Guns, threats, space, and gender

woman-gun1Inside Higher Ed featured a story yesterday about universities that allow students to bring their guns to campus if they have concealed-carry permits, and states like Texas and Missouri where oh-so-brave state legistlators are working hard to make sure that people can walk around packing heat on their state university campuses.  Guess whose very own Baa Ram U. is a model according to Second Amendment fundamentalists?  Yes, indeedy–this is why I asked last year where I could find a high-fashion Kevlar vest

This has been on my mind lately because of a disturbing incident that happened in a class taught by a colleague of mine in the College of Liberal Arts, in the main classroom building we all use.  She told me that mid-way through a midterm exam a few weeks ago, a masked man opened the door to her 123-capacity lecture hall and started screaming semi-coherently.  He then slammed the door to the lecture hall and moved on to scream at the class next door.  She and her (female) TA spent a few terrifying seconds expecting that the yelling was a prologue to mass-murder by the masked man, and she reported later that she had 8-10 e-mails from women students who expressed the same fear.  However, when she reported this to the chair of her department and the dean, she said that their response was less than satisfactory–although my colleague said that she thought the screaming man was performing on behalf of people running for student government (and that she knew for whose campaign he worked), she was told that because he was masked and she couldn’t identify him positively that there was nothing the college could do.  The administration treated it like the joke the masked man intended it to be–but that’s not how it was experienced by many of the women in that room at the moment.  Ha-ha!  So amusing!

This seems to be yet another example of how men and women on college campuses perceive their safety and therefore how they must use their campuses very differently, and how young male students have so much more liberty than even senior women faculty, even during the work day and in their own classes.  Does Baa Ram U. really think that opening classroom doors and screaming is really conducive to a learning environment?  Are women students and faculty–and the majority of non-disruptive men–entitled to work in peace?  Or do the lunatics really run the asylum?

One thing I was grateful for was that despite the Masked Intruder’s juvenile and thoughtless behavior, I am glad that he wasn’t shot dead by a Concealed-Carry Avenger who brought a gun to his exam.  So yet again I wonder:  how can any reasonable person think that more guns are the answer, ever?  The Inside Higher Ed story makes it clear that most university administrators understand the population they’re dealing with:

[Chris] Kelly[, a Missouri state legislator,] bases his opposition partly on experiences as a judge in Columbia, home to the University of Missouri’s flagship campus, among other colleges. After witnessing the prevalence of alcohol among college students, Kelly says he’s worried about adding guns to the mix.

“College boys love things that go boom, and there is a direct and geometric relationship between the amount of beer they’ve had and the amount they like boom,” he said. “You give them a six pack and boom gets really attractive; that’s a problem.”

That opposition is shared by Gary Forsee, president of the University of Missouri System.

“Missouri’s college students should be allowed to learn and exchange ideas in an environment free from the threat of concealed guns,” he said in a statement. “It is hard to imagine that such a proposal could gain support given the magnitude of gun-related tragedies experienced on college campuses across the country.”

All good points–but yet again, women’s rights to liberty and safety on their own campus aren’t mentioned at all.  The discourse on this is only about how men currently use the space at their universities, as though men’s and women’s interests are identical.  Are women people?  In an era in which there are more women college students than men students, why are we still making decisions based men’s interests and men’s behaviors only?  State legislators should instead grapple with this fact and recognize that male students are only a minority on college campuses, and that there are very few women college students agitating for their “right” to be armed on campus.  Why let the tail wag the dog?

24 thoughts on “Guns, threats, space, and gender

  1. This is not really a comment on your post, but on the image that accompanies it. I am terribly amused by the prominence of the wedding ring on the gunwoman’s hand. I love that we see her through a viewing perspective that gazes down a gun barrel to her big, long-lash-fringed eyes: Hawt! At the same time, however, we know that she is a fully respectable woman, through the ring. Her nice, respectable marital status shows us that her familiarity with weapons should be read as a willingness to engage in self-defense, rather than as criminal aggression. (For comparison’s sake, think of a man in that pose, and you’ll think criminal.)

    She’s a Sarah Palin fantasy: a total babe who’s respectably married, and smart enough to pack heat. Maybe she’s even a milf!


  2. I totally agree with you on the policy questions here: concealed weapons on a college campus do not make much sense, and the prank that you mention was in poor taste, to say the least. But I’m not sure I see the gendered dimension (aside from the fact that men commit most gun violence). As a male professor, which I am, or a male student, which I was, I would have had exactly the same reaction as the female professor and students you mentioned. If a crazed gunman barges into a classroom, the burly football player would be just as dead as the petite woman sitting next to him — after all, it is the random nature of these attacks that makes them so terrifying.

    Moreover, I think that there is an obvious counterargument that needs to be confronted: that female students in particular ought to carry guns, since they are more likely to be victims of violence, whether in the classroom or elsewhere. In short, the second-amendment fundamentalists would argue that women’s “liberty and safety” would be best served by more liberal firearms laws. How would you respond to this argument?


  3. Good point, Clio B: you’d think that, but I bet some good old boys are pretty confident that they could have picked Whitman off firing back from the ground, especially with the automatic weapons and the home-arsenal bazookas they have these days.

    Owen–I’m sure that many male profs and students would have reacted the same as my colleague, her TA, and her students. (She didn’t report hearing from any male students, however–just from some of the women). This was just an example to illustrate the notion that men’s interests (though there are only a MINORITY of men pushing these interests) are privileged over women’s interests (and as I said, the majority of men who aren’t disruptive.) I think it’s significant too that the complainant was a woman faculty member with a woman TA and several complaining women students. I don’t understand why their interests were brushed aside, and can think of only one reason why! Gun ownership has always been deeply gendered, I see the Second Amendment fundamentalists as pushing for rights that tend to expand men’s rights at the expanse of women.

    As for your question about women and guns: I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to arm themselves. A lot of households own guns, but those guns are used disproportionately against the women and children who live in those homes. While the vision of an armed posse of young women willing to take it to the streets is appealing in many ways to me, I think more women’s lives would be saved by strictly limiting men’s access to guns than by arming said women.

    After all, women who are victims of domestic violence entrust their hearts, bodies, and children to the men who end up abusing (and in many cases, killing) them. Of course the men will have knowlege of and access to the women’s guns! This is embedded in the pathology of the abuser-victim relationship. I don’t like it, but that’s the reality on the ground, from what I’ve seen and heard.


  4. In addition to all the great points already made I’d like to add that I don’t understand this idea that having more guns in a room makes us safer…
    Consider your colleague’s situation and pretend it was her worst nightmare- a masked gun man has just entered her class of 120 students in a lecture hall. And, let’s pretend 2-3 of those students are “packing heat”- I’d imagine we’d have a variety of things going on- some students would likely sit stunned/frozen, some would be scrambling over each other to get to the door, others getting down to the ground- pure chaos! Assuming those carrying guns would use them in this moment, how much help would they truly offer? In the midst of the chaos, might they accidentally shoot one of their classmates? It seems to me that adding guns to this situation simply increases the chances of folks being shot rather than posing a real threat to the shooter (who is probably not worried about dying anyway).


  5. Notorious Ph.D.- agreed! I worked in residence life and have to say that I would never, ever be an RA on a campus that allows guns.


  6. If Baa Ram U ever has a campus shooting, I bet your administrators will take masked men seriously. You think maybe your colleague, TA & students reacted as they did because women have better sense than men (on average—Owen seems to think like us)?


  7. From the article: “Even so, students and faculty with proper licensure should have an opportunity to defend themselves if they’re attacked.”

    This logic removes responsibility of the SCHOOL to provide a safe environment. Need to cut the budget? Let the students and faculty have guns to defend themselves with, and lay off security.

    In general, as an instructor, ask me how excited I’d be to ask a poorly-behaving student to leave the room, or to hand out failing grades?


  8. Historiann — I agree entirely with your point about the gendered dimension of gun ownership. (I think that this was part of what made Sarah Palin so upsetting to so many — we’re used to the image of the right-wing, old white male gun-nut, à la Charlton Heston or Dick Cheney, but a wife and mother with an insatiable thirst for killing?)

    I do think, howeer, that your complaint that the IHE piece fails to address women’s rights and experiences, while fair, is a touch off-target. The point Chris Kelly appears to be making is that it’s young men — and especially drunk young men — who are most likely to endanger other people’s lives. (I would argue that this goes far beyond gun use, in fact.) The terrifying thing about adding guns to the mix is that they can cause harm almost at random. Faced with a gun — whether in the hands of a young guy who just wants to hear something that ‘goes boom’, or someone who genuinely intends to cause harm — everyone is at risk, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or any other social category that isn’t impervious to bullets. Add guns to any situation and you endanger everyone.


  9. Historiann, ah, yes, Bubbas will think they can take any dude. That right there is part of the problem here, aside from the gendered aspect. Most of the people who talk about carrying guns, and taking out the bad guy, and whatever other Dirty Harry cowboy fantasy they have don’t consider the reality of actually shooting another person. They may shoot targets at the range just fine, and probably even deer or squirrel, but a person is a whole different matter.

    When you arm yourself for self-defense, you are preparing for the eventuality of killing a person. Should you end up in the situation of facing down an armed assailant who absolutely means to kill you, and you pull out a gun, thereby escalating the confrontation, a moment’s hesitation puts you on the floor. I don’t think these proponents of armed campuses realize that this ain’t the movies.

    Plus, we know that some of our students (and, heck, maybe even one or two of our colleagues) aren’t exactly balanced. Armed students opens up the potential for a bloody grade dispute, as Digger points out. Also, the subject of bullying colleagues has been discussed frequently on this blog. Can you imagine an armed bully?


  10. It’s interesting that this is a response to the big school shootings, where a (male) student comes in with a gun, and they think that other students, if they have guns, will be able to fight back.
    What about regular, everyday murders?
    The timing of this Inside Higher Ed article is really mind boggling, given that 7 days earlier, on April 10, a man murdered a fellow student and then killed himself with a shotgun at Henry Ford Community College in Michigan.

    Note that the first article quotes a 12 year old who was in the building attending a theater program when the shooting happened. Colleges are public spaces; perhaps that is also being overlooked here, as, according to Wikipedia, generally concealed carry is not allowed in public spaces (government buildings, theaters, public parks, etc).
    How many more incidents like the one in Michigan do you think would happen if concealed weapons were allowed on college campuses?


  11. Bertie–to be clear: I have no complaints about the IHE piece. My point is that no one anywhere talks about how the debate over guns on campus is really a discussion that leaves out the majority of college students because of the gendered dimensions of gun ownership in the U.S. I think Kelly’s analysis is correct, but it also exemplifies the problem in talking about campus environments: only men’s interests are truly considered, and we don’t consider women’s rights to use their campus equally and fearlessly.

    Digger, I fear that your point about the budget is probably an apt one. Unfortunately, this jibes with a “wild west” mentality out here in general that suggests that somehow it’s cheaper and easier to make everyone responsible for their own selves. We don’t want to pay taxes for snowplows–it makes so much more sense for people to drive trucks and SUVs on dry streets 361 days of the year so they can blast through the snow 4 days per year! We don’t want to pay taxes to make universities safe–so let’s make sure every student has a gun! Yeah! Great idea!

    Clio B.: Good points. I am more concerned about students using guns against each other and perhaps against faculty. One thing about the faculty bullies I knew is that they were uniformly physical cowards–petty bureaucrats who used paper and words to push people around, and who collapsed pretty quickly when I called them on it. I don’t think any of them own guns. But that’s not every bully–and you’re right that there’s no preventing an armed person from snapping.


  12. The other gendered dimension here is related to fear of crime. Women tend to be more fearful than men, and to adjust their behavior accordingly, even though men are more likely to be victimized. That may relate to why your colleague’s male students didn’t express the same fears (though they may have felt it, but felt less comfortable expressing it).

    And while I get your point, Historiann, about gendered dimensions of gun ownership, I don’t think male interests are being served here either. In the case of school shootings, absent maybe a specific intended target, it would seem that men and women would be more or less equally likely to be shot. But, in general, men are more likely to be victimized (by other men). So allowing guns on campus isn’t helping men any either. . .


  13. Next week, students on my campus and at UConn are holding an “empty holster” demonstration in favor of allowing concealed weapons on campus. As one colleague pointed out, how do we know all the holsters will be empty? Maybe someone will see this as a great opportunity to bring a gun to campus.

    Also, about a week after the Virginia Tech shootings, a female student in my women’s history class bragged about her experience with firearms and argued she and other students — as well as professors — should be allowed to carry guns for protection. So, there are women who are pro-gun, although fewer than men obviously.


  14. I had a colleague comment re: this, essentially, “Well, what do you expect from Missouri and Texas.” Unfortunately, I expected that they might well be the thin edge of the wedge; Knitting Clio’s comment about the demonstrations in the NE confirm it.

    I’m really tired of the “Guns make people safer” argument. Other people having them doesn’t make me safer, and me having one wouldn’t either. It would just put me in a position of having to make split second decisions about using it. Any confrontation where one or all involved have a gun, even when not drawn, is an armed confrontation. That, and if they’re concealed weapons, I must, by default, assume that everyone else has one. Which makes every interaction an armed interaction. Not conducive to learning or teaching, imo.

    Then again, perhaps I’m just an hysterical woman. [snerk]


  15. Pingback: Let’s play “What’s Wrong with This Headline?” : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  16. I don’t know that I have anything remarkable to add to this conversation but I will share that I taught on the Virginia Tech campus the year of the shooting. I don’t think putting more guns on campuses, particularly in the hands of students with limited “training,” would ever make me feel safer.


  17. Thanks for stopping by to comment redzils. It’s interesting to note that to my knowledge, the leaders in this arm-the-students movement aren’t people who have witnessed or been a part of school shootings, and I’m unaware if there are any activists who were directly involved in these events who think that arming everyone to the teeth is really a solution to the problem. (I could be wrong–it just strikes me that these arm-the-students proponents are more affiliated with the NRA than any other lobby/movment/faction.)


  18. Pingback: Concealed Carry Supporters are not “nuts” « Knitting Clio

  19. “Fear” is the ignorance of reality in the future tense of almost anything. There are many ficticious and inaccurate statements written here. I am 100% positively in favor of women strong enough to push for a higher education also being able to look out for themselves and their friends and families. Malicious and inaccurate information on any subject only causes misguided attention by outside groups with sometimes hostile feelings on the subject.

    I see no one posting positive knowledge of anything to do with what must be learned, licensed, practiced, and fees paid in order just to obtain a CCH permit, the precursor for use. The fees themselves mount into several hundreds of dollars for a five year period in most states, which would seem to deter most college students on a tight budget. A course of several hours (16-32 typically) must be taken by each individual applicant by a certified (NRA) firearms instructor, whom is also certified for the sole purpose of teaching CCH and Basic Handgun classes. Most of them are also sworn law enforcement officials.

    Through the course, each applicant must pass a thorough written, oral, and practical exam including safe handling and storage, carry, and accuracy proficiency (scored on individual distances). Fees to the state in which you reside and the local mental health agency they use to do that history check are then paid. It typically takes the full 90 days wait for the initial background checks to be performed by the local sheriff and the state to issue the permit. Subsequent renewals usually procede much faster.

    After issuance, an entire list of misdemeanor infractions may result in the revocation of the permit. Just about any felony will do the same. That means “charged with…”, and not “found guilty of…”. The penalties for breaking the law after issuance is usually much steeper than for non-permitted citizens in most states.

    So, who is it that we are afraid of? The student issued the permit after meeting strict fees and requirements…the state Department of Justice…the law enforcement officer certifying the students…the mental health department doing the background checks there…the local sheriff who signed and issued the permit? Maybe it’s just the thought that since the beginning of modern time, no matter what we do nor whom is involved, we may never be able to prevent 100% of the evil that people will conjure up in an idle mind?

    Well, asking for common sense these days may be stretching it a bit. What is that that Winston Churchill said about fear? In my opinion, preparedness will always be better. Educate all of your mind.


  20. Pingback: Wrung out. | Historiann

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