Campuses as Havens of Learning, Not Violence



By Jane Wiesenberg

There are quintessential images the word “college” tends to evoke: classic literature, complicated equations, and state-of-the-art labs – to name a few. Yet, in recent years, months, and weeks, another – less fitting and certainly more lethal – term has been added to the list: gun violence.

The history of gun violence on college campuses is both extensive and alarming. The 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, in which a student killed 32 people and then turned the gun on himself, remains the most deadly shooting in U.S. history. In 2013, there were 27 shootings on or close to college campuses, and just last month, a shooter in Isla Vista, California killed six students and then himself at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The response to such tragedies has become nearly formulaic. After each episode, a passionate dialogue ensues, with a broad swath of the public demanding sweeping reforms related to firearm possession, including changes to campus regulations. Yet, the emotionally-charged motivation following each incident fades with time, and with a lack of legislative progress, a seemingly endless cycle of ongoing tragedies, public outrage, and no change in policy continues.

It is currently legal in 29 states to carry a concealed weapon in some capacity on college campuses, with 22 states allowing individual schools to determine their policies and seven others making firearms legal on all campuses.

College campuses are, quite simply, not the place for firearms. As Boise State University Professor Greg Hampikian points out in a powerful recent op-ed entitled, “When May I Shoot a Student?,” college environments tend to include students under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, who are likely to make poor and impulsive decisions; the presence of firearms could turn an innocent social dispute into a deadly one. Yet, on a more basic level, colleges exist to breed debate and discussion, both academic and non-academic. With guns on hand, an impassioned classroom debate could end with shots fired.

In short, we must make every effort to curb the presence of guns on college campuses. Arming students against attacks is hardly the answer, as accuracy is low and response times are slow, likely endangering more lives in the process. Instead, recent cases like Isla Vista have shown us that non-lethal tools – like pepper spray – can serve as safe means of defense against a shooter.

Judaism places a high value on human life. Campus safety is an issue that not only students and professors should address, but also one in which the Jewish community should have a voice. To use the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Living is not a private affair of the individual. Living is what man does with God’s time, what man does with God’s world.” With Congress’ inability to close simple loopholes in background checks for purchasing firearms in our recent memory, we know that campus safety legislation will require a robust and bipartisan commitment. Ultimately, with changes to campus firearm regulations, colleges will return to what they should be: beacons of learning, research, and innovation – not gun violence.

Encourage your member of Congress to take a first step towards ensuring campus safety by expanding background checks on firearm purchases.

Jane Wiesenberg is a rising junior at Colby College. She is a Government and Spanish major and Economics minor. Jane is from Mamaroneck, NY and attended Congregation Kol Ami. 

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Machon Kaplan Participant

About Machon Kaplan Participant

Machon Kaplan is the Religious Action Center's work/study internship program for undergraduate students interested in Judaism and social justice. Learn more at www.rac.org/mk. The views expressed in these posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Reform Movement.

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