I did not grow up around guns.
In fact, I was raised by a single mother who despised guns, in Carrollton, Texas, a relatively peaceful suburb of Dallas.
In grad school, my views evolved. I began to learn more about the prevalence of campus sexual assault in America, and I would sometimes leave class at 10 p.m., only to later hear about an assault on campus that night. I was sick of feeling like a potential victim. I had always been an advocate for providing a means of empowering women and I believe that self-defense is one of those tools. But it wasn’t until I was cyber-stalked that the issue really became real for me. A personal firearms trainer I knew then took me under his wing and began teaching me how to defend myself. Just as I should be prepared in case I ever have to put out a kitchen fire or perform the Heimlich maneuver, I thought I should be prepared in case I ever had to defend myself with a gun.
It’s a sad reality that in the U.S., more than a million violent crimes — murders, assaults, rapes, and robberies — are committed each year. But it’s a reality that even my mother cannot deny. After a man was killed in his house by an intruder in our hometown, I asked my mother, who was concerned about the violence, if she wanted to know where I kept my Remington shotgun, and she agreed. I bought the gun two years ago for home protection because there’s an old saying: The best way to deter a burglar from robbing your home is the sound of a shotgun pump.
I believe that guns can make us safe. That’s why I spent more than 20 hours in firearm-safety training courses — in addition to the six hours of state-mandated training I needed to receive a concealed carry permit for my handgun. It’s also why I spent a year and a half fighting for campus carry in Texas, first as a campus representative and later as Southwest Director of Students for Concealed Carry. A friend told me about the group when she saw how passionate I was. I joined in 2015, after university student governments began passing resolutions stating whether they were for or against campus carry, and I felt like my side was not being represented. As a black woman, my opinion on this issue is not always received favorably. But people appreciate that I’m speaking out about something that’s important to me.
Our new law in Texas, which goes into effect August 1, allows licensed permit holders to carry concealed guns onto the campuses of public colleges and universities. It has been controversial since it was proposed: Some high-level faculty at Texas universities have left or threatened to leave, and there have been protests across the state. (These critics don’t seem to consider that people could already be carrying guns on campus illegally.)
I find it frustrating that so many of my peers and professors have reacted so negatively to campus carry. Even though I’m authorized to carry my gun at a movie theater on Friday, at a shopping mall on Saturday, and in a church on Sunday, there is something apparently outrageous about allowing me to carry it into a lecture hall on Monday. By this logic, I can be trusted at the municipal library, but not the campus library.
Contrary to some talking points, campus carry doesn’t put guns into the hands of emotionally immature teenagers. Texas’s new law doesn’t change who can carry a gun at all. It merely changes where licensed adults, aged 21 and above, may carry concealed handguns. The people who will be authorized to carry guns into campus buildings are already authorized to possess guns in most other public locations.
Campus carry also doesn’t change the laws at fraternity houses, tailgating events, bars, or off-campus parties — the places where students are most likely to consume alcohol. Fraternity and sorority houses are private property, and their rules are set by their overseeing Greek organizations. Most other off-campus parties take place at private residences where licensed concealed carry is already legal unless the owner or leaseholder explicitly states otherwise, and as long as the license holder is not intoxicated. Carrying a handgun into a bar in Texas has always been — and will remain — a felony.
Yes, there are occasionally times when people can carry their guns and consume alcohol. But for the most part, law abiding and responsible citizens have not been doing that because they’ve been taught by their concealed carry courses not to.
I have serious concerns about campus carry.
Some critics of campus carry have raised concerns about the impact on classroom debates. For 20 years, concealed carry has been allowed at the Texas Capitol, with no measurable impact on the heated debates that take place there. I don’t agree with people who say that 21-year-olds are naive. If you’re of age, and it’s the law, and you make good judgments — just like you make good judgments when you drive a car — you should be able to practice self defense. But you can also lose that privilege, just like any other.
I’m also encouraged by the fact that other states have implemented campus carry with very few negative outcomes. According to the final report of the campus carry policy working group at the University of Texas at Austin — a committee of faculty, staff, and students tasked with researching this issue and making policy recommendations — there have been four accidental discharges by campus carriers. And two of those incidents resulted from a license holder unholstering his or her gun to show it to someone. Under the Texas campus carry law, intentionally displaying a gun on campus will be punishable by a year in jail. The other two incidents resulted from a license holder carrying his handgun in a pants pocket, without a holster. Individual institutions have set their own rules for complying with the campus carry law and, under most Texas university policies, carrying an unholstered handgun will be punishable by expulsion or dismissal. That same report found no evidence that campus carry has caused an increase in suicides, fatalities, or assaults — the types of tragedies predicted by opponents of campus carry. In fact, the report found that campus carry had almost no “direct impact on student life or academic affairs.”
I am not unsympathetic to opponents of campus carry. I didn’t grow up in a home with guns, so I know what it’s like to think they’re scary. But when my own LTC arrived in the mail — I opened the letter on the night of the Dallas police shootings — I realized that I now have this amazing tool to protect myself. It’s incredibly empowering.
[Photo: still from Al Jazeera America]