In the past year, the University of Southern Maine has been forced to grapple with many difficult, politically charged and controversial topics, including racism, gender and religion. As a member of the student government at USM, I believe this is what makes my campus, and college in general, special – it is a safe place to have these important conversations.

L.D. 1370 would allow anyone over 21 or older to carry a concealed weapon to public universities and community colleges – no permit, no background check, no training required. Anyone age 18 to 20 who has a permit would also be allowed to carry a concealed weapon to class. This bill, introduced by state Rep. Richard Cebra and state Sen. Eric Brakey, threatens everything that is great about my university.

College is not just about getting better at writing essays and solving calculus equations. What makes college such a unique experience is that students are encouraged to explore new ideas and develop their own identities. The free exchange of ideas is able to flourish only because students are not worried about students with opposing views becoming violent against them. That’s what college should be about – a safe place to have challenging conversations.

Recent events at USM have contributed to a pervasive unease that surrounds all college campuses, which are dealing with binge drinking, homesickness, experimentation with drugs, sexual assault and pressure to get good grades in a weak economy. Last November, an anti-Muslim slogan used by alt-right groups was found on a desk and a wall in USM’s Woodbury Campus Center. Last month, the words “Kill the muslin” (a misspelling of the word “Muslim”) were discovered written on a poster instructing students on what to do in case of an active shooter on campus.

Visits this year by controversial speakers like state Rep. Larry Lockman and Gov. LePage have led to hundreds of protesters and heated discussions on campus. From protests to frat parties, I can think of several situations this year where the presence of a gun could have made an already-tense situation escalate into a deadly tragedy. Research shows that guns on college campuses will lead to increased gun violence – including accidents, suicides, domestic violence and sexual assault.

In addition to discussing the threat the bill poses to the safety of my college community, I’ve shared my concerns with the USM admissions department about its negatively affecting enrollment numbers. I’m concerned that money that should be spent on hiring the best professors and providing services to students will be diverted to increased security and insurance costs.

At a recent Candid Conversation featuring the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, the USM student government heard from a diverse group of students, faculty and staff. The only thing they all had in common is that they do not want legislators in Augusta deciding where guns should be carried or when it is appropriate for a teacher to shoot a student they feel threatened by. One student said that although he proudly possesses a permit to carry a concealed weapon, he opposes this bill because there is no requirement for firearm safety training or even a background check. A USM counselor said he opposed the measure because he knows it will lead to higher rates of completed suicides.

One of my friends shot himself in the head with a gun. I know that I am far from alone in this experience. In one study of 645 college campuses, guns were used in about a third of suicides by male students. This number will be much higher if we allow guns on our campus.

I believe it should be left up to each individual college community in Maine to decide what is best for the safety and security of its students, staff and faculty. A firearms policy that works for Orono may not work for Portland or Presque Isle, but the gun lobby in Augusta shouldn’t get to dictate policies that threaten critical debate and the free exchange of ideas.

I do not want to wake up and learn that another friend is dead. I don’t want to tell my nephew that more young people with so much promise are dying because our politicians are unwilling to stand up to the gun lobby and keep our citizens safe. I do not want to live in a state or country where our public servants are willing to risk the well-being of their citizens for profit. Public universities and colleges in Maine are generally free from gun violence. If this bill passes and, God forbid, a tragedy happens here, I know whose hands will have enabled the blood shedding.

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