In the early stages of recovery from the Newtown massacre, millions are reconsidering the way the nation thinks about guns; needing them, having them, and how to prevent the wrong kind of person from obtaining them. Members of the education community who have painfully confronted past shooting violence on campus and in classrooms are uniquely touched by the tragedy of Newtown, and some college presidents are speaking out in favor of gun control legislation.
The list, College Presidents for Gun Safety, includes some of the nation's most respected HBCU leaders. They are signors on a plan that calls for stricter legislation on gun purchasing loopholes and firearms in classrooms, a ban on semi-automatic weapons, and new oversight on gun access and manufacturing.
Their courage to speak publicly on an issue that could generate considerable reaction from Second Amendment purists is admirable. And while the nation seeks to peel back the layers on its latest unspeakable act of murder, it is HBCU presidents and chancellors who should lead the discussion on how poverty, public health, racism, and broken education systems translate into an empowered culture of gun violence.
The presidents of Morehouse, Dillard and Morgan State are among the historically black college CEO's listed on the petition for more action against gun violence. These presidents have all presided over hastily-called staff meetings and community outreach on incidents of gun violence on and off their campuses. Atlanta, New Orleans and Baltimore; three of rising capitals of HBCU culture in their political, ecumenical and financial clout held black folks, principally due to the work and staying power of alums from their flagship HBCUs.
Simultaneously, the vestiges of desegregation and the accompanying suburban black flight, a failed war on drugs, and the death of the industrial era counter the affluence with social ills that, for many, not only justify getting a gun, but pulling the trigger and going to prison as a result.
Newtown, Tucson, Blacksburg and other communities where gun violence has claimed innocent lives have recently advanced the national discussion on how to curb gun violence, but black colleges have long been the unseen, unheard advocacy institutions working to end the same blight in predominantly black metropolitan areas for generations. HBCUs have dedicated curriculum and sponsored research for entrepreneurial development, secondary educational reform, domestic violence reduction, gang intervention and serving under-represented populations in mental and public health access — the key social elements that can lead to an awareness and conquering of gun violence.
Black colleges work to identify and end most circumstances that can push a fragile mind or heart to a weapon as a last resort, often with the smallest federal and state allocations assisting in the fight to save the most maligned racial groups. And if the work of HBCUs can make a dent in ending gun violence in black communities, imagine this blueprint in action in communities nationwide where "this kind of thing doesn't happen."
The loss of 26 people in Newtown is crippling to the nation's assumptions about safety, trust, and community. Smaller-scale incidents of violence in HBCU communities are equally hurtful, and HBCUs have always responded to ease the pain and its impact.
Perhaps a nation looking to ease its pain over another excruciating killing can finally learn to take its cues from the institutions best equipped to offer more than condolences and passing reaction to gun violence.