I Can’t Teach While Wondering Who Has a Gun
Megan Stielstra on the Chilling Effect of Campus Concealed Carry Laws
It was raining the day of Megan’s funeral. I stood under my umbrella, looking at the tombstone with her name on it. Megan Stielstra in big letters. It was very sad that I was the only person who showed up. She didn’t have any family or friends that cared about her.
This is the beginning of a short story written by a college student and turned in to his creative writing professor—me. He had turned in other stories as well, about how I had died. Sometimes, a character with this student’s same name and physical appearance saved me from a violent perpetrator. Sometimes he was the violent perpetrator.
“It’s fiction,” he said. “Isn’t that what this is? A fiction class?”
One day I walked into the main office and found him trying to talk a work aide into giving him my home address.
This happened 15 years ago, and this student is an anomaly among the brilliant, thoughtful writers I’ve been privileged to work with but man, I can’t cut him out of my head, especially as colleges across the country debate the issue of Campus Carry. As of this writing, nine states enforce laws allowing license holders to carry concealed weapons into college classrooms, and it looks like more are on the way; a January 2016 report from the Education Commission of the States in partnership with NASPA concludes that while “numerous states prohibit guns on campus, the architecture and momentum of new policy represents a shift in the opposite direction.”
Fact: 9 out of 10 campus police oppose concealed weapons on campus.
Fact: 94 percent of college faculty oppose concealed weapons on campus.
Fact: 95 percent of college presidents oppose concealed weapons on campus.
Fact: 80 percent of college students say they would not feel safe if guns were in their classrooms.
Question: Would you?
At the University of Texas at Austin, students are fighting their recently enacted Campus Carry legislation with dildos (#cocksnotglocks). The short version is this: dildos are considered “obscene” and prohibited from campus so students are tying them to their backpacks by the dozens and showing up en masse at what student organizer Jessica Jin calls—wait for it—strap-ins.
I did a little digging.
It’s always been easy to buy or sell a gun in Texas, but up until 2008? You couldn’t buy or sell a dildo. And while there are no limits to the number of guns one may own, up until 2003 it was a felony to own more than six dildos. I found this information on my new favorite website—dumblaws.com—and confirmed it through: Texas Penal Code, Chapter 43, Public Indecency, Subchapter B, Obscenity. And since we’re already in crazy town, here are other things that were illegal at some point or other: In my home state of Michigan, you couldn’t swear in front of women or children. In my adopted city of Chicago, you can’t have fuzzy dice or air fresheners hanging from your rearview mirror. In California, women couldn’t drive while wearing a housecoat. In Alabama, you couldn’t carry an ice-cream cone in your back pocket. In Cottage Grove, Minnesota, residents of even-numbered addresses could not water their plants on odd-numbered days excluding the 31st day where it applies.
But unregulated firearms? Hey, have at it!
Over 10,000 people signed up via Facebook for the first University of Texas strap-in held at the same time that Campus Carry went into effect on August 1, 2016, which, in a stunningly offensive fuck you to basic human decency, is 50 years to the day that engineering student Charles Whitman climbed a 300-foot tower in the center of the UT campus and opened fire from above, killing 14 and injuring countless others. He used a .30 caliber carbine, a 6mm bolt-action Remington, a .35 caliber pump rifle, a 9mm Luger, a Smith & Wesson M19, a sawed-off semiautomatic shotgun, and seven hundred rounds of ammunition—all of which were purchased legally.*
It goes on.
On and on and on.
Whatever you believe about the Second Amendment, it contains the words “well” and “regulated,” and in the last thirty years of mass shootings, licensed, legal, supposedly regulated guns are the norm, including the one used in 1993 by Stephen Leith in my hometown.
Remember: My father is an Alaskan, and a gun owner. He’s also a Vietnam vet. He and my uncles and my cousins are life-long hunters. I grew up in this life. Spare me the NRA horseshit that an AR-15 is used to hunt.
Recently, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas withdrew from his position teaching economics to classes of nearly 500. “The risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “I cannot believe I’m the only faculty member who is disturbed by this.”
If Campus Carry becomes law in Illinois, I’m out, too. I can’t teach wondering who has a gun.
Question: Could you learn?
I want this essay to strap a dildo to its backpack. I want this essay to give those UT students a high five.
They’re trying. I want this essay to try.
I want this essay to listen to its uncles and cousins about what they think common-sense gun legislation looks like. I want this essay to listen to why students and faculty might want to bring a gun into a classroom, to recognize those fears and come up with solutions that don’t include weapons. I want this essay to sit on the floor of the House of Representatives behind Congressman John Lewis, protesting congressional inaction on gun-control legislation. I want this essay to put a spotlight on Mothers Against Senseless Killings and Assata’s Daughters and the #LetUsBreathe Collective at Freedom Square and so many other community-based organizations led by black women working nonstop without resources or recognition to end violence in Chicago. I want this essay to go online right now and look up the names of its state representatives and see if they’ve taken money from the NRA and, if so, I want this essay to vote them the hell out of office.
This essay is done feeling helpless.
The guns used to kill 49 queer people of color in Orlando.
The guns used to kill 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino. The guns used to kill nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
The gun used to kill nine black worshippers at AME Church in Charleston. The gun used to kill four students in a high school cafeteria in Marysville. The gun used to kill three people at Fort Hood.
The gun used to kill 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard.
The guns used to kill 26 people, mostly children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Even the guns being used in record violence in my beautiful, complicated city of Chicago were purchased legally in states with less regulation: Indiana, mostly, but also Mississippi, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Iowa, Alabama, and others.
From the book THE WRONG WAY TO SAVE YOUR LIFE: Essays by Megan Stielstra. Copyright © 2017 by Megan Stielstra. Published on August 1, 2017 by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.