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350 College Presidents Sign Letter Urging Gun Control

February 5, 2013

The December 2012 mass shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, launched -- or reignited -- a long-simmering debate between gun control and gun rights advocacy groups about how to best protect students attending U.S. schools, including colleges. The Washington Post notes that the National Rifle Association recommends increasing the number of guns on campuses as an added security measure, while other groups want to limit the number of guns on school property. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a coalition of mayors, college presidents and student representatives weighed in.

The Washington Post reports that Duncan appeared on Capitol Hill with leaders of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the United States Student Association and College Presidents for Gun Safety to demand congressional action to curb gun violence. The press conference comes on the heels of an open letter published on the College Presidents for Gun Safety website urging lawmakers to oppose legislation allowing guns on school campuses. To date, the letter contains the signatures of at least 330 college presidents, some of whom participated in the event.

"I don't know of a time when so many college and university presidents have spoken collectively, with one voice, on any issue of such public importance," Oglethorpe University President Lawrence Schall said at the press conference, as reported by The Washington Post and the The Washington Times. "We have presidents from more than 40 states: red states and blue states, urban states and rural states. We have presidents who have never owned a gun and we have presidents who have led our armed forces into war."

The Washington Post notes that the overall share of college presidents who signed the letter remains slightly less than 8 percent, perhaps in part because those heading public universities must answer to governors or legislatures and thus have less political leeway. When private institutions are included, that raises the number to just above 13 percent.

According to the Washington Times, 18 states introduced bills in 2011 that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses, though the measures passed only in Wisconsin and Mississippi. Overall, 21 states ban concealed weapons on college campuses outright, and 23 leave the decision to individual schools.

Ed Week reports that in addition to legislative action, Duncan and the coalition said they would like to see mental health addressed as a way to curb violence in schools, though they did not offer any specific recommendations. Duncan said that he had spoken to President Barack Obama on the matter as recently as the previous evening.

"If we refuse to act now, I don't know if we will ever act," Duncan said at the news conference, as reported by The Washington Times. "Sometimes the time picks you; sometimes you pick the time. The time has picked us."


Compiled by Aimee Hosler

Sources:

"350 out of 4,150 college presidents sign gun control letter," washingtonpost.com, February 4, 2013, Valerie Strauss

"Arne Duncan, Mayors, College Groups Push Gun Control," edweek.org, February 4, 2013, Alyson Klein

"An Open Letter to Our Nation's Policy Letters," collegepresidentsforgunsafety.org, December 19, 2012

"College presidents oppose more guns on campus," washingtontimes.com, February 4, 2013, David Sherfinski

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