By Meg Cullar
Allowing guns on college campuses would create anxiety, tension, and fear rather than making people safer, according to a letter of petition signed by 120 Baylor faculty and staff and delivered to the Waco office of State Senator Brian Birdwell on Monday, February 18. Birdwell was in Austin, and a staff member received the letter on his behalf.
Birdwell sponsored SB 182 in the Texas Legislature—a law that would “allow students, faculty, and staff with a concealed handgun license (CHL) to carry firearms for personal protection on college campuses,” according to a press release from Birdwell’s office when the bill was filed in January.
Two Baylor professors delivered the letter, read a prepared statement for the media, and then answered questions. The professors said they don’t buy the logic that more guns would make campus a safer place.
Dr. Blake Burleson ’78, MA ’82, PhD ’86, who has taught religion at Baylor for twenty-five years, said, “We think that if you have a fire, adding wood to the fire typically makes the fire burn more, so we don’t find the logic here.”
Musicology professor Dr. Robin Wallace, who accompanied Burleson, said that there are inherent risks of violence in just living, but that he currently doesn’t worry when he’s in the classroom. “I would feel considerably less safe if students or anybody else on campus was armed,” he said.
On February 18, Birdwell told the Waco Tribune-Herald that he had not seen the petition, but that his bill is an affirmation of citizens’ rights to bear arms.
“It’s not about providing universities safety in a corporate way,” Birdwell told the newspaper. “It’s about providing for the opportunity for our most law-abiding citizens to exercise that right.”
Birdwell also told the newspaper that his bill allows private universities to opt out of the bill. “It specifically authorizes the private university to make that decision, because it’s private property,” Birdwell said.
Wallace said that “opting out” would make carrying a gun on campus “against the rules rather than against the law.” That would make it more difficult to enforce and would shift the burden to the college, he said.
Burleson said for Baylor to “opt out” of the law once it’s passed would require a “large expense” from the university to post signs all over campus that it’s a gun-free zone.
Wallace said that Baylor faculty members stood in solidarity with their colleagues at public colleges in opposing the legislation. “We don’t allow that distinction to fragment us and divide our voice,” he said. Wallace also said he believes that passage of the law would make it more difficult to recruit top faculty to Texas. “And some would leave the state if they could,” he said.
Burleson said that the letter was a “spontaneous response from faculty and staff” and not organized by the Baylor administration. “We have kept the administration informed of our letter-writing campaign,” he said. “But those Baylor faculty and staff who have signed are simply representing themselves.”
In January, Baylor’s director of media communications Lori Fogleman told the Lariat that allowing guns on campus would bring safety concerns. “Because it would present so many new concerns, we generally do not believe that guns on campus are a good idea,” she told the student newspaper for a story about the bill.
The Lariat also quoted McLennan County sheriff Parnell McNamara ’69, who said he supports the bill. “Cowards love gun-free zones, they love schools, they love churches, and they like to pick out places that they can do the most damage,” McNamara told the Lariat. “I believe self-defense is a human right that we all have, we all have the right to survive, and an obligation to get home safely at night, for ourselves and our loved ones. People who have been trained in the proper use of firearms and firearm safety should have the right to carry wherever they may be in order to take care of themselves.”
Burleson told reporters on Monday, “There are certain places in our society that we understand you don’t bring guns, like a hospital, an elementary school, and we have designated college campuses as among these kinds of places. So this is a big change for our society.”