This is part two of a two-part series about HB 240. For part one see “UM students tout family gun history at range” on www.montanakaimin.com
The Montana Senate will vote on a bill that would allow students to carry guns on college campuses next week, making many individuals nervous about the potential future of firearms at universities.
Sponsored by House Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings, House Bill 240 aims to strip the authority to regulate weapons from the Montana Board of Regents and prohibit it, along with the Montana University System, from controlling the possession of guns on University property. It passed through the Montana House of Representatives on a 58-31 vote last month.
“This bill is inappropriate, outrageous and formulated by people who have not taught any sort of class from any level from kindergarten to college,” said Mike O’Lear, a part-time adjunct professor of statistics at the University of Montana who is on leave.
O’Lear believes in order to effectively teach, a professor must make students feel comfortable with being intellectually vulnerable and open to new ways of thinking. If students can carry weapons, he said, it would be counterproductive to this process.
And although the bill would allow faculty to carry guns as well, O’Lear said that does not send the appropriate message to students.
“Students can tell when a teacher is being disingenuous,” O’Lear said. “If I walk into a classroom with a weapon, it is basically saying that the only way to protect yourself is by a carrying a bigger gun than the other guy.”
O’Lear disagrees with National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre’s slogan, “The only guy that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
O’Lear said he understands students need to protect themselves, but there are non-lethal ways of doing so.
“Pepper spray, a Taser or, if you are into exotic things, learning judo, are all better ways for students and staff to protect them selves,” O’Lear said.
On the first day of 2011 fall semester, a 20-year-old student accidentally shot his friend in the hand with a 20-gauge shotgun in the south parking lot of the Lommasson Center. This is the first recorded weapon discharge on the UM campus in more than 30 years. And even though the incident is unrelated, the campus required students to store their guns at the Campus Public Safety building or in their cars after that incident, unloaded and out of sight. Before spring semester 2012, students living on the UM campus were allowed to store their guns at the front desk of their residence halls.
“Whatever inconvenience gun owners might face, not being able to carry guns on campus is favorable to an accident occurring with guns being allowed on campus,” said UM student Sam Hines.
For O’Lear, if students were allowed to bring guns into college classrooms, he would like to see himself and his colleagues receive hazard pay for putting themselves in front of students who may be carrying a weapon.
Christopher Anderson, a UM French literature professor, agrees that allowing students to bring guns onto college campuses and classrooms should be considered hazardous for teachers.
“Every university attracts a certain number of unstable people, whether they are students or not,” Anderson said. “If a campus cannot create a secure teaching environment, then they will begin to lose faculty.”
Anderson said he personally owns a shotgun and is not opposed to gun ownership, although he would never bring his gun to school. He said if HB240 passes, the Legislature would arm students who are stressed from school and would be vulnerable to take action. He said he believes no one needs guns to feel safe on campus.
“How many home runs would Babe Ruth have hit without a bat?” Anderson said.
HB240 will be presented to the Montana State Senate floor March 18 at 3 p.m. The bill will go through a series of three readings before a final vote is tallied.