The Duck of Minerva

Where is our collective action on campus gun violence?

2 October 2015

By now the academy is well aware of the latest mass shooting that occurred yesterday at Umpqua Community College in Oregon and claimed ten lives as of reporting this morning. While my social media has exploded with outrage by colleagues, professors, and academics that fear for their safety and the safety of their students, the “academy” has remained silent. I checked the websites of the professional associations that are supposed to advocate for me and my profession—the American Association of University Professors (AAUP); American Political Science Association (APSA); Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA); and the American Association of University Women (AAUW)—not one of them has made a public statement on the shooting in Oregon, not one of them has issued a call for action, not one of them has launched an advocacy campaign. You might think that it is too early, the bureaucratic machines have not yet had the time to carefully craft a political statement, but my research assistants and I looked through the on-line archives of these professional organizations, there have been no statements issued in response to any of the following campus shootings as far as we can tell from the on-line archives (timeline data compiled from here, here and here) [1].

  1. November 1, 1991 University of Iowa
  2. October 28, 2002 University of Arizona College of Nursing
  3. April 2, 2007 University of Washington
  4. April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech
  5. September 21, 2007 Delaware State University
  6. February 14, 2008 Northern Illinois University
  7. October 26, 2008 University of Central Arkansas
  8. February 12, 2010 University of Alabama in Huntsville
  9. September 28, 2010 University of Texas Austin
  10. April 2, 2012 Oikos University
  11. April 13, 2013 New River Community College
  12. June 7, 2013 Santa Monica College
  13. May 23, 2014 University of California, Santa Barbara
  14. June 5, 2014 Seattle Pacific University
  15. Nov 20, 2014 Florida State University
  16. October 1, 2015 Umpqua Community College


Only the AAUW has a position on Gun Violence Prevention, though it is not specific to college and university campuses. Yet, the issues of campus safety, gun violence prevention, and gun control impact the ability of professors to do their jobs. Mass shootings are occurring more often in the United States and the “campus carry” movement is gaining momentum across the country. Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Idaho and Wisconsin have laws on the books that permit students to conceal weapons on campus, even though “People in the 18- to 24-year-old age range are more impulsive and at greater risk for suicide.”

Of course I recognize that these associations’ memberships are heterogeneous and include both gun owners and gun control activists, but does that preclude having a discussion or debate on the issue of campus safety and gun violence prevention? Is silence really the answer? Our way to skirt a politically controversial issue at the expense of our fallen colleagues?

As President Obama stated in his impassioned speech yesterday, we need collective action on this issue:

But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough.  It’s not enough.  It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel.  And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple of months from now.

As political scientists, we have a thing or two to say about collective action. We know that institutions like our professional associations are designed to facilitate and lessen the costs of collective action; we know that without these institutions advocating for our interests Congress will not listen. So where is our collective action? After the Virginia Tech shooting, students formed Students for Concealed Carry to advocate for their view that more guns make for safer campuses; the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus was formed in 2008;  Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting to lobby for common-sense gun laws; and Everytown for Gun Safety advocates to end gun violence and build safer communities. Where is Professors Demand Action for Gun Sense in America? What is APSA doing? It’s time for us to take collective action, either through our professional associations or through social movements, but we cannot just pretend like this problem doesn’t exist and will not happen again at a campus near you.



[1] AAUP press archives go back to 2010; APSA to 2004; AAUW has press releases archived on-line to 2010 and statements to 2004; and MPSA has an advocacy page where the issue of campus shootings is not listed.