By Logan Hullinger
INDIANA — Since Jan. 1, 14 school shootings have been recorded in the United States. Now, Indiana University of Pennsylvania groups are bringing a nationwide debate here.
They agree: Action is needed.
On Thursday, IUP College Democrats, a university-recognized student organization, met in Wallwork Hall to finish drafting an official statement on the issue of gun control. Jesse J. Brown, an IUP history major, Student Government Association senator and the organization’s vice president, provided a copy of the written statement in a Thursday email.
“IUP College Democrats stand with the more than 33,000 victims of gun deaths per year in the United States,” the statement reads. “We support comprehensive gun reform that will save lives in the future.”
“With such reforms, we at IUP College Democrats are confident the United States can join the rest of leading nations, where gun violence is not a daily concern,” the statement continued.
The organization is planning to meet with IUP President Michael A. Driscoll to discuss gun reform, to chalk campus sidewalks with quotes and statistics about gun control and to sponsor a bus ride to Pittsburgh on March 24 for a March for Our Lives rally, part of a nationwide demonstration led by survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead.
IUP STUDENTS aren’t alone in their effort. In a Feb. 22 meeting of the IUP chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties Representative Council, the teachers union supported creation of an ad hoc committee to draft a resolution in support of students who support gun reform on campus. Todd N. Thompson, IUP English professor and co-chairman of the department, was named the chairman of the committee.
“I asked about the gun reform issue during the meeting because faculty members began talking about the Parkland situation,” Thompson said during an interview in his Humanities and Social Sciences building office on March 7. “Some said that students were expressing concerns for their safety in class. So we decided we would create a committee to offer some support to students who may be taking action in the future.”
Three days later, the resolution “overwhelmingly” passed the representative council, Thompson wrote in a Saturday email that included the text of the measure.
“Be it resolved that IUP-APSCUF stands in solidarity with those who engage in any walkout or protest against gun violence in schools, colleges, and universities nationwide,” the resolution reads. “IUP-APSCUF supports any student who chooses to protest said gun violence. Further, IUP-APSCUF requests our university President instruct the Office of Admissions that no protest or walkout for school safety resulting in negative marks on a current high school student’s record will be taken into account in their application for admission to IUP.”
The statewide union’s executive council approved a nearly identical resolution on March 9.
Union members said they were careful to avoid expressions of support for particular gun-reform measures to steer clear of lobbying. Support for protesting students is the extent to which the union can go, Thompson said.
“APSCUF is not a political body, so we can’t make a political statement,” Thompson said. “We are just doing what we can do support students.”
IN INDIANA BOROUGH, gun violence is comparatively rare. Statistics provided by borough police Chief William C. Sutton in a March 6 interview in his office showed four gun crimes committed in 2017, double the two gun-related crimes on record in 2016.
However, Sutton cautioned that the data are “flawed” because the nationwide Uniform Crime Reporting system identifies crimes by the most punishable offense in a given citation. Therefore, even if a gun is involved in a crime, it won’t be recorded as a gun-related offense unless the crime involving the weapon was the most serious offense.
In the borough, the most recent violent gun crimes were a pair of unrelated shootings during the March 2017 IUPatty’s celebration, which left one dead and three injured.
Despite a relative lack of local gun violence, Sutton still sees a problem.
“One gun is too much,” he said. “One of the biggest parts of the gun control issue is that there are so many of them out there. Not only that, but people have to jump through hoops for a handgun, yet it’s easy for anyone to get a shotgun or rifle, as long as they’re not a convicted felon.”
In Indiana County, statistics provided by the Sheriff’s Office show that 17.4 percent of county residents – 15,055 citizens — are registered gun owners.
On the IUP campus, an unscientific fall 2016 survey of students suggested that nearly a thousand — 7.5 percent of enrolled students — may be armed. University policy prohibits guns in residence halls but doesn’t address carrying on campus.
On the state level, Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation for number of permits to carry, according to a 2015 article by Politifact, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fact-checking statements made by politicians. Using information from the last gun-ownership study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2012, the organization reported that Pennsylvania had 786,000 citizens with gun permits, second only to Florida, with 887,000 permits.
THE PARKLAND, FLA., school shootings have prompted some Second Amendment supporters to call for action on guns.
Turning Point USA, a right-leaning political activism group, has a chapter at IUP. Chapter President Brandon T. Uhalik, a communications media major and Second Amendment supporter, acknowledged the gun problem.
“What happened in Florida is absolutely tragic, and I think it is a reminder to us that Congress needs to act in a bipartisan way to ensure the best solution going forward,” Uhalik wrote in a Wednesday email. “I think both sides can agree that something finally has to happen in response to this tragedy.”
IUP College Republicans, another conservative student group, agreed with Uhalik’s support of the Second Amendment and echoed a need for reform.
“Gun control is an area that needs addressed,” wrote Christian B. Faranda, president of the organization, in an email statement Thursday. “Tragedies like the one in Florida and Las Vegas need to stop happening in our country. I’m not the one to say which approach is best, but I have faith that our elected leaders will make the appropriate decisions on gun control that will keep our citizens safe, and fully protect the Second Amendment at the same time.”
Logan R. Hullinger, a senior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a staff reporter for The HawkEye, is from Clarion. He may be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu