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Upcoming open carry rally evokes call to maintain Miami’s peaceful campus

By Evan Fackler, Guest Columnist

On April 30, a group of reactionary Second Amendment advocates intends to parade across Miami's campus carrying guns in an ill-conceived attempt to convince our university to adopt policies allowing concealed campus carry. Such policies would add elements of secrecy, mistrust and danger to classrooms, dormitories, libraries and dining halls.

In short, they stand in direct opposition to the sort of campus culture that thousands of students, faculty, staff, administrators and community members have fostered here at Miami, and they make a mockery of our commitment to the power of reason over the right of might.

The organizers of the open carry event say they are committed to making their demonstration educational, and in engaging the campuses they visit in Ohio (Miami will be the fifth since 2014) in a dialogue. In a forum post on inviting the larger open carry community to attend the events here and in Bowling Green this month, poster BB62 writes, "You, students, and the general public will get the most from this event by your being willing to engage people in conversation, by listening and responding, not by walking by or by saying sternly 'It's my RIGHT!' when asked why you're participating."

We should welcome their stated willingness to engage in a dialogue, particularly those of us who disagree with their vision. They are very clear about this vision and the purpose of the spectacle they intend to create on April 30.

"The purpose of these Walks is twofold," writes BB62, "1) to engage in dialogue with students and members of the public regarding the RKBA [right to keep and bear arms], and 2) to push for, via activism and conversation, legal concealed campus carry." This should give us pause. These protestors seek to redefine our campus culture by making guns a permanent part of life at Miami. This mission is informed by all the illogic and paranoia we've come to expect from certain advocates of gun rights. It is marked by a devious shift in the terms by which we would engage in dialogue and a cynically narrow vision of open, reasoned debate.

Thus, as we see in BB62's post, gun free zones, like Miami's campus, are re-termed "Criminal Empowerment Zones." Such a description becomes accurate only if you happen to agree that an absence of guns leads to criminality, while the presence of guns and their implicit threat of violence puts people at ease.

This same one-dimensional paranoia has been on display in other open carry demonstrations in Ohio. At a rally in Cleveland, for instance, Mr. Smith - supposedly the same Mr. Smith organizing the event in Oxford - claimed that, by prohibiting firearms on campuses, "school administrators are legislatively creating a victims zone."

The culture of Miami University is not a "victims zone," as Mr. Smith suggests. Which is not to say that there aren't real problems or patterns of victimization here. But to suggest that the conscientious decision to prohibit firearms on campus has somehow created victims is to fail on a number of logical fronts. Primarily, though, it fails to consider the real reasons we may choose not to live, work, eat, play, love and learn in an environment where the specter of violence is made visibly present - as it will be when Mr. Smith visits campus April 30.

In the end, it seems to me that this is not a Second Amendment issue, as Mr. Smith's organization wants to make it. It's not even about whether or not guns may make us safer or put us more at risk. It's about the kind of community we choose to forge here. And largely, it's about the community we've already forged here, on a campus marked distinctly by the beauty of the Miami Valley, situated in what is to many an idyllic Midwestern town, where the threat of danger from firearms is perhaps lower than anywhere else any of us have ever lived.

So we may be forgiven for wondering why concealed carry should become part of our campus life. We enjoy this space without weapons, not because their prohibition has been legislated down to us, but because we've never seen a need for them or desired their presence, as meager and unsuccessful attempts to change university policy in the past, by Concealed Carry on Campus, have demonstrated. Nor do we need them now, as Mr. Smith suggests.

Mr. Smith's previous demonstrations on Ohio campuses have been small affairs, with low turnouts, both in support and in opposition. It would appear that nobody particularly cares much one way or another about Smith's vision.

But we should. He arrives here from Cincinnati to suggest that we must accept his vision for our community. He asserts that guns should be a part of our daily lives on campus and, more broadly, in Oxford. But he's not a member of our community. He plays no active role in maintaining or enriching this community or this campus's life. And he doesn't seem to understand why we may choose to enjoy a gun free campus.

I hope, in response to Mr. Smith's open carry demonstration, ­the community at Miami will join me and others - in protest, yes - but more to embody and speak for our own vision of what this campus is and should be - a place of learning and a place without the weapons that speak too violently, have been used to silence too many and for which we have no need.