Guns on campus: The threat of guns makes us less likely to fight back

CW: Sexual harassment

Hi Joel,

Last week, I shared a post about the AAUP’s argument that guns on campuses violate the First Amendment rights of professors. In response, several readers shared their own stories about how guns on campus have affected them with me. I share them here with identifying details removed.

  1. An adjunct instructor teaching a night class finds herself alone in the room with the student who is the last person in class to finish his final. She’s grading while he completes his exam. When she looks up, he’s masturbating. He’s well over 6 feet tall and between her and the door. She freezes while he smirks. He puts his penis back into his pants and drops the exam off on her desk, then leaves the room. Should she have confronted him in the moment? Should she walk to her car on her own or call campus police for an escort? If she requests an escort, will they demand to know why she did so? Should she report him, knowing that a Title IX investigation might not force him off campus, so she’ll have to see him again next semester–and he might be very angry about the fact that she reported him? Does he carry a gun?
  2. A chair is in her office when the department administrative assistant knocks. A man in his 30s has come to the department asking for help publishing the writing of his father, who was a member of the faculty years ago and is now deceased. The man is insistent that the department has access to his father’s files and demands that the department help him locate them and publish them. He’s agitated and upset–and also recognizable as a registered sex offender who, a few years ago, kidnapped and sexually assaulted a 14 year old boy over a period of days. He’s already violated the terms of his parole once. He stands in the doorway of the chair’s office, insisting the someone help him with his problem NOW.  He is intense and argumentative and doesn’t take “no” for an answer. He’s known to be unstable, but the terms of his conviction don’t require him to stay off campus, even though there is a daycare center in the basement of the building. Should the chair attempt to force him out the door? Call campus police (and, if so, how)? What if he’s carrying a gun?
  3. A faculty member known as a “tough grader” has angered some members of her class. They discuss how much they hate her using an app that allows students at the college to share messages anonymously. Soon, students are calling for her to be raped and murdered. The university cites students’ First Amendment rights in making such comments, arguing that, since the posters do not indicate a time, place, or plan to murder or rape her, they do not amount to a true threat. Campus security will escort her on campus but not to her home one block off university property. Since she does not know who is making the threats and the university will not press the anonymous app for the information, she is unable to know who she should be cautious of.
  4. A man on faculty sends dick pics messages to a number of women who are graduate students in his program, uninvited. He lets them know, too, that he has a conceal and carry permit and carries regularly on campus. In this state, revealing that you conceal and carry is a violation of the conceal and carry permit law, but the graduate students are fearful of reporting someone who knows that this is the law and violates it anyway.
  5. A couple co-chairs a department and uses their position of power to coerce graduate students into sexual relationships. A graduate student in the program goes out to dinner with them one night and wakes the next morning to find herself in their apartment, the victim of a sexual assault. When the student reports the assault to the university, the co-chairs argue that the relationship with consensual. The university launches an investigation, but the co-chairs get new jobs elsewhere before it concludes.

What do these cases have in common?

Sexual harassment or assault, obviously, but also the victim’s lingering and reasonable fear that the perpetrator will follow up the first case of harassment or assault with gun violence. In each case, the incident happened on a campus where guns are permitted–and in some cases, the perpetrator made sure to mention this to the victim.

Can people who aren’t legally carrying guns come to campus and commit such acts? Of course. After all, in each of these cases, the perpetrator was willing to break the law in the first place in order to engage in harassing or violent behavior. But adding legal guns to campus (to any setting, since the above situations could happen in a variety of workplaces) only increases the danger. And it makes it very hard to intervene in the first place. Should an adjunct insist that a student stop masturbating in front of her Should a chair kick an apparently unstable sex offender out of her office? Should a faculty member be able to tell her students to stop making threats about her on an anonymous board? Sure–but those acts are much harder to do when there is a greater chance that the person you have to stand up to is carrying a gun.


Image result for guns on campus

Everyone is at increased risk when people on campus can carry guns. 

Want to know what happened in each case?

  1. She quit the job and never came back to campus.
  2. She eased him out of the office with the instructions that he should contact another professor who would know more about this, then called campus police to alert them to his presence and shared the incident with the whole department, which is still figuring out how to basically appease him so he won’t come back.
  3. She asked for some reasonable accommodations, including a peep hole in her office door. She was denied them. She quit.
  4. The students found help in a faculty member who brought the case to the university. In the meantime, the offender found a new job elsewhere.
  5. They resigned before they were fired. At least one of them still teaches in higher education, according to their Linked In profile.

It’s not just victims who lose here. It’s students, who deserve teachers who are focused and unafraid and who shouldn’t ever have to worry about violent retribution for refusing the sexual advances of sexual harassers. It’s teacher, who shouldn’t have to be afraid of students. And it’s the entire project of knowledge-making, which is losing people–especially women–in these cases.



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