Gun Control: What Makes Common Sense?
February 11, 2013 - 9:45am
In the aftermath of the December 2012 shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I joined with a group of more than 350 university presidents and chief executive officers to sign a letter urging our elected representatives in Washington to take action against what is becoming an increasingly disturbing incidence of gun violence at educational institutions.
One question I have been asked repeatedly is why college presidents have chosen to organize themselves and speak out on this issue. The simple answer is that educational institutions have been the location for a disproportionately large number of the mass shootings that have occurred in recent years, from Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech to Northern Illinois and Columbine. The open nature of our campuses makes us vulnerable.
A related concern is that weapons on campus, in classrooms, and in residence halls introduce unnecessary anxiety about personal safety into the teaching and learning process, certainly something antithetical to core educational values. Finally, like most college presidents and educators, I find it unconscionable to remain silent on an issue that has such profound implications for our institutions and for society in general.
The issues surrounding gun control are complex and will not be resolved easily. There are important legal, social, and political dimensions that do not lend themselves to easy resolution. However, my sense of the mood of the country in general is that something must be done. In recent weeks we have all seen reports and recommendations from politicians and commentators. The petitions I have signed add educators to the list. In considering these proposals, the advocates and proponents mount arguments to support their positions, sometimes relying on data from empirical studies. In reviewing these studies, it is important to keep in mind the difference between causality and correlation.
I don’t believe an empirical case can be built one way or the other to justify changing existing gun control laws and policies. In my mind, the issue must be addressed through common sense, i.e., what do most Americans believe are reasonable steps to take to provide a safe environment for themselves and their families. My sense is that the first two steps are the following:
• Ending the gun show loophole, which allows for the purchase of guns from unlicensed sellers without a criminal background check
• Reinstating the ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons along with high-capacity ammunition magazines
I am realistic enough to know that even these modest steps will not prevent shootings in the future. However, I am convinced that we must do something and these two actions seems like reasonable first steps and would not undermine what the framers of our Constitution intended in formulating the Second Amendment.
Richard F. Wilson, president
Illinois Wesleyan University
New York, NY
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