You’re one of two hundred students sitting in a large lecture hall.
The professor is talking about the biochemical properties of a type of algae that lives in the Pacific Ocean.
You’re not super interested in what’s going on.
The door opens and a nondescript man walks in carrying an automatic weapon.
He raises it and begins firing into the crowd of students.
Your professor, who in addition to having an unyielding love for algae is also a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association, draws a concealed handgun from a holster under his shirt and points it at the gunman.
Will your professor’s involvement save lives, or will he make the situation worse?
Depending on how you answer that question, your reaction to the following news could be positive or negative:
As of July 1, 2016, full-time employees at universities and community colleges across Tennessee can carry concealed handguns on campus.
Employees who decide to exercise this right must notify ETSU Public Safety of their intent to carry on campus. They must also keep their handgun concealed and within reach at all times.
There are also certain parts of the campus where firearms are not allowed, including the Basler Center for Physical Activity and the Quillen College of Medicine VA campus.
While it was being deliberated in the state legislature, the law attracted criticism from law enforcement agencies and employees alike.
Prominent members of the law enforcement community, including members of ETSU Public Safety, have said in the past that they believe the presence of guns on campus could confuse responding officers in the event of a shooting.
This is a valid concern, and given the extreme variability of an active shooter situation, it’s possible that officers could end up shooting the wrong people if armed employees decide to engage in a gun battle with an assailant.
Because this provision is now law, law enforcement agencies across the state are complying, and several officials believe that the safeguards that have been included in the law are sufficient.
But, the long-term impact of this law is still hazy.
Some officials are concerned that other members of the campus community — namely students — could eventually receive similar allowances in the future. This makes people uncomfortable.
While the presence of more firearms on college campuses does add a layer of dangerous unpredictability to a shooting situation, the population that currently enjoys the right — full-time employees — is predominantly composed of people who are more apt to think logically in that circumstance.
According to a peer-reviewed article on the National Institutes of Health website, the frontal lobes, the parts of the brain that control planning, working memory and impulse control, do not fully develop until an individual is about 25 years old.
Although mental maturity could arguably be secondary in a shooting situation, where adrenaline is likely a more influential force, it does call into the question the intelligence of putting guns in the hands of students — particularly if they can’t always rationally decide when and where to use them.
However, at the time of publication, the authors of the article said that, while research was underway, some neuroscientists had argued that there wasn’t enough physical evidence to show a relationship between neurological maturity and decision-making.
At this time, Tennessee does have a number of requirements that applicants must meet before receiving a handgun carry permit in the state — one of them being that applicants must be at least 21 years old.
This eliminates some of the concern about immature students getting a hold of firearms, but it’s also below the neurological benchmark of 25 years old.
There are also a number of other pre-requisites. Applicants must also prove to the state that within the last five years they have done one of the following:
– Received certification from the police officer’s standards and training commission.
– Completed training at the law enforcement training academy.
– Completed the firearms training course required for armed secured guards.
– Completed all handgun training of not less than four hours as required by any branch of the military.
Applicants who have been convicted of certain crimes — including stalking or a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence — are also prohibited from receiving a permit.
You can find a full list of requirements by visiting www.tn.gov/safety/article/hgqualifications.
Ideally, this would mean that people who receive handgun permits are less apt to commit a crime using their firearm, but human responses are very difficult to predict.
An infographic prepared by National Issues Forums provides three viable options to curbing gun violence:
1) Reduce the threat of mass shootings by restricting access to dangerous weapons and identifying dangerous people.
2) Equip more people, including teachers and professors, with weapons so that they can defend themselves.
3) Reducing the prevalence of violence in our media, including popular music, films, television, video games and sports.
All of these options have potential drawbacks, and depending on your perspective, some of these drawbacks might seem more tolerable than others.
Restricting access to weapons would compromise Constitutional freedoms, equipping more people with firearms would make active shooter situations more volatile, and reducing references to mass shootings in popular media would drastically change our society.
But those are all very broad considerations. Right now we’re trying to answer one simple question: Can we trust your algae professor to make a rational decision?
Honestly? It’s difficult to say.