By Glenn Garvin: Why can't students say `guns' in school?
Posted: 04/23/2009 04:23:20 PM PDT
Media snicker of the day: those crazy gun nuts, worried the government is out to snatch their constitutional rights along with their AK-47s. "60 Minutes" is the latest to have a chuckle, playing a commercial for a Washington, D.C.-area firearms show that urges viewers to "Celebrate the Second Amendment and get your guns while you still can!"
My own hunch is the sheer number of Americans who own guns (the low estimate is something over 40 million) will keep their Second Amendment rights off the endangered-species list for the foreseeable future. Their First Amendment rights, however, may be another matter. Those are taking a beating these days, right in the place that's supposed to be America's rowdiest free-speech zone: college campuses.
A student who speaks up about the right to own or carry a gun stands a good chance of getting suspended or even arrested:
When a Central Connecticut State University senior fulfilled a communications-class assignment by giving a presentation on why students and professors should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus, his professor reported him to the police, who called him in for questioning. Professor Paula Anderson, questioned by a reporter from the school paper, was unrepentant: The student was a "perceived risk" and she had a "responsibility to protect the well-being of our students."
Like old Soviet commissars clapping dissidents into psychiatric hospitals, administrators at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., responded to a student's e-mail criticizing school policy on concealed weapons by suspending him and ordering him to undergo a "mental health examination."
Trying to recruit new members, the Young Conservatives of Texas club at Lone Star College near Houston passed out fliers lampooning gun-safety manuals. ("No matter how responsible he seems, never give your gun to a monkey.") Administrators confiscated the fliers, threatened to disband the club and - when the worried students sought legal counsel - wrote their lawyers that any "mention of firearms" amounted to "interference with the operation of the school or the rights of others" because it "brings fear and concern to students, faculty and staff." Oddly, the administrators did not suspend themselves, even though their own e-mail included a "mention of firearms."
Tarrant County College, near Fort Worth, took the no-mention policy a step further, banning a student from wearing an empty holster to protest the campus ban on concealed guns. "We're protecting the learning environment," explained Juan Garcia, the school's vice president for student development and, clearly, a devoted scholar of academic doublespeak.
It's tempting to consider these cases as simply an extension of academia's batty response to the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, in which toy guns, wooden pirate cutlasses and even an entire production of the Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins were banned from campus drama clubs, as if American colleges were a giant firecracker of homicidal psychosis just waiting for any tiny spark to go off.
But Virginia Tech and the blind panic that followed it are two years behind us now, and the treatment of gun advocates feels a lot more like intellectual bullying than over-protective nannying. Like campus codes that lay down ideological rulebooks under the guise of outlawing sexual or racial harassment, labeling any reference to guns as a threat to public safety is a way for lefty baby boomer administrators and faculty members to impose their 1960s political orthodoxies on a younger generation.
"It's no coincidence that a lot of these things involve e-mails," says Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a public-interest law firm that defends campus civil liberties and has helped students in several of these cases.
"That's the popular new way for colleges to regulate speech, through technology-use policies. No college dean wants to go on record as saying he restricts free speech on his campus, so instead he says, `We're just making a rule that you can't use e-mail for offensive material."'
Of course, their definition of "offensive" has a distinct political overlay. I've never heard of a college student being suspended for calling George Bush a moron or Dick Cheney a war criminal. But making fun of feminists (Colorado College), opposing gay marriage (Los Angeles City College) or reading a book - a critical book - about the Ku Klux Klan (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) will bring down the wrath of administrators in a politically correct heartbeat.
A couple of years ago, FIRE even had to defend a hapless philosophy grad student at Marquette University who made the mistake of posting a "patently offensive" Dave Barry quote on his office door: "As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government." Geez, he didn't even say "booger."
Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132.