Missouri is poised to become the latest state to allow guns into college classrooms.
The Republican-led state senate is currently finalizing deliberations on a bill that, if passed, would remove restrictions on carrying concealed weapons on college campuses statewide.
The specter of loaded firearms in college classrooms raises particular concerns in no small part because the dynamics of learning often depend on professors challenging students to step beyond their comfort zones.
But beneath these concerns lies a broader question: do guns change the ways that people engage with each other?
Scholars who research guns and gun violence, myself included, often track the impact of guns through homicide and injury rates. But the impact of guns on everyday interactions, , and instances when guns are neither drawn nor discharged, remains a largely unstudied topic.
So I decided to talk to people about it. I’m a native Missourian, and I went back home for research as part of a book project about guns in everyday life. Last month I interviewed 50 people, including everyday citizens, religious and political leaders and gun-violence prevention advocates in Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis about the impact new guns laws are having on social interactions in the state.
Again and again, people with whom I spoke raised concerns, not just about the lethal potential of firearms, but about the ways that allowing guns into previously gun-free communal spaces might impact a host of commonplace civic encounters as well.
Missouri used to have some of the strictest gun laws in the country
Missouri used to have among the strictest gun laws in the nation, including a requirement that handgun buyers undergo background checks in person at sheriffs’ offices before obtaining gun permits.
But over the past 10 years, an increasingly conservative legislature and citizenry relaxed limitations governing practically every aspect of buying, owning and carrying guns. The legislature relaxed prohibitions on the concealed and open carry of firearms in public spaces, lowered the legal age to carry a concealed gun from 21 to 19 and repealed many of the requirements for comprehensive background checks and purchase permits.
A natural experiment
What followed was a state of affairs that The New York Times has described as a “natural experiment” testing whether more guns led to more safety and less crime.