UW-Milwaukee student body president predicts campus carry will lead to more suicides
The student body president at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee ruffled feathers Tuesday with a statement predicting that campus carry would make suicide more common on campus.
One day earlier, Republican state representatives Jesse Kremer and Devin LeMahieu had introduced the Campus Carry Act, which would eliminate a law allowing colleges and universities in Wisconsin to prohibit licensed individuals from carrying concealed weapons on campus, while also automatically repealing any such provisions that are currently in place.
“Allowing our public campuses to ban concealed weapons in buildings puts our students at greater risk of becoming victims of crime,” Rep. Kremer said in a press release announcing the legislation. “The Campus Carry Act will ensure that our students are no longer denied the right to defend themselves."
UW-Milwaukee Student Association president Mike Sportiello, however, offered a different take on the proposal, arguing in two communiques Tuesday that the more pressing danger is that campus carry would increase the risk of students victimizing themselves.
“I am about to send out a press release on the newly proposed attempt to remove the exemption UWM and [the] UW system have to deny the right of concealed carry in our buildings,” Sportiello told members of the student senate in an email Tuesday afternoon. “As you will read when I send it out, the biggest factor for me is the impact that having more guns in the res[idence] halls will have on suicide rates.”
While acknowledging that “we may all have different positions on this,” Sportiello asked the senators to “understand that due to the news cycle, I was only able to include the exec[utive] board in the writing of this release.”
At-large senator Lindsey Wavrunek, for one, was not appeased by the disclaimer, but was incensed by the implication that Sportiello could presume to speak for the entire Student Association without even consulting with all the members.
“When I first received the email from Mike that he would be sending out a press release on behalf of SA without consulting with the senators, I was literally shaking,” Wavrunek told Campus Reform. “I feel like it was sneaky to only consult the executive board, which is very heavily liberal, while ignoring the blended senate.”
Emphasizing that “SA is a nonpartisan body,” Wavrunek argued that “using the SA letterhead and email to push a very political stance is not appropriate, especially without consulting a diversity of political stances.”
Had she been consulted, or even considered, Wavrunek asserted that Sportiello could easily have ascertained her views, not least because she had publicly posted them to Facebook the day before.
For his part, Sportiello defended his chosen approach, saying that his role as SA president gives him the authority to speak for the entire body, and that he nonetheless sought input from “as many people as feasibly possible,” given his desire to issue the press release while the campus carry legislation was still in the news cycle.
“Per the Student Association at UWM Constitution, the president serves as the spokesperson of the Student Association,” he explained in an email to Campus Reform. “I included the executive board (which took time) in the writing of the release, and I still missed the original article that went out by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel because the choice was made to include them.”
Wavrunek, though, said she was less than favorably impressed by the final product when Sportiello issued his press release a few hours after sending the email.
“The reason the restrictions to concealed carry laws exist on college campuses is not solely to protect students from violence from others,” Sportiello asserts in the press release. “The number one mode of suicide is self-inflicted gunshot wounds, and there is good evidence to show that in ‘states where guns were prevalent…rates of suicide were higher’.”
He then cites two sources, one an article from a scholarly journal claiming that concealed carry licensing rates “did not have a significant, negative or positive, effect on subsequent crime rates,” and the other a Washington Post article quoting a Stanford law professor as saying that concealed carry laws are associated with an eight percent increase in aggravated assault.
“This demonstrates that concealed carry laws do nothing to create safer campuses, and, if anything, lead to more violence,” Sportiello concludes, somewhat bewilderingly. “As a representative of my peers, I have the responsibility to consider their safety and well-being,” he adds, closing with a call to oppose the Campus Carry Act.
“The letter Mike wrote may have an abundance of statistics and research to support his agenda, but there is no balance of the plethora of statistics that support the exact opposite effect of gun rights,” Wavrunek told Campus Reform. “I made my political stance known, and I feel that the executive board neglected to encourage an opposing view to their own.
“I personally have a concealed carry license, but because I live and work in the residence halls, I can't carry a gun in Milwaukee at all because I can't even store it in my contracted room,” she pointed out. “I am being denied that right that … I should have per the Bill of Rights and Wisconsin state law.”
Sportiello conceded that “I only cited statistics that confirmed my position of the fact that more people end up dead when more guns are introduced into society,” but said he welcomes his detractors to supply him with contradictory evidence.
“I'd love to see more recent or more trusted statistics that [say] otherwise,” he told Campus Reform. “I personally haven't been able to find any.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete