It's Time for the Nation to Get Serious About Gun Control

I admit that I am delving into an area that has been fraught with political hand-wringing, legal battles and all sorts of other shenanigans for decades, but as president of a university located in one of our nation's top urban centers, I think it is high time for this country to get serious about instituting a ban on handguns. I have long thought that this would be particularly helpful in our cities and, given the number of incidents involving the use of handguns in rural areas, I now believe we could all benefit from such legislation.

Let me state at the outset, before my email box becomes deluged with responses from individuals who think I am an utter anti-gun ownership proponent, that I grew up in rural Alabama in a family that prided itself on hunting. My father was a hunter, my brothers hunt at every opportunity they can today, and even when I was a teenager, I hunted a time or two as well. So, I understand the argument that I hear from some, especially a few in my own family, that they should have the right to own weapons for a purpose like that.

But the majority of my adult life has been spent in America's major cities, including Philadelphia, Boston and now Baltimore, and I know firsthand the destructive impact that handguns have had, and continue to have, on the erosion of safety and civility within neighborhoods and city centers.

My university, Morgan State, is one of this country's leaders in producing students of color in a number of fields critical for the future advancement of this nation. We are number three in the United States in producing African-American engineers and one of the national leaders in graduating students in science and mathematics disciplines who go on to some of the top graduate and professional schools in the nation. But the two shootings that have occurred on my campus this past semester -- both at the hands of non-students -- tend to dominate the news cycle and could paint a picture of Morgan that could cloud that which we are doing as well or better than most universities in this country.

What I am seeing at Morgan is being played out across America on a slew of our university campuses, and in far too many elementary, middle and high schools in both urban and rural America. Has the nation gone crazy and become so obsessed with violence that no one is safe anymore, whether you're at Yale, or Virginia Tech, the University of Colorado, Auburn, Arkansas, Virginia, Arizona, or on many college campuses in Kentucky where shootings have taken place? You're not even safe anymore in secondary schools. Just a few months ago, a student at Perry Hall High School in Baltimore County, Md., brought a shotgun to school and shot one of his schoolmates. And most recently, a tragic incident at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., resulting in 20 of our very young and six adults being murdered. This is what we are hearing on the news almost every week in the United States.

While these and other horrific shootings grab the headlines because of their nature, many more shootings occur on the streets of our cities and in small town America every day. I know that sociologists, the people who tell us all sorts of things about ourselves as a society, say that we are becoming a less violent nation with the passing of each year, but it is of little solace when we are bombarded with news stories that suggest otherwise -- incidents that do more to shock and bewilder than to ease our collective anxiety.

What can help us out of this place we now find ourselves? It is conceivable that there is some right to both arguments, those for and against gun control. Yes, there are already laws on the books to control the ownership and use of handguns; however, to be effective, we must enforce them. And, yes we still need reform of our gun control laws, making them stricter and we need more of them. But that won't be enough. It's also going to take good sense to solve this problem. We must require national background checks on everyone trying to purchase a handgun in all circumstances. And we need to force gun owners to lock their weapons away to prevent unauthorized use. Finally, we must make available better counseling and intervention services more readily available to those who need it.

The time has come for this nation to come face to face with a problem that threatens to un-glue the fabric of our educational institutions and, indeed, our very communities across this country. Having a weapon to hunt wild game might be one thing, but the students, faculty, and staff on our campuses and in our schools, and the friends with whom we go shopping in the mall are not wild game to be hunted. Easy access to handguns, coupled with what appears to be a void in imbuing young people with effective anger and conflict management techniques, have led us to an unsustainable place in our cities, in our towns, our schools, and on our campuses. Gun law reform is greatly needed.

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