I still owe you guys a few musings on slavery and murder (I got murdered at Tac Con) and other such shenanigans, but first I figured I might as well let another cat out of the bag. Or at least the cat is nervously peeking over the rim of the bag, if not quite ready to leap out with bells and whistles and confetti.
Some of you know that in addition to my legal writing practice, I teach at a public university. Like most institutions of higher learning, my beloved employer has earned its NPE badge a hundred times over. My usual tack in this and other areas of potential confrontation has typically been to keep my head low. But recently I was moved to break that mold and speak up. Hope I don’t get fired for it. Anyway, here’s what I wrote. We’ll see if anyone heard me. Not holding my breath.
Dear Civil Justice Subcommittee Members:
I am a proud Memphian, a former high school teacher, a current full-time university instructor and program coordinator, and a practicing attorney. While I typically reject oversimplified political labels, most of my conservative friends would likely accuse me of being a “liberal.” I am also a state-certified firearms safety instructor. I have taught handgun carry permit classes in Tennessee and Mississippi for nearly 15 years. I am writing to humbly urge each of you to vote in favor of House Bill 1736, which would permit full-time university employees to carry a concealed firearm on university property if they have a valid handgun carry permit.
My support for this bills does not stem from the recent rise in media attention for “active shooter” events. While mass violence does concern me, I know it is a statistical rarity. My support also has little if anything to do with terrorism, which is also unlikely to affect me directly. Instead, I’m more concerned about receiving “Safety Alert” emails like the ones I’ve quoted below, all of which came as urgent messages from our on-campus police force within the last year:
- University police officers were notified within the past hour that a man approached a woman in the parking lot…, grabbed her arm, and made a sexual demand….
- [U]niversity police officers responded to the report of an attempted robbery in a parking lot…. Two men, one armed with a blue handgun, approached a student and demanded money…
- University police learned within the past 30 minutes that an armed robbery was reported to the Memphis Police Department [very close to campus]….
- University Police received a report of two men with weapons… [T]he man in the Toyota pointed what appeared to be a black rifle…. A second man, who was the driver of the Toyota, walked up and showed a pistol in his waistband…
- Four (4) men carrying firearms entered an apartment [on the outskirts of campus] and demanded personal items and cash….
- A man, armed with a silver handgun, reportedly approached two men and demanded money and personal items….
- Two men were reported to have approached a man as he got out of his vehicle…. One of the men was armed with a handgun and demanded personal property….
- Three men were reported to have approached two people walking… One of the men was armed with a handgun and demanded personal property, including cell phones….
- [A] man reported to Police Services that … [he] was approached by two men who demanded money and threatened him….
- A man approached two people walking…. He was armed with a small, dark-colored handgun and demanded money…
- [A] student reported she was verbally harassed by a man in the … Library. When she went into a restroom, the man followed her inside and exposed himself…
- A man approached two students walking…. He got out of his vehicle with a shotgun and ordered them to drop their belongings….
Again, these reports are not from across Tennessee or even across Memphis. This is just a sampling of the most egregious incidents that actually happened on or near my own university campus within the past year. And of course, this only includes the incidents that were reported. It also doesn’t include the violence that happens just beyond the jurisdiction of university police, such as the gunman who last year shot someone on a bus and then ran loose near my campus a few minutes before I was scheduled to meet my students for class.
I get these “urgent alerts” from campus police several times a month. I really do hope I never have to face such a violent confrontation. But since they occur several times per month right here on and around my own campus, the odds are not in my favor. That’s one reason why I’ve invested in hundreds of hours of training to open additional options besides complying with a stranger’s “sexual demand” or submitting to the whims of a shotgun-wielding predator.
People always say things like, “If you get robbed, just comply. It’s only money. Possessions are replaceable. Just give it to him and move on.” That sounds like a great solution. But of course, it requires me to trust that a gunman will honor his “bargain” to give me my life in exchange for my wallet or cell phone. Even assuming he ever had the right to bargain with my life in the first place (which of course he doesn’t), how do I know he won’t kill me anyway? Why should I trust a person who is robbing me? If I gamble on that, and I’m wrong, I won’t get a “do over.” I won’t get to file a complaint or lament the unfairness of the robber’s decision to shoot me despite my compliance. I won’t even get the chance to call the police. And I certainly won’t get to relocate the encounter to someplace off campus where my right to self-defense is restored.
I’ve paid my dues. I’ve acquired competent training well beyond the bare minimum requirements imposed by the state for lawful concealed carry. I’ve thoroughly educated myself on the nuances of self-defense. I never once took lightly the serious obligations that come with choosing to arm myself. I don’t approach the Second Amendment cavalierly. But even though I’ve done my due diligence, the law still strips me of the very self-preservation tools that I’ve worked so hard to safely and responsibly afford myself. And despite all that hard work, if the shotgun-wielding robber picks me as his next victim on campus, my employer refuses to let me do anything about it. That’s unacceptable.
Do I expect to need a firearm while I’m teaching my class? No, I don’t (although it is possible). The issue instead is the long trek to and from my car every day. This often involves walking alone at night along sparsely populated roads and walkways into dimly lit parking lots, just as the victims were doing in most of the violent incidents I listed above. If this bill passes, chances are (and it is my sincere hope) that no one will ever know I’m armed on campus. Students, faculty, and staff would carry on about their daily business, wholly oblivious to and unaffected by my personal choices. The only individual who would ever have the slightest clue that I am armed is the one who accosts me with a shotgun or a rifle or a pistol or who sadistically demands my sexual submission. Please do not leave me powerless to resist a person like that.
If you have any questions about why I support this bill, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Tiffany G. Johnson, Esq.
Special thanks to one of my Rangemaster buddies for nudging me into sending this letter. I hope someone somewhere sees it at some point.