Concealed carry culture is antithetical to higher education’s mission

(written in response to Idaho Senate Bill 1254, which would allow concealed weapons on campus)

Idaho has long nurtured what some have termed “a gun culture.”  Hunters and ranchers reasonably see rifles as necessary tools. Families pass treasured rifles from grandparent to parent to child and educate the youngest members of the family about gun safety. Such responsible gun ownership is to be admired.

However, recent discussions about guns make clear this traditional gun culture is being co-opted by a newer, disturbing one marked by the language of distrust and threat. This new culture, one of whose primary features is the concealed carrying of handguns, uses a different rhetoric and logic—and this way of thinking and speaking is at odds not only with the entire mission of the university, but also with a just, democratic civic life.

In the culture of concealed carry, enthusiasts speak of “good guys with guns” and “bad guys with guns,” as if the language of preschoolers could adequately capture the complexity of negotiating our increasingly diverse society. Worse, these same people speak of “gun-free zones” as if such spaces are and should be an aberration.  In the perspective of concealed carry culture, “gun-free zones” are described as an inviting target for “bad guys.” Such talk reveals not only a surface-level paranoia, but also deeper, more malevolent meditations on the mass murder, with an implication that mass shootings are inevitable, particularly at schools. Even worse, in concealed carry culture, the solution for such mass-shooting scenarios is more guns and more bullets flying, not fewer.

It’s not surprising, then, that this culture also embraces “stand your ground,” the legal right to shoot and kill someone if one feels threatened.  As we have seen in the national news recently—most visibly in the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases, but certainly not limited to these incidents—many gun-carrying white men feel threatened by aspects of cultures that are not their own. These aspects include, but again are not limited to, clothing, music, and darker skin, and, taken collectively, might in the case of African-American men be viewed as “thug culture” or, in the case of Muslim attire or practice, a harbinger of terrorism. The perception is that other cultures are intruding into the space rightfully occupied by WASPs, and the solution to this “problem” or “threat” is violence.

The “stand your ground” ethos is antithetical to that of the university. Higher education is about intellectual growth and nuance; it’s about negotiation rather than standing one’s ground.  It’s about considering new ideas and learning about new ways of being in an ever-changing world.  Higher education embraces civility in the face of unfamiliar or uncomfortable ideas—it’s about civic discourse.

This insistence on civic discourse and global engagement is one factor driving Boise State’s recruitment of both out-of-state and international students, as well as its desire to draw the best faculty in the nation and world. Many of these students and faculty grew up in cultural contexts very different from those of students from Idaho. I, for example, grew up in a gay neighborhood and attended a high school that was only 20 percent white.  For me, then, teaching at Boise State involves a good deal of listening to Idaho students’ experiences—many of which are foreign to me—and understanding their perspectives while simultaneously challenging them to broaden their views on any number of politically-tinged historical issues.  Of course, they rightfully challenge my beliefs, too.

I worry the knowledge that there may be students concealing weapons in the classroom will quash this civic discourse, and that students and faculty will be hesitant to take the intellectual risks that allow all of us to connect and grow as human beings.  Frankly, I am especially worried about students of color and international students, as those perceived to be of a different culture from the “norm” WASP culture are often the victims of misunderstanding and gun violence.

I encourage our legislators to vote no on S 1254, and I exhort everyone to elevate the dialogue about guns on campus and in our society. In particular, in a state whose residents cherish their history and heritage, we need to carefully differentiate what is part of the traditional gun culture, and what is part of the concealed carry culture that breeds paranoia and glorifies violence in the name of self-defense.


  1. Insightful as usual. I always learn from your thoughtful way of engaging frustrating and challenging ideas.

  2. John T. Gregg, M.D. says:

    With all due respect, you are the one with the lack of understanding of the average lady or gentleman seeking to maintain a secure environment for their family in a very changing environment. It is not the changing nature of the ethnic populace, nor is it some sort of WASP paranoia – in fact were I to make a similar comment about LGBT or the Black Student Union actions for personal security the hounds would be loosened! It is simply the reality of the road that maintaining the vision, awareness and capability to defend oneself is a personal choice and responsibility. When the locked gated communities of Manhattan, Beverly Hills, and DC open up, and Bloomberg loses his armed guards, then we can resume this discussion.
    When seconds count, the police are 20 minutes away…

    • Leslie M-B says:

      Thanks for your comment, John. I’m curious what you mean by “a very changing environment.” What environment are you speaking of, and what is changing about it?

  3. Bridgett says:

    You make some excellent points in your posts. This was an issue that was presented in our last two legislative sessions in Texas, another state with a strong gun culture. One of the things that arose in Texas was that no entity who would be directly affected by this – univresity administration, faculty, police – were in favor of permitting concealed handguns on campus. University polic deparments were very opposed to such as law. Although there were individual students who vocalized strong support, organized student groups were fairly quiet about the issue. So it was a law with mediaq attention and some popular support – but only by those who don’t work in colleges and universitities. When the debates were going on, we wondered if it were to pass how many lost guns would show up in campus departments given the number of tablets and phones that get turned in! I am sure the issue will rise again in Texas…

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