun is solution #1.
- It makes me profoundly sad to know that the odds are good that I will lose at least one of these friends to gun violence or negligence. I adore many of these people, and I know not all of them keep their guns stored in safes or with trigger locks. (One study showed that 43 percent of gun-owning households had at least one improperly stored weapon, and others demonstrate that firearms are not used in successfully in self-defense as often as people claim they are–in fact, they’re more likely to be used to escalate an argument or in ways that are illegal.)
- It makes me sadder to hear, on many occasions, that my gun-owning friends have felt threatened by the mere presence of men who are not white—even, in one case, when being passed repeatedly by them on the highway.
- I don’t mean to belittle these concerns—not at all. Rather, I’m profoundly saddened a (our?) culture has inspired these concerns.
- I don’t know what the solution is, other than ending racism and increasing restrictions on gun ownership and access. Since ending racism is nigh impossible, I continue to work for the latter.
- Some people think my sentiments here arise from a hatred of guns. Really, though, I feel as I do because of my deep love for people.
Today, a friend and colleague asked me if I was energized for the fall semester.
“Nope!” I texted to her.
I meant for it to be funny, but in the context of the conversation we were having, my response came across as angry and sad.
Why was I sad? I enjoy teaching. I like students. It’s always nice to catch up with my colleagues when they return to their History department offices. The week before school—that’s next week—involves a lot of prep, yes, but also a lot of good conversation and über-pleasant collegiality.
I paused a moment to probe the source of my sadness and anger. Was I experiencing the first twinge of a depressive turn, a chemical low combined with feelings of overwhelm?
. . .
Since the beginning of last academic year, I have interviewed for four different staff jobs at three different colleges and universities, making it through several rounds at each campus. Two of those campuses still have not hired anyone for the positions for which I’ve interviewed; I’m uncertain about whether someone was hired for the third; and the final job was offered to me last Friday. Each of the positions was in different fields–research and social media; proposal writing; directing an events center/intellectual hub at one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges; and an academic specialist within a student affairs department.
I couldn’t accept the student affairs job because it didn’t pay enough to live on–it was questionable it would cover the rent in its California town–and the university hadn’t provided the department with any leeway in negotiating the salary.
I would have loved to live in that town. I know lots of people in and around the place.
Undoubtedly this missed opportunity is making me less enthusiastic to return to the classroom. But that regret is not the biggest factor.
. . .
I realized my lack of enthusiasm can be chalked up to the prospect of guns in the college classroom. Earlier this year, the Idaho legislature passed a law allowing anyone with certain permits or law enforcement experience to carry concealed weapons pretty much anywhere on campus. (Excluded: venues of 1,000 or more people.)
Have there been concealed weapons in my classroom before this semester? I can’t know for certain, but in 15 years of teaching, four of those in Idaho, I’m guessing that yes, a student brought a weapon to one of my classes.
But never have I taught in a context where the state openly welcomed guns in the classroom, where legislators encouraged students to arm themselves.
. . .
If I were a better historian and less emotionally exhausted, I might provide a brief history of how guns have been used again and again to subjugate already marginalized individuals and communities. I need not remind my readers of this: Gun violence and the threat of gun violence are all over the news this week, here and abroad, in Iraq, Syria, and Gaza. Gun rights activists in the U.S. like to speak of tyrants who are coming for their guns, but let’s be clear–the ones talking about bringing guns into the context of everyday life are the most dangerous. Those who suggest guns have a place in the college classroom are tyrannical, for the presence of gun—or the suggestion or possibility of its presence—renders exceptionally difficult the free and open exchange of ideas.
Last spring, when my colleagues and I stood on Boise State’s central campus raising students’ awareness about the guns-on-campus bill, I spoke with several students who couldn’t wait to bring guns into the classroom and in fact admitted they had already concealed weapons in Boise State’s classrooms. These young white men envisioned themselves as potential vigilante heroes in an “active shooter” situation they believe is inevitable in any “gun-free zone.”
. . .
The reality is this: there are going to be guns in my classroom, and there’s nothing I can do about it. This reality will change my relationship with students. It will diminish teaching and learning.
And by standing up in front of the class and not saying anything about it (because I can only imagine the hellfire that would rain down on me if a student complained to the campus lawyers or the media); by drawing a paycheck from the state; by submitting my tenure binders in the next month; by continuing to show up and pretend (as a historian!) that guns, and especially guns owned and carried by conservative white men, haven’t been an instrument of oppression and torture in this country; as if Idaho doesn’t have one of the highest rates of homicide by gun in domestic violence cases and one of the highest rates of suicide by gun; as if our very few black students aren’t placed at a dangerous, life-threatening disadvantage under this policy—I am complicit.
Am I submitting a letter of resignation?
To be blunt, I can’t afford to do so. We’ve exhausted our savings, and non-minimum-wage jobs are few and far between here. I have to keep my job until I find another one.
. . .
Still, I am complicit. And it’s profoundly troubling.
I went looking for a wisdom in the Quaker nonviolence testimonies, hoping one would capture what I’m feeling and provide me with some comfort or inspiration. I came across this passage by John Lampen, published in Catherine Whitmire’s collection Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity.
When we are confronted with hurt to ourselves or others, and the rational ways of mending it are not effective, we are forced to choose between complicity in the universal wrong and an act of sacrifice. Then the divine voice inside us insists that this is the most important choice of all. . . .
The journey, the renunciation, the heroism, may be called for within our own hearts, a private matter between us and God. It happens when we accept the hurt, and do not let it enslave or degrade us, but endure it, and refuse to pass it on. When we choose this path, we cannot foresee its end; we can’t say it if will do any good. It is a starting point, not a solution. We don’t know what will be asked of us next. But by this sacrifice we have identified ourselves with whatever power there is in the universe to redeem and recreate.
. . .
I can’t make the big sacrifice that needs to be made in this situation. I can’t walk away until I have a job offer sufficient to support my family.
My options thus are reduced to small resistances, to letting my life speak rather than my lectures.
What forms might such resistance take for this assistant professor? Leave your ideas in the comments.
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