Ross Perkins: Idaho gun legislation is an affront to our mission


February 16, 2014 

Law enforcement personnel had breached Norris Hall and were triaging victims as I walked to my office at Virginia Tech on the morning of April 16, 2007. I stood transfixed by police cars parked all over, especially the sheriff’s deputy’s vehicle in the middle of the Drillfield and an officer nearby with his gun drawn. Those of us in the Virginia Tech community would endure new grief hourly as the number of slain innocents continued to mount. Though I had at one point been an emergency medical technician who volunteered with the Blacksburg Rescue Squad, I was glad to have been spared the horrors others witnessed on that day. I will never forget the disconsolate faces of my students, all preservice elementary teachers, when I saw them the following week.

Many point to the incident at Virginia Tech — and tragic shootings before and since — as evidence that campuses need to increase safety measures. The concern is justified. The problem, however, is that S.B. 1254 dismisses campus safety issues altogether. Only the individual’s need for self-protection is heralded in the demagoguery surrounding Second Amendment rights. Legislators disregard informed discussion of the threats to security that are being raised by credible voices. The paucity of training for enhanced concealed-carry permit holders contrasts starkly with the law enforcement training Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson detailed in his remarks. Yet, supporters of the bill assert that individual rights are more important than any consequence people affected by its implementation might face.

If politicians were actually committed to personal safety on public campuses, they would instead set aside money to implement infrastructure upgrades that go well beyond instant messaging systems for mobile phones. Changes at Virginia Tech since 2007 include solid classroom doors that can be locked from inside and have peepholes; external doors that cannot be chained shut; ubiquitous, wall-mounted electronic message displays; and campus sirens that can alert all that an incident has occurred. Any institution would benefit from additional resources that allowed these security measures to be put in place, and any who proposed these changes and fought for their funding would be unanimously supported.

As a former member of the Army National Guard, a concealed-carry permit holder, and as someone who supports hunting, my opposition to S.B. 1254 does not stem from an “anti-gun rights” agenda. I was at the university that holds the unfortunate distinction of having the most number of people killed by gun violence and I will always grieve for the lives cut short. But I am under no grand illusion that concealed weapons on campus make us safer. Those who believe that people with a single day’s training can provide a public safety resource for campuses have been unduly influenced by the gun-wielding-hero myths perpetrated by Hollywood and the video game industry.

As a faculty member at Boise State University, I am convinced that S.B. 1254 is an unwarranted annulment of the authority of public institutions’ leadership to uphold an important provision that helps us define our unique context. It might be noted that the bill’s sponsor was himself educated at private, sectarian institutions where community mores are sacrosanct. However, driven by a myopic zeal, Sen. McKenzie is distressingly unsympathetic to the desire and obligation of professionals in Idaho’s state colleges and universities to shape campus guidelines.

Institutions of higher education continue to be special places where we engage in learning and exploration and collaboration together — in community. Legislation that celebrates the cult of the individual ready only for self-preservation is antithetical to our mission and should therefore be summarily dismissed.

Perkins is an Associate Professor in Educational Technology at Boise State University.

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