WASHINGTON – For many Millennials, gun violence is one of the top issues affecting their generation, but they are divided on how to solve it, especially on college campuses.
“This is something that is really the defining issue for our generation,” said Maggie Thompson, executive director of Generation Progress, an offshoot of the politically progressive Center for American Progress that works with college students to advance the progressive movement on campuses.
“This is our number one issue,” agreed Ronnie Mosley, a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Mosley, 25, cofounded the #Fight4aFuture Network at Generation Progress, an initiative to prevent gun violence.
A 2014 report by Generation Progress and the Center for American Progress found that “54 percent of people murdered with guns in 2010 were under the age of 30.”
According to an August 2016 Pew Research Center report, 54 percent of millennials support gun rights compared with 45 percent who support gun control. Millennials are tied with baby boomers for having the highest percentage of gun rights supporters. Generation X, ages 36 to 51, have the highest support for gun control at 52 percent.
“Quite frankly the millennial generation is more pro gun than most other generations,” according to Dr. Steven Billet, associate professor of political management at The George Washington University.
Billet said although millennials are more liberal than older generations on many issues, that characterization doesn’t apply to guns.
“I think it is because of this kind of libertarian streak we find in their ideology,” Billet said, which leans liberal on social issues and conservative on fiscal and other issues.
College campuses are a major center for organizing and campaigning against gun violence. And the debate has direct affects on campuses now because of new rules at some schools allowing people to carry concealed weapons on campus.
Eight states allow campus carry; 18 states ban campus carry and 23 states allow the college to choose whether to allow campus carry.
At Virginia Tech, Ryan Martin, 22, advocates for the right of students with concealed handgun permits to be able to carry guns on campus. Virginia is one of the states that let’s colleges choose whether to allow campus carry. He said students have a right to protect themselves, pointing to the shooting at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, in which 32 people were killed by lone gunman Seung-Hui Cho.
“Nothing has changed on this campus in terms of students being able to protect themselves,” he said.
Martin said he started speaking out and holding protests in February and has attempted to speak with Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands but without much success.
Under campus carry, only those who are 21 years old and have a Virginia concealed handgun permit, which requires a background check and educational class, would be able to carry a gun, he said.
“Every gun that I’ve purchased — I have seven now — I had to pass a background check conducted by Virginia State police,” Martin said. “I think that’s fair. Folks that want to get a gun need to pass a background check.”
Alex Dawes, East regional director for Students for Concealed Carry, said concealed carry should be allowed on campuses because it is allowed in many other areas. He said the organization has chapters in all 50 states.
Generation Progress’ Thompson said having guns on campus is antithetical to the college environment.
“You should be safe from a classmate carrying a gun,” Thompson said, “you know you need to have a safe space for that part of your life.”
Mosley, the student at Morehouse, said guns on campus would increase danger, not safety.
“I understand the kind of hero mindset that folks will get into if someone were to try to duplicate the horrible incidents at like Aurora … or Virginia Tech – by having someone in a classroom with a gun, they can potentially stop that”, Mosley said. “But that has been proven to not be the most effective thing.”
Mosley said students can protect themselves by creating plans with campus police and using things like pepper spray as an alternative to guns.
The Safe Carry Protection Act passed in Georgia in 2014 allows open carry in bars and churches, among other places, but not college campuses.
“We were able to get college campuses removed from that bill,” Mosley said.
In May, the Georgia governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed campus carry for public universities.
Bat Dawes said Students for Concealed Carry also has had successes. “This past year, Texas allowed campus carry on all public college campuses. Utah has allowed it for quite a few years now. Colorado was a huge win for us a few years ago,” he said.
Both his group and Generation Progress focus on starting conversations with millennials on college campuses.
“Really our focus is on lifting up their voices — actually have them be leading the conversation,” Thompson said. “it’s the generation that is impacted the most.”
Dawes said, “Creating a dialogue is the main purpose of our chapters on different campuses.”
Mosley and Martin, on opposite sides, both said they are advocating for something deeper than gun policy.
“We are advocating for commonsense self-defense policies,” Martin said.
And Mosley said, “We are not fighting to control guns. We are fighting to save lives, particularly our lives.”