College Presidents and Education Secretary Push for Stricter Gun Control

February 04, 2013

College presidents from across the country and the U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan, called on Congress on Monday to push for "common sense" gun-reform legislation.

The presidents met at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities' annual meeting here to share ideas for legislation they said would help curb gun violence on college campuses. Such legislation, they said, should include requiring criminal background checks for all gun buyers, banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

Following the mass shooting in December at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School, Lawrence M. Schall, president of Oglethorpe University, helped write an open letter to legislators advocating rational gun-safety measures. Some 350 other college presidents have signed the letter.

"As a group, we do not oppose gun ownership. But, in many of our states, legislation has been introduced or passed that would allow gun possession on college campuses," the letter states. "We oppose such laws."

"We believe that more guns makes us less safe, not more safe," Mr. Schall said in a speech on Monday at the meeting of Naicu, the main association of private nonprofit colleges.

Critics of gun-reform legislation have said a larger problem lies in a lack of mental-health services, not gun control. College presidents who spoke at the event acknowledged that dealing with mental-health concerns should be a part of a comprehensive response to mass-shooting incidents.

Hunter R. Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, which represents top research institutions, urged lawmakers to take "meaningful action" by creating stronger laws to prevent gun violence, improving care of the mentally ill, and recognizing the culture of the contemporary media.

Michael Webster, who leads the government-relations committee for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, also said gun violence was a "multilayered problem" whose solution must deal with how the mentally ill are identified and how violence is perceived in campus communities.

Mr. Duncan praised President Obama for his efforts to curb gun violence and said that the cooperation of leaders and citizens outside of Washington may help pass legislation.

"We're all here because we believe our children, our country, our families, and our communities deserve something better," Mr. Duncan said in a speech. "No one has been immune to this epidemic of violence."