By Linda Wilkins
Baylor professors have signed and filed a letter in opposition to Sen. Bill 182, filed by Texas Senator Brian Birdwell on Jan. 17. The bill would allow students to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.
Dr. Blake Burleson, a senior lecturer in the religion department, and Dr. Robin Wallace, a professor of musicology in the School of Music, took the letter and the 120 signatures by Baylor faculty and staff to Birdwell’s office Monday.
The letter was a collaborative effort between Burleson and Wallace that began a week ago.
“We found out about this bill and we were concerned that bringing guns onto campus would not make the campus safer,” Burleson said. “In fact, we think that bringing guns onto campus will actually make the campus more dangerous.”
After they completed the letter, it began circulating among Baylor professors almost immediately.
“It’s not a systematic campaign,” Burleson said. “It’s really been word of mouth, so 120 signatures in such a brief time gives you some indication of the widespread support. It’s really just the tip of the iceberg.”
Wallace said they discussed the bill with other professors and faculty in order to write the letter.
“This was done by having discussed this issue extensively with colleagues both here and at other universities,” Wallace said. “Opposition to a bill like this is as close to unanimous as you’re going to have on any issue.”
All of the 120 signatures that Burleson and Wallace gave to Birdwell’s office Monday were Baylor faculty and staff. Wallace said the next step is for the faculty and professors at McLennan Community College to read the letter and have the chance to sign it.
Burleson said in a statement Monday that the signers of the letter include Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
He also said there are three main reasons he, along with the other signers of the letter, believes the bill is not a good idea.
“First, we believe that allowing students to bring deadly weapons into classrooms will be disruptive to the educational process where the free exchange of ideas is essential and fervent debate is encouraged,” Burleson said.
Wallace also said he believes a safe environment would not be possible with the passage of this bill.
“My concern is also that it violates what to me is the most fundamental aspect of what I do, which is to create a safe environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and being themselves,” Wallace said. “I cannot imagine doing that in a classroom where I know people could be carrying a concealed weapon.”
In addition, Baylor Police Chief Jim Doak said the job of trained officers could be made more difficult.
Doak said officers are not going to target a person just because they have a gun but in a situation with live gunfire, there is very little room left for thought.
“We are not going to ask if you’re a good guy or a bad guy,” Doak said. “If you have an active shooter, and someone is standing there holding a gun, then they are also at risk.”
Burleson said the second reason the bill would harm rather than hurt college campuses is because campuses are a place of transition where students interact with each other in a close environment and allowing guns would diminish that closeness.
Burleson said they are not aware of any research to support the idea that concealed weapons on campus would increase safety.
While the bill does state that private institutions would be able to make their own rules regarding concealed carry on campus, Burleson said Baylor would still be affected.
“We support our colleagues at MCC and across the state, public and private,” Burleson said. “We’ll have to opt out and by opting out we’ll be forced to put up signs on campus to indicate that this is a gun-free zone.”
Wallace said there would be no legal force behind the signs on campus. Wallace said Baylor would have to enforce a university policy against concealed carry on campus.
“Somebody who violated that rule would no longer be committing a felony as they are at present,” Wallace said.
Lynn Tatum, a senior lecturer in the Honors College at Baylor, said he was not involved in the writing process of the letter, but he said he agrees with what it states.
Tatum said the legislation would also harm Texas education. He said it would be more difficult to recruit professors and faculty to work at universities because they may not want to come to a classroom that could have armed people in it.
“While Baylor will almost certainly be exempt, because we are a private institution, it still hurts us that this would be allowed at public institutions,” Tatum said.
John Devries, a part-time adjunct instructor at McLennan Community College, said he would not be able to teach in a classroom that has a gun in it.
MCC is a public institution and thus would be under the new legislation if it is passed.
Burleson and Wallace both said the letter does not have an affiliation with Baylor.
“We are speaking for ourselves,” Wallace said. “We don’t officially represent Baylor University.”
Lori Fogleman, director of media communications at Baylor, said the authors were expressing their own opinion, which is their right as Americans.
“The faculty, staff and students are using their rights as American citizens to freely express their own opinions on an issue that is important to them,” Fogleman said. “While they speak as individuals and not as representative of the university, we applaud their efforts to participate in the democratic process by having their voices heard.”