Stephen Boss teaches environment courses at the University of Arkansas, a lifelong interest that started when, as a kid, he rode his bike to Martinez, CA where he visited the home once occupied by John Muir. I always thought the most famous person to live in Martinez was Reggie Jackson, but you learn something new all the time. In any case, there’s actually a connection between environmentalism and keeping guns away from college campuses, which is what Stephen’s book is all about. Because as he goes on to explain, a college campus should be regarded as a ‘sanctuary,’ and guns have no place in sanctuaries, something we have always understood.
Except we don’t understand the connection between sanctuaries and non-violence any more. It used to be the case, for example, that houses of worship, which have been sanctuaries since medieval times, were locations which didn’t welcome guns. The Virginia State Senate just passed a bill which repeals a law dating from Colonial times that makes it a misdemeanor to bring a gun or any other kind of weapon into a ‘place of worship,’ and several other states grant legal sanction to concealed-carry inside a synagogue or a church.
It would be easy blame the rupture between non-violence and sanctuary on the NRA’s efforts to spread the gospel of armed, self-defense. Unfortunately, this is not the whole story by any means. Several of the worst, mass shootings over the last several years occurred in religious facilities – first in Charleston, SC then Sutherland Springs, TX and most recently in Pittsburgh, PA. And even though as many as 100 million Americans attend a peaceful religious service every weekend, when it comes to fears about gun violence, it’s never the numbers that count.
What Stephen has done is take the data which is generated each year by the Clery Act, a federal law which requires that every college and university receiving any kind of federal aid, including federal loan monies received by students, report campus crime every year. He has examined this data covering college homicides from 2001 to 2016, and lo and behold, it turns out that colleges happen to be very peaceful places. In fact, over the period 2001 to 2016, there was an aggregate total of just slightly less than 370 million people (faculty, students, staff) on college campuses, of whom 279 were criminally killed. Which means that the college homicide rate is somewhere around 76 times lower than the national homicide rate overall.
Realistically, the number is lower than that. Because of the 219 incidents which resulted in 279 deaths, 40 of these homicides were the result of two mass shootings at Umpqua Community College and Virginia Tech. Pull these events out of the overall numbers, precisely because they were so different from what usually occurs, and the degree to which college campuses are possibly the safest environments where large numbers of people gather is much greater still.
Where I think Stephen’s book needs a somewhat wider perspective is understanding why Gun-nut Nation has been making such a big push to break down colleges as sanctuaries and give all those young kids the right to walk around their alma mater with a gun.
To begin with, the Guns on Campus movement is part of the effort to eliminate all gun-free zones. And the reason that gun-free zones are so anathema to the gun industry is because a prohibition on firearms in a public space creates the impression that guns aren’t safe. And that’s the last thing that gun makers would want you to believe.
But there’s a somewhat more nuanced issue about gun-free campuses, which is the fact that college-educated kids, for the most part, won’t become adults who end up owning or using guns. Try as they might, the attempt by conservatives to rid college campuses of the noxious weeds of liberalism hasn’t worked. And generally speaking, liberals don’t particularly like guns. If they did, the extremely scant numbers produced by Stephen Boss on college homicides would probably go way up.
Buy this book here.