I could not have been more excited to come to Yale my freshman year, but then my friend told me something that made me nervous.
“You may be going to Yale,” she joked, “but at least I don’t have to worry about being shot if I leave my campus.”
When she got up to go to the bathroom, I remember looking up “New Haven homicide rates” on my phone and wondering if I was going to have to look over my shoulder for the next four years.
Now, like all Yalies, I know that the myth of a dangerous New Haven, where Yale students are frightened of leaving their gated residential colleges, is a complete lie. Of course, students, as well as the University, could improve local engagement on issues that affect the overall New Haven community; however, the stories of New Haven as a perilous city are not a reality based in facts.
Although I feel very safe at Yale, I know that many individuals worry about their own security. College is the first time they are away from their parents and their home. Walking back after midnight from the library by yourself or heading home from a party could pose some danger.
Across the country, many states have addressed these collegiate safety concerns through legislation called “campus carry” laws that prohibit public universities from restricting the possession of firearms on campus.
For example, on June 1, 2015, Texas governor, Greg Abbott, signed S.B. 11 into law, which allowed students across all of Texas’s institutions of public higher education to carry concealed weapons on campus beginning Aug. 1, 2016. This year, for the first time ever, students at the University of Texas can keep guns locked away in their dorm rooms as well as bring them concealed to class.
“These laws feed into dangerous ideology that the National Rifle Association wants to spread. It’s the idea that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Franklin Eccher ’19 said.
Eccher was recently recruited by Peter O’Neill ’19 to start the Yale Student Alliance for Gun Safety (YAGS), a new campus group that spreads awareness on issues surrounding firearms and advocates for gun control.
“Like the incident on Elm Street last year,” said Eccher, referring to a shooting that occurred last March outside of Calhoun College in which a 23-year-old man was shot. “The only thing that I think could have made that situation worse was if some ‘good guy’ was returning fire across the street.”
The Yale administration clearly agrees with Eccher. Connecticut is neither a “mandatory” state in which institutions cannot prohibit the possession of firearms, nor is it a “non-permissive” state in which firearms are not allowed on any college campus. It is up to the discretion of each institution whether or not to allow firearms on campus. Furthermore, as a private university, Yale, under laws like S.B. 11, could drop out of the campus carry mandatory program.
As a private institution in Connecticut, the Yale Corporation can create its own firearms policy. The Yale Campus and Workplace Violence Prevention Policy reads, “the University specifically prohibits the possession of weapons by any faculty or staff member, student, or visitor while on or in the vicinity of University-owned or controlled property, whether or not the owner is licensed to carry such weapon.”
Sophomore John Slife ’19 expressed the sentiments of many other students interviewed about Yale’s gun policy.
“It’s counterintuitive to make laws that allow guns on campus. If people were allowed to have guns here, I wouldn’t feel safer,” Slife said. The lack of dialogue on this issue across campus may be because the majority of students agree with this policy.
Despite this shared belief by many at Yale, the gun climate in other states is radically different. Since the turn of the millennium, more and more states are using Second Amendment rhetoric to promote laws banning the prohibition of firearms at universities and to create mandatory campus carry laws.
A recent University of Texas graduate, who asked that I not use her name because of her involvement in Texas politics, told me why she would have felt a lot safer having a gun on campus.
“When I was in college, I was in favor of [campus carry],” explained a source who requested to remain unnamed.
She lived off campus and worked full time, forcing her to study late at night. She often came home at 2 or 3 in the morning.
“Between campus and my housing there’s a significant homeless population that has a history of unpredictable and aggressive behavior. So it was never about me wanting to carry a gun to class at all. It was about having the peace of mind that I could at least attempt to protect myself in an unsafe situation.”
Her fears were not unfounded. This year on April 5, Haruka Weiser, a freshman at University of Texas from Portland, Oregon, left the university’s drama building around 9:30 p.m. and was sexually assaulted and subsequently murdered while on her way home, allegedly by a homeless teen.
“I was very lucky to have made it home safely every night,” continued the unnamed source. “[Weiser’s murder] was incredibly upsetting to everyone with any connection to the university, and it brought to light the need to make campus safe at all times for everyone. I only bring it up as an example of the way a campus can be dangerous, and when I was in college it was frustrating to me personally that my options for protecting myself were limited.”
This story brings up many questions and inquietudes about how we should deal with threats of danger on college campuses. On one hand, we want to empower students, faculty and visitors to feel safe at all times, but the presence of firearms on campus invokes memories of past tragedies and fear of the damage a person with a gun could inflict.
To make the matter even more complicated, the issue is not split evenly down the political lines of liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republic.
Part of YAGS activism at Yale is to bring in speakers and host events that highlight issues surrounding gun control. Their first event will be a screening of the film “Armor of Light” with the Episcopal Church at Yale. The movie describes the surprising life of a pro-life evangelical reverend who becomes a proponent of gun control in accordance with his pro-life beliefs.
Eccher called gun control “an issue that students usually don’t advocate for,” and he pointed out how Yale is such a political and activist campus, yet students do not talk about this specific subject because of Yale’s strict position against weapons on campus. YAGS has reached out to the Yale Democrats as well as the Pistol and Rifle teams at Yale in order to start a wider dialogue and raise campus wide awareness.
Nonetheless, activists in other states are trying to do the exact opposite: to raise awareness about why college campuses need campus carry laws. As an undergraduate, the unnamed source worked on campus carry legislation in the Texas Capitol. She left her position before legislation ever reached the senate floor.
Advocating for campus carry does not mean that one is against all measures of gun control. She told me all the requirements she thought an individual would need to pass before being able to purchase and carry a gun:
“I’ve had my concealed handgun license in Texas since I was 21, which means I took a 10 hour class, passed a shooting proficiency test, filed my fingerprints with the state of Texas and passed a background check that said I have never been accused of a felony or had any domestic or alcohol related legal issues. I also have to retake the class every 5 years and repass all of the requirements. I do think everyone who carries a gun should have to meet these requirements, and personally I’m not opposed to making them stricter.
She makes a point that most of us often ignore. The issue of gun control is so multifaceted and complicated, just identifying yourself as pro-gun rights or pro-gun control is not really that descriptive. Firearms were the answer to her safety concerns, but for other students, their qualms with campus carry laws are about different safety issues.
When asked if she would feel safer if there were people on Old Campus with guns locked away their suites, Brooke Tobin ’20 answered, “banning the possession of firearms on campus makes me feel more safe. I think for sexual assault cases if the predator had a gun that makes the situation so much worse for the victim. Also, I think [guns on campus] likely would lead to more incidents of suicide.”
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates that 6% of college students seriously consider suicide, while more than 1% actually attempt to kill themselves. If we use the figure of 5,532 Yale students, that means that hypothetically 330 of us will consider suicide while 55 of us will actually attempt it. The Harvard School of Public Health described a link between gun ownership and suicide. Having firearms in the rooms of suitemates and friends would only make suicide easier to attempt.
How do we find a solution to this problem? The unnamed source would have felt safer if these campus carry laws were in place when she was a student at the University of Texas, but generally Yale students would feel less safe if the Yale Corporation decided to reverse its firearms policy.
However, neither view is irreconcilable. She makes the argument for owning and carrying a gun, but she also makes an argument that Eccher and Tobin can agree on: firearms need to be monitored and regulated.
The deluge of firearms in America has caused a wide array of dangerous problems that plague us, from accidental shootings to racially-based police violence aggravated by fear of guns. If our goal is truly a safer nation, the answer may not be banning all firearms, but clearly we have to do more to control their sale and spread. To end grid-lock politics and bring partisans together, dialogue must be started between those who advocate for gun rights and those who advocate for gun control. The more activists like Eccher and O’Neill can get individuals like the unnamed source to speak in support of firearm regulation measures, the safer our nation will be.