College presidents urge gun control

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 9:56 AM

Nick Anderson

WASHINGTON - More than 300 college presidents have signed a letter urging Congress to enact new gun controls in the aftermath of December’s elementary school massacre in Connecticut.

“For many years now, our nation’s leaders have engaged in fevered debates on higher education, yet lawmakers shy away from taking action on one issue that prevents thousands of young people from living lives of promise, let alone realizing their college dreams,” the presidents wrote in the letter, which was organized by leaders of Oglethorpe University and Agnes Scott College in Georgia. “That issue is gun safety.”

Among the goals in the letter: a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines; consumer-safety standards for guns, such as safety locks; and a requirement for background checks for those who buy firearms from unlicensed sellers at gun shows.

Kenneth Ruscio, president of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., who signed the letter, acknowledged that it is risky for a college president to take a stand on such a polarizing political question.

“But I was moved, as many of the other signers were moved” by the Dec. 14 slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Ruscio said. “It’s probably time to make a statement - and time to declare ourselves as concerned. . . . It’s not a random issue. It’s one that goes right to the heart of things we think about on our campuses.”

Another letter, circulated by the president of Emerson College in Massachusetts, has drawn more than 200 signatures from college presidents who pledged to lead campus discussions on gun violence.

On Jan. 2, leaders of the Association of American Universities, which represents top research institutions, said in a statement: “We believe that strong, meaningful action needs to occur in three domains: gun control, care of the mentally ill, and the culture of our contemporary media.”

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