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Schools of Violence: The American University and the Gun

Schools of Violence: The American University and the Gun

“A few minutes into the class we heard these popping noises and we all went completely silent.”
Charlie King, Delta State University student, Sep 14, 2015.

School instruction can be about many things. There is the expected tedium, the unanticipated intellectual rush. Generally speaking, it is mundane. But resolving conflict through mayhem and massacre should not normally fall within that ambit. The triple deaths surrounding Delta State University in Mississippi have added, not so much a chapter as a lengthy footnote in terms of campus gun culture in the United States.

The names of these ill-fated participants will vanish quickly, though the broader debates about the profane presence of guns in university society will not. College instructor Shannon Lamb, suspected of shooting Amy Prentiss, with whom he was sharing a home with, and history professor at Delta State University Ethan Schmidt, was immediately given the ménages à trois going over on Fox News.

The so designated “love triangle” ended tragically, with Lamb taking his own life after refusing to surrender to police. The police, at least, were not quite so willing to jump into the fiction world of Fox News, suggesting they had yet to identify the motives behind the killings.

The language in such a culture has essentially accepted the gun as part of the juridical superstructure. It is not there as the moronic distraction of the ill-endowed and aggrieved, the preferred solace of the academically challenged. The gun, rather, has become the mechanism by which decisions are made from the President of the institution down. In each cafeteria, library and academic office, lies a disgruntlement waiting to be armed.

It is the language of lockdowns, police monitoring and areas of pure, unadulterated terror. It triggers a range of administrative and security responses that feed the language of the NRA and that of home invasion into daily university practice. Retired US Army General Russel Honore was very much on point in noting that, “As a country we’re in a state of denial because we’ve confused the right to bear arms with the right to carry arms all the time anywhere or anyplace you want.”

The direction of pushing the US university system into a gun-academic economy, marked by areas awash with weapons, but also free of them, was well and truly confirmed by Senate Bill 11 in the Texan legislature, which was dubbed the “Campus Carry” bill.

The bill was the brainchild of Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, who remains adamant that it would pay due homage to the right to bear arms, which he regards without question as issuing from a higher deity. “The bottom line is this: Senate Bill 11 makes concealed carry on Texas college campuses the law of the land, while allowing for very limited, reasonable prohibitions in unique campus locations” (The Dallas Morning News, May 30).

Senate Bill 11 reflects, to that end, the persistent neuroses of gun control (or permissiveness), shaping and moulding teaching institutions into shadows of lethal weaponry. The object of violence, or if you like, the resolution of debates through violent means, takes precedence over that of discursive learning. Public universities and colleges, under the legislation, are required to allow concealed handgun license holders to carry weapons from August 2016.

Many American universities have become battlegrounds for something other than education, staging grounds for a form of weapons engineering. It afflicts students and academics. Such grounds are now replete with pictures of urban planning in the face of gun violence, be there permissible areas for gun storage, or having gun-free campus zones.

Public university Presidents, in particular, have become the bearers of a rather dubious responsibility: designating what can, or cannot be the subject of such prohibitions and regulations. They must keep eye on God, the gun, and observing the constitution.

Birdwell has, in his mind, a range of permissible encumbrances on the right to bear arms. A biomedical facility might qualify. But certainly not dorms, which he seems to suggest should be militarised complexes awaiting the enemy next door, or the bed beside you.

The text of SB 11, to that end, allows, “An institution of higher education or private or independent institution of higher education” in Texas to “establish rules, regulations, or other provisions concerning the storage of handguns in dormitories or other residential facilities that are owned or leased and operated by the institution and located on the campus of the institution.”

The relevant schools’ boards of regents have been commandeered as overseers in any decision on the subject, upon which they must offer an explanation to the Legislature. Education remains a very dangerous business.

Universities across Texas are now spending time doing what no education institution should: pondering how people can carry murderous weapons onto their campuses. The argument has been inverted. From that of being a statement about whether one should able to, it has become one about how one can legitimately do so.

A recent invitation sent out to students at the University of Texas at Dallas “invites you to a Campus Carry Town Hall Meeting” scheduled at the Alexander Clark Centre (Sep 22). “The forum will gather input from UT Dallas students, faculty and staff regarding the implementation of Senate Bill 11.” When guns become part of managerial gibberish, education has certainly taken a turn for the worse. Campuses, it would seem, are becoming playgrounds for the gun toting fraternity. It is the sort of thing that gives illiteracy a bad name.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:


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