Although public universities have no choice but to comply with new laws, private institutions, like Duke, can create its own policies for carrying guns on campus. We commend the University for its decision to continue its longstanding ban of guns on campus.
Duke’s decision to uphold its ban on guns amounts to a tacit rejection of the state’s new gun law. Given that the rules governing gun ownership and use are unlikely to change in the near future, we believe Duke has dealt with these legislative shifts in the best way possible. We support Duke’s rejection of the new legislation not only because guns in public places create more opportunities for violence, but also because the presence of guns on campus would undermine our ability to promote a healthy and collaborative academic environment. Carrying a gun comes with an implicit threat. Gun holders can, at any moment, kill the people around them, and college campuses cannot remain centers of free inquiry and exchange if students and faculty are faced daily with the threat of violent death. In our view, the only place for a gun on a college campus is in the holster of a trained police officer.
Even though Duke will continue to prohibit guns on campus, local bars and restaurants may not. Bars and restaurants can choose whether or not to ban guns from their premises, and, for some students, the possibility of encountering guns when they venture off campus will deter them from exploring local restaurants. To prevent the new gun laws from discouraging students from exploring the city, we ask the University to consider publishing a list of establishments that ban guns so students can make an informed decision about where to go when they leave campus.
We also encourage Duke to publish an official statement expressing its opposition to the new legislation. Although we do not expect the Republican legislature to revoke the new laws—which mobilize conservative voters and excite influential donors, like the National Rifle Association—at Duke’s behest, an official statement from the University would signal Duke’s public commitment to stricter gun legislation. Although Duke may remain immune from looser gun regulations, the public universities with which we collaborate—including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—are legally obligated to adhere to the law, which is not only damaging to their academic environments, but might also hinder effective collaboration between the universities.
Gun violence is tragic but avoidable, and we hope guns never make their way onto Duke’s campus.