OPINION: Conceal and carry exemption expiring causes fear, safety concerns

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As of July 1, the exemption for carrying concealed weapons on Kansas university campuses expired. This will allow any individual who is more than 21 years old, a resident of the United States, not mentally ill and who does not possess a felony to have the right to legally conceal and carry in Kansas now including college and university campuses, including Kansas State University.

In addition to the exemption expiring, Senate Bill 45 was passed in 2015, which was an amendment to the Personal and Family Protection Act that eliminated the need for individuals to have a permit or to go through gun safety training in order to legally conceal and carry a weapon.

Since the exemption’s expiration date has come and passed, it has caused university faculty, staff and especially students to feel unsafe stepping onto campus. According to a June 23 Manhattan Mercury article by Dylan Lysen, at least four faculty members have cited this exemption expiring as the specific reason why they left or are leaving the university either temporarily or permanently.

But for those who are left having to deal with the turmoil of this policy, there is little one can do to explain the fear that comes from a policy like this, especially as members of marginalized communities and who teach controversial and/or disliked subjects at K-State.

There are people out there who conceal and carry. There are people can conceal and carry responsibility. But looking at faces in a classroom or while walking on campus, we do not and cannot differentiate those people from those who have minimal knowledge about handguns, including proper safety.

Stepping into a classroom will be, if it is not already, fear-inducing. One might stand there and wonder who is potentially concealing and carrying. Who has a weapon who could significantly harm, if not kill, another human being if they are frustrated or angry about the course? Will course content during lecture set off this student, or will professors/instructors be harmed during office hours when discussing grades students are angry about?

Faculty left because of the exemption expiring, and a level of pseudo-safety is gone now that concealing and carrying is allowed on campus. We are exhausted having to try to rationalize our fears to others in conversation. Logic has left arguments. Emotions and lived experiences are the roots.

We live in a world where threats are real and come to fruition all the time.

The noose incident May 5 reinforced how individuals on our campus and in our Manhattan community still live in a world where deeply historically racist imagery is OK. The incident reminded our campus that overt racism is alive and well, and the incident was a reminder that individuals in our community still believe in racially-rooted violence, as well as violence against other marginalized populations.

The May 5 noose incident should have taught our campus how to listen to students, faculty and staff about the fear they experience coming to campus every single day. But it did not. When we are able to listen to others and sympathize with what they are experiencing, that is when we learn from their experiences, especially when their experiences are oppression.

Our university needs to actually have action behind the words they say. If the university says it cares about diversity, then give more money to departments that teach diversity. If the university says it cares about its students’ safety, then it needs to investigate rapes and sexual assaults that happen on and off campus to K-State students. If the university hears members of the campus community state multiple times over they are fearful of this conceal and carry exemption that expired, then listen.

The university needs to always be student-centered in its actions and policies.

The diversity of our campus is what makes K-State such a strong land-grant, research university. The fear about the exemption that ended is coming from diverse and systematically and institutionally marginalized populations. When marginalized communities are vocal about their fears of conceal and carry on campus, the voice of their fear seems to dissipate when entrusted to those within our institution who can make effective change.

Rather than silencing the fear, the exemption expiring is causing the loss of more faculty, staff and students. The university should implement tactics to create a safer and less fear-driven campus climate. Emporia State University’s administrators hosted open forums where campus community members could ask administrators face-to-face questions and actually receive answers about the exemption expiring. ESU consequently learned from the open forum and implemented training modules that were inclusive to learning how to protect oneself.

A recommendation is K-State take similar steps. This university needs to actually have dialogue with those experiencing this fear and/or leaving the university because of this policy.

But why should we have to attend classes and/or work on a campus where we have to learn to protect ourselves against guns rather than continuing to allow the exemption? Why expose those at the university in such undue and unjust harm?

Jakki Forester is a graduate student in communication studies. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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