Earlier this year Texas lawmakers passed a law allowing licensed gun owners to bring concealed weapons into university buildings and classrooms. The so-called “campus carry” law takes effect August 1, 2016, for public universities and in 2017 for community colleges.
Daniel Hamermesh started teaching at the University of Texas at Austin in 1993 and retired last year, but he was scheduled to teach another introductory economics class as professor emeritus. Instead, he’s quitting early because of the new gun law.
Michael Newbern, on the other hand, wishes his state would follow Texas’ lead. Newbern teaches engineering economics at the Ohio State University at Marion, and he’s the Ohio director for the group Students for Concealed Carry.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Hamermesh and Newbern for a look at both sides of the debate over guns on campus.
Interview Highlights: Daniel Hamermesh
Is your resignation a form of protest or are you afraid for your own safety?
“No, I don’t view it as a form of protest. It’s rather that with this new law going into effect next year, it just slightly increases the risk that some student either in class gets upset and pulls a gun that he has ready access to, or more likely in my office. A student comes in, is upset about a grade – which happens all the time – and they pull a gun suddenly. It’s just not worth the extra risk. That’s the main issue.”
Why do you think you are more at risk because of this law in particular?
“Mainly because people can now carry guns into my office or into my classroom. Before, there was a gun-carry on campus, but not in the offices and classrooms. You know, if I had 20 students in the class I don’t think it would make much difference. The odds of any one student sort of flipping out and playing gun are very low, but I teach 500 at a pop. And in that big of a group, there’s a good chance of one of them complaining enough, being angry enough and having a gun to possibly cause me harm and I don’t want to put up with it.”
On comments saying that laws only stop law-abiding gun owners
“Of course that’s true, but that’s not the real issue here. The issue is your fear of people do have guns and didn’t have them before. And we’re dealing with kids who are under the age of 25 where the guys’ brains aren’t fully wired yet. They can have a psychotic break or some kind of break, and in their anger, now that they have a gun in their back pocket, pull it out and shoot at me.”
What do you say to students who feel safer with more guns on campus?
“Do they really want to turn the classroom into a shooting gallery? One of my buddies referred to the eventual gun fight at the econ corral, a term that I rather liked. I don’t think they’re safer and the evidence in other Anglo-Saxon countries where guns are much more difficult to come by and where there isn’t this kind of violence suggests to me that if we arm ourselves more and more, there’ll just be more violence, there’ll be random shootings. Bystanders who don’t want to be involved will, if such a random shooting takes place, find themselves injured or killed.”
Interview Highlights: Michael Newbern
On college campus gun laws in Ohio
“The legislature wrote the law basically to allow someone to come to the hospital or someone to come to university, store their firearm in a motor vehicle, but not carry it onto campus. That’s to afford the person the opportunity to defend themselves in their commute. And we’d like to see the law changed so that a person with a valid concealed handgun license may carry a concealed handgun onto a college campus in the state of Ohio.”
“Well, because it’s a self-defense issue. We’re already authorized as concealed handgun licensees to carry in many other non-secure locations in the state of Ohio – state parks, restaurants that serve alcohol as long as they’re not consuming. And we’re just not having problems, there’s really no reason to deny it anymore, you know, instead of allowing the criminal the upper hand and that’s what you do when you deny.”
Are you having problems by not being allowed to carry weapons on campus?
“Oh, absolutely, absolutely. So there are plenty of students, faculty and staff, and myself included – I live a half an hour away from the university that I teach at. And so when I commute back and forth to campus, I’m disarmed from the time I leave my home until the time I get home. Now, if I have to stop somewhere, fix a flat tire or something like that, I’m vulnerable when I stop my motor vehicle. If we have the university follow a law and that says that I can carry my firearm in my motor vehicle while I’m in transit then that fixes the one piece. The second piece is that I should be able to carry my concealed handgun on the college campus to defend myself actively while I’m on campus.”
How will campuses be more safe with more guns on campus?
“Well, because it makes the victim selection process more difficult. So if you’re a criminal, you’ll look for certain criteria. And so if you’re in an area where you are relatively guaranteed that every person in there is law-abiding and every person in there does not possess a tool of force equal to what you possess, then your risk, you know, that you engage in by carrying out that crime is much lower.”
On shootings at places where people are armed, like Ft. Hood or the Washington Navy Yard
“Both of those places, private concealed carry was prohibited. The only people that had firearms in both those places were guards and you knew where they were stationed. So when you allow people to carry concealed handguns privately, you don’t know who has a firearm. It’s not like shooting fish in a barrel. Then it becomes jumping into a tank of barracudas and picking out the fish you can eat.”
- Daniel Hamermesh, former professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin.
- Michael Newbern, part-time faculty in the engineering department at The Ohio State University and the Ohio director for the group Students for Concealed Carry. He tweets @MichaelWNewbern.