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Gun Toting as a Teachable Moment?

by on December 3, 2012

Both Michigan and Colorado have recently dealt with the issue of guns in libraries. In Michigan, the state ruled that libraries cannot ban the open carry of weapons from their premises, and Boulder’s public libraries saw a change in rules to include the rights of certified concealed weapon carriers. While I understand the constitutional right to bear arms, the idea that a public library is a place where I may encounter a weapon makes me shiver. Thankfully, I have never had to deal directly with this issue, and I have never been confronted with a weapon in the library- that I am aware of. As far as I know, Mrs. Anderson- who comes in to check out the coupon exchange every Wednesday, may be a card carrying gun owner with a piece in her purse.

The thing is, as long as I don’t know for sure that Mrs. Anderson has that gun, I can be blissfully ignorant of the dangerous proximity to a potentially deadly weapon. In this regard, I tend to think that I would prefer Boulder’s rule change over Michigan’s court decision because in Michigan, there is the potential to come face to face with a gun holstered on a hip as I browse the stacks. But I am all too aware of the fact that concealed or not, a gun is a gun is a gun. I am also aware that so much of what happens with a gun depends on the person in control of it, but to what end? In the decision making process, where on the spectrum of common sense does the decision to pack a gun for a library outing fall? I feel that part of responsible ownership lies in recognizing when to leave a weapon in its lock box at home, and the very decision to bring a weapon into a public library, and exposed to the children’s section no less, already exhibits a form of poor judgment.

So what do we do when our hands are tied, and the library policies that ban weapons from the premises are overruled by the state? In a world where mass shootings are a horrific possibility, how do we create a sense of security for ourselves and our patrons? Putting that blissful ignorance aside and reflecting on the Michigan and Colorado situation maybe, at the very least, the open carry law provides an opportunity for others around a weapon to make the decision to stay or go: a concealed weapon affords no such option. (Sadly, staff will always be exempt from this choice.) Alternately, when libraries’ own policies are overruled in a case such as this, we could do what we do best: go into education mode. Make it Weapon-Awareness-Week in the community. Hold lectures from both sides of the situation so that the community can be educated about what exactly is happening in the library space. Offer resources for information on safe handling and carrying guidelines, and partner with the local gun ranges and anti-gun groups to provide literature to people who want to learn the options and responsibilities involved in this right.

What are your perspectives on this issue? What approaches do you think we should take in response to the public gun carrying laws?