College professor says she won't carry a gun to protect her students

(AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

I’ve got good news for Beth Ann Fennelly; no one is going to force her to pick up a gun and use it to protect the students in her classroom at the University of Mississippi, no matter how much she might pretend otherwise.

Fennelly, a former poet laureate of Mississippi, lays out her objections to armed school staff (even those who, unlike her, volunteer to take on that responsibility) in a column at the Washington Post, where she argues that instead of helping to ensure an immediate armed response in the case of an active shooter on campus, lawmakers should be trying to put new (and unspecified) gun control laws in place.

The first line of defense? If we educators find ourselves nose-to-nose with a mentally ill child wielding an AR-15, it might look as if we’re the first line, but that’s only because all the other lines have lain down. Those making and interpreting the laws have lain down. (Someone explain to my first-year college students why they can buy a shotgun but not a shot of booze, because I sure can’t.) And those who are supposed to be upholding the laws have lain down. Guns are being sold illegally. And guns are being sold legally to buyers with backgrounds of violence or hate crime misdemeanors. Guns are being sold without background checks, a problem that worsened during the pandemic.

If Beth Ann Fennelly truly thinks that the freshmen in her college classes can’t get ahold of some hooch, she needs to descend from her ivory tower of academia and take a good, hard look around her campus. And frankly, I’m okay with lowering the drinking age to 18 as well. Lord knows that raising the age to 21 hasn’t stopped underage drinking. A 2019 study found that more than 80% of respondents between the ages of 18-20 reported drinking alcohol at some point in the past, and nearly 25% of those taking the survey said that they had engaged in binge drinking within the past month.

Fennelly says there’s another reason why she won’t carry a firearm on campus: she loves her students too much.

Numerous polls indicate that the majority of educators still don’t want to be armed. And there’s no conclusive evidence that arming teachers increases school safety, though there’s evidence that it increases incidents of teachers accidentally discharging their guns.

It’s a desperate, misplaced valor that leads teachers to the FASTER training boot camp, and that prompted one teacher quoted in The Times’s story to claim that he signed up because “I love my kids. I’m going to do everything I can to keep them safe.”

I love my students, too. I love them enough to recognize that increasing their exposure to guns costs them intellectually and psychically.

Not that this will change Fennelly’s mind, but if she was truly carrying concealed then none of her students would ever be exposed to a firearm in her classroom unless the unthinkable happened and she was forced to use it to protect herself and others in the classroom. If that terrible circumstance ever did take place, does the professor really believe that students would be more damaged intellectually and psychically if she had a gun to use in self-defense than the intellectual, psychic, and physical harm that would befall them if they were forced to wait for police to arrive?

As I said, no one is asking Beth Ann Fennelly to arm herself, whether on campus or off. In fact, under the University of Mississippi’s firearm policy, instructors such as herself are prohibited from carrying in “institutional facilities and/or areas that are deemed non‐public,” even with the state’s enhanced firearms permit, so it’s a moot point at the moment.

Fennelly’s attempt to virtue signal her opposition to armed school staff is one thing, but disparaging those educators who decide that they are willing to carry a firearm on campus to protect themselves and the students in their care is completely off-base. There are thousands of teachers and school staffers who are lawfully, safely, and responsibly armed on the job in dozens of states across the country, and at least one recent survey has shown the idea is popular among parents… even if it gets a chilly reception among former poet laureates.