Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Call for Comedy: Oklahoma Decides NOT to Arm College Students

EVEN THOUGH IT COULD have set the stage for some exciting movies and even more tragedy-based news coverage in Oklahoma (the state of my home town), the Oklahoma State Senate, in its infinite wisdom, decided late last week not to hear a controversial bill that would allow certain people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. The bill was put forth by spunky young legislator Jason Murphey, a Republican from Guthrie, who has threatened to pop a cap in any lawmaker who stands in the way of the bill's passage.

Despite objections by educators, administrators, and students, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved the bill back in March (by a vote of 65-36) that would enable students and faculty members to carry a concealed weapon into their classes who are
- active military members;
- or were honorably discharged from the military, National Guard or Reserves;
- or had received at least 72 hours of training from the agency that trains Oklahoma law officers.

As a former Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences who interviewed, tried to hire, and did hire dozens of faculty members, I assure all readers that it would have been next to impossible to hire talented faculty if such a law were in place here. Also, having spent a lot of time working with our office of admissions, I'm also quite certain such a law would dramatically hurt student admissions to USF. In short, such a law would have the opposite effect it was intended to have--for any college under its purview, the law would mow down the university's academic climate and reputation.

True, such a bill is unlikely in California, but it is not far fetched to imagine a similar law passed in other states in the West, the Midwest, and the South. Well-meaning lawmakers no doubt think laws like this arm students against those who might go on shooting sprees on college campuses. However, this law would have allowed Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City Bombing, since he was a military veteran, to pack heat in his physics class. Woe to the unpopular professor to busts out a pop quiz in Trig the day after Spring Break . . .

An indication of America's anxiety about guns is the deficit of appropriate humor about gun violence, carrying guns, and even gun culture. No one hates an earnest blog post more than me, but it's difficult to strike the right note when writing about potential shooting sprees. My joke above was as close as I'll get; we are all still a tad shaken by the recent shootings on campuses, which should be a site of protest but not massacres.

Rather than crack wise about gun culture, it might be prudent to include here a passing observation that right-wing reactionaries tend to want to combat violence with the accoutrement of violence. If we want to curtail violence on college campuses, the bizarre notion of arming students is just a band-aid. It's a quick, easy solution that plays well to conservatives and the gun lobby, but no one really thinks it will do anything but cause more violence and more anxiety.

Ending violence among young people requires a cultural procedure (not merely a band-aid) that stops violence at the root. Like a staph infection, it's a systemic problem, not an abrasion. So, even if popular culture has not yet provided a language of humor for guns, perhaps it can soon provide the humor needed to fully lampoon those who think the militarization of institutions of learning, liberation, service, and inquiry is the American way.

Professors and writers and educators and administrators who enjoy the reputation of respect and influence should use their rhetorical tools to shape public discourse about this issue. In the meantime, I invite all readers to write in with either nicknames or caricatures of Representative Murphey.

Winning suggestions will appear in a later post!

1 comment:

  1. I'm writing this from Oklahoma, and I can tell you that we are all a little scared here that some wacko might choose our state for another disaster. Have you considered that the bill might just be a wake-up call?