Educate or Execute?

Professors and teachers should not ever be expected to carry firearms to police their classrooms, writes Joshua Grubbs, a faculty member who is also a gun owner.

February 26, 2018
 
Stock image of handgun next to bullets and a stack of books.
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Talking about gun violence is not something I enjoy doing. I am a psychology professor, and I specialize in the psychology of religion, human sexuality and certain aspects of personality. Those are domains in which I have some expertise. Those are things I am comfortable talking about. Gun violence is not one of those areas -- not by any stretch of the imagination. But there are times when all of us have to get uncomfortable, and it seems that my time has come.

I’ve only been in academe for about two years -- eight if you count my time as a graduate student and 12 if you count my time as an undergraduate. But in that time, I’ve learned that my life story and experiences are a little bit different from those of most college professors.

I was born and raised in a conservative family in the rural South, and, as you might imagine, that means that I was raised in the heart of gun culture. Growing up, I cannot recall a time when there were not at least 12 guns in the house; at many times there were more. I’ve been shooting since I was extremely young. I was comfortable handling a gun without supervision as a young teenager. At the age of 21, I applied for and received a concealed weapons permit in the Commonwealth of Virginia. For the next few years, I would carry my concealed .357 whenever I felt the need. Although I no longer have that permit and have no desire to ever have such a permit again, to this day I still own a number of guns, as I still shoot for sport at times.

On paper, this life story makes me seem the exactly type of person President Trump is referring to when he suggests that we incentivize some teachers to carry concealed weapons in classrooms. And while Trump has focused on elementary and secondary schools, some state legislators have proposed the same for college professors.

I -- a gun-owning, firearm-proficient white man -- am exactly the target demographic for National Rifle Association campaigns on increased gun ownership. However, it is exactly my experiences with guns that lead me to believe that this is a fundamentally absurd proposition. Indeed, some have argued that even engaging in this conversation is so patently absurd that it distracts from the real debate on appropriate gun control. Yet, even a few minutes on social media reveal that there seem to be millions of Americans that think that arming educators is a viable path forward. As someone with experience in the worlds of gun ownership and education, I am here to say that this is an impossible proposition.

My experiences with gun ownership generally and my past experiences as a concealed weapons permit holder specifically have taught me that carrying a firearm is fundamentally incompatible with being an invested educator. For me personally, carrying a firearm meant being constantly on guard. Carrying a firearm meant being fully aware of the status of that firearm at any given moment, being aware of potential threats in the environment around me and constantly evaluating whether or not I was going to need to use that weapon I had tucked away.

Carrying a gun meant estimating whether each and every person I interacted with was a threat I might need to neutralize. In short, for me -- and for countless other people who have carried or do carry a concealed weapon -- having a gun on your person means viewing the world as a much darker and more threatening place than you ordinarily would.

When students enter my classroom, they are trusting me to care for them, to teach them and to guide them forward. In this regard, they are my responsibility, and I view that responsibility as an almost sacred duty. However, I cannot look at my students as both young minds eager for education and potential threats I might need to eliminate. I cannot teach effectively or educate compassionately when I am on guard and wondering if I might need to take another human life that day. This proposition -- that some teachers need to be equipped and prepared to either educate or execute other human beings -- is plainly impossible.

I’m a junior professor in a Ph.D. program at a research university. On a very practical level, my position is clearly defined by the terms of my contract: 40 percent teaching, 40 percent research, 20 percent service. In many ways, my identity as an educator is reflected in that contract. At this point in time, there is no allocation for what percentage of my time is meant to be spent peacekeeping, enforcing or defending my students with firearms. I was not hired to be an enforcer, and no teacher I know of anywhere has been. If that is to be part of my job, then I would argue that it would have to come from some other aspect of what I do. I mean this in a much deeper way than in just in reference to my contract. Beyond changing the terms of my contract, to be an enforcer or protector would fundamentally change my identity as an educator.

At the end of the day, I don’t know what the solutions to our current crisis are. Banning firearms entirely is likely a fantasy for the foreseeable future and a reality that I don’t particularly want, either, but continuing as we are also seems impossible. In either case, however, asking teachers to take on the responsibility of being both educators and potential executioners is not a viable path forward.

Bio

Joshua Grubbs is an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University.

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