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Newtown school shooting

In the “People’s Republic of Boulder,” by City Council decree, residents are known as “pet guardians,” and now they’ve stretched their roles to guardians of wild life as well.

On Sunday, about 50 people gathered at Pearl Street Mall for a candlelight vigil to demand justice for an adult, male elk shot by a police officer in a suburban Boulder neighborhood on New Year’s Day.

To honor the elk, participants played recordings of elk bugling from their cell phones. They passed out flyers to passersby. They vowed to mount pressure on police as the investigation continues. In addition to the vigil, a silent march took place recently as well.

Since the shooting, town meetings have been held. The chief of police has made statements. An announcement from the district attorney on whether charges will be filed against the police officer, who reportedly failed to handle the situation by the book, is expected today.

Meanwhile, in interviews with The College Fix, some CU Boulder students offered a different perspective, calling the reactions a bit much, even insulting.

Junior Taylor Lane, 20, said she thought the vigil was “extreme.”

“So many people in Boulder are concerned with our ecological, or ethical, facade and this is a perfect example,” she said. “One animal was shot out of season. I’m certain more than that are hit by traffic on a daily basis.”

What’s more, the Boulder community did not hold a vigil for the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in mid-December, in which a classroom of young students were gunned down by a mentally unstable gunman.

Senior Mitchell Whitus, 20, said he feels the Boulder community reacted “to the wrong thing.”

“I saw a report on Channel 4 about the vigil, and a lady who was there compared the shooting of the elk to the Sandy Hook shooting,” he said. “I’m appalled that they would compare the shooting to the massacre of children. Why not hold a vigil for the Sandy Hook shooting, instead? It is crazy.”

Nearly half of Boulder’s residents are registered Democrats, and the city is widely understood as the home of “pet guardians” and environmentalists.

Nevertheless, their reaction to the elk shooting also runs in stark contrast to the lack of any uproar over a bear that was tranquilized on the CU Boulder campus last year, then found dead after being hit by a car.

Meanwhile, other students felt the Boulder community used the elk as a symbol to gather around, but failed to hit on the bigger question of the police officer’s conduct in shooting the beloved creature.

Senior Elizabeth Coombs, 22, said the elk is the wrong target.

“I think we should focus on the potential abuse of power by the officer if he was, indeed, on duty when he shot the elk,” she said.

Fix contributor Aslinn Scott is a student at CU Boulder.

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If another Ambrose Bierce comes along to update The Devil’s Dictionary, “national conversation” ought to have an entry.

We are constantly receiving invitations to the “national conversation”—about abortion, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, trans fats. It sounds nice: Every red, white, and blue-blooded American tucks in at the table for a calm, measured discussion in which everyone’s views are heard, and at the end we come to a conclusive plan of action that makes everyone happy. Or at least dissatisfies everyone equally.

It is an agreeably democratic canard, giving the hoi polloi the impression that it has some input in what happens, and giving those who say it the all-important sheen of open-mindedness.

Neither is true, of course, but the phrase coats predetermined positions in a sparkling patina of reasonableness. It’s no surprise, then, that House minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s recently called for a “national conversation” on gun control in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown.

But of course, America can’t have “national conversations.” We’re too many, too scattered. That is why the Founders created a republic. Our representatives have the conversation for us, in a venue where every voice can, in fact, be heard.

And tragedies make especially bad occasions for a “national conversation.” An entire country’s blood is up, clamoring for justice and answers, suddenly willing to go to every extreme to prevent future bloodshed. It’s a pity—but not a surprise—that days after the events in Newtown acclaimed novelist Joyce Carol Oates tweeted, “If sizable numbers of NRA members become gun-victims themselves, maybe hope for legislation of firearms?” She was only one of many whose responses ranged from foolish to downright vicious. But we expect some emotional instability in the aftermath of such an event. Which is precisely why it’s a bad time to make policy.

Moreover, a month after the tragedy in Newtown, the news cycle has moved on—to the fiscal cliff, the debt crisis, the president’s Cabinet nominations—and whatever conversation remains is happening among Joe Biden and a small committee of Congressmen behind closed doors somewhere on Capitol Hill. If it is happening at all. With political careers, massive amounts of money, and influence at stake, Capitol Hill is all too often where genuine debate goes to die.

Is there any alternative? The attempt to mask political objectives—in Pelosi’s case, strong national gun control legislation—in openness to bipartisan conversation ought to serve as a reminder that our most difficult, impassioned conversations can only happen with any true intellectual seriousness in a place that takes intellectual seriousness seriously. For a great deal of Western history, that was the university.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case anymore. Four days after the shooting in Newtown, 160 college and university presidents signed an “open letter to our nation’s policy leaders” calling for “rational gun safety measures” and opposing any legislation that would permit gun possession on college campuses.

Too often the denizens of the modern academy forget the advice of French essayist Joseph Joubert, that “it is better to raise a question without deciding it than to decide a question without raising it.”

And the tragedy at Newtown—and our reactions—raises large and important questions. But intellectual flippancy leads to conclusions like Vice President Biden’s, who recently declared, “If your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking.” That sort of tortured logic makes for sentimental appeal but for absurd policy. Gun control legislation is not just a matter of saving lives (if it will do even that is a point of contention); it requires a careful evaluation of the meaning of the Second Amendment and of the relationship of the federal government to the individual. Questions about mental health require the same cautious thought: At what point does a person’s individual freedom need to become subject to the state’s regulation?

Grappling honestly and seriously with such questions has, historically, been the province of the university, where a dedication to truth and clarity has been more important than political advocacy. That is much more difficult on campuses where political agenda and classroom curriculum have become indistinguishable.

In modern America, the moments that call for long, careful attention to large questions are those in which the intellectual poverty of a great portion of the cloistered policymaking class becomes most acutely apparent. But wise policymaking demands such studied reflection.

The university, in its classic, pre-politicized incarnation, can serve as the place for that task—for the deep and thoughtful consideration of complex and challenging questions. And if the resulting judicious university culture can maintain its integrity, it can become a check on overhasty action and an alternative to our empty rhetorical niceties. It can be—again—the place of real conversation.

Fix contributor Ian Tuttle is a student at St. John’s College.

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A letter signed by 327 university leaders across the nation over the last month that calls on President Obama to oppose legislation allowing guns in classrooms and college campuses is actually a misguided, flawed – and frankly unconstitutional – response to the Newtown school shooting massacre, two George Mason University legal experts argue.

In interviews with The College Fix, Daniel Polsby, dean of the law school at George Mason University, and Nelson Lund, a law professor there, said calls en masse by campus leaders to banish guns on college grounds is perhaps an understandable emotional response to the tragedy, but not one that holds water legally, nor likely to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Some campus firearm regulations “violate the constitutional rights of many students and employees, and increase the risk that innocent people will be slaughtered,” Lund said.

“Virtually every mass shooting in recent decades has occurred in a ‘gun-free zone,’ which is not likely a coincidence,” he said. “The massacre in Aurora, Colorado, did not occur at the theater nearest the shooter’s home. Nor at the largest theater in the area. Rather, it apparently occurred at the only theater in the area that banned firearms from the premises. ‘Gun-free zones’ might more accurately be described as ‘safe for mass murder’ zones.”

If university presidents truly wanted to take “thoughtful and urgent” measures, as stated in their letter, then they should start by having firearm restrictions at universities “rescinded or modified to respect the constitutional rights of its students and employees,” Lund suggested.

Polsby, the law school dean at George Mason University, adds that he has tried to bring people to “realize that what laws one has in the books and what behaviors one observes in the field are not always connected by a straight line.”

In other words, banning guns on campuses ipso facto does not mean a deranged lunatic will not bring a gun on campus and attempt to shoot and kill people. The proposal is not a solution.

Polsby said while he feels the result of such gun control policies will disappoint their advocates in the end, he does “understand – and share – the presidents’ sincere desire to live in a better world.”

Underscoring the arguments made by the two George Mason University legal experts, the issue of gun owners’ rights on campuses has already been hashed out through the courts.

In 1995, the Supreme Court held that Congress overstepped its bounds in passing the Gun Free School Zones Act, which made it illegal for an individual to possess a firearm in a school zone. The court ruled that the regulation of firearms by creating Gun Free Zones does not fall under the power granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause.

The Clinton administration ultimately wiggled around that ruling by amending the statute, and specifically applying it to firearms that have been transported across state lines. Since nearly all firearms are manufactured, and then transported across the nation to be sold, the statute was upheld as a valid exercise of power under the commerce clause.

On college campuses, the matter is generally left to state law or university policy.

In 2003, the Attorney General of Utah informed universities that their restrictions on firearms contradicted state law. After that, the Utah legislature passed a statute stating that any individual who legally obtained a permit to carry a firearm may do so anywhere except where prohibited by statute.

Because the legislature took no action to establish Gun Free Zones at universities, the attorney general informed Utah campus administrators they had no power under state law to restrict the rights of gun owners. However, the University of Utah resisted, and asked a federal court to intervene and permit the university to govern its own affairs.

While the court seemed sympathetic to that request, it ultimately ruled it could not intervene on a matter of state law between two state officials. The justice who delivered the opinion of the court noted that nothing would be more offensive to the federalist system than a federal court instructing a state officer on how to interpret a state law.

Moreover, in March 2012, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the University of Colorado board of regents lacked the authority to regulate concealed weapons on campus under the Colorado Concealed Carry Act. All CU students and employees holding a concealed carry permit are legally allowed to bring handguns on campus.

Fix contributor Brian Miller is a student at George Mason University School of Law.

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Ryan Cortes, a student at Florida Atlantic University and editor with its campus magazine, wrote a column Wednesday that came to the defense of professor James Tracy, who made headlines this week after claiming the Newtown, Conn., school massacre either didn’t take place or was part of some sort of government conspiracy.

In a column titled “reaction to FAU professor’s Newtown conspiracy is misguided and misinformed,” Cortes writes in the University Press student magazine that: “I’ve taken three of Tracy’s classes in my time at FAU, including one called Culture of Conspiracy. Hell, I’ve seen more 9/11 documentaries than Tarantino flicks, and damn do I love those. But I also love people who think differently and cause you to see perspectives you wouldn’t ponder.”

Cortes goes on to state:

… This is someone who has changed my opinion many times before. His theories usually center around a failed national media that didn’t dig deep and ask more questions. It led him to believe Osama bin Laden’s alleged killing was a conspiracy, that the Oklahoma City Bombings were another, and that 9/11 had so many unanswered questions that if you weren’t asking on your own, well, you never were going to ask about anything anyway.

So I come into this discussion having spent a good deal of time with the man. I know how he thinks and I know when he starts asking questions, this many questions, he’s informed on the subject and he’ll cause me to at least think twice. I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, but I knew what was coming Tracy’s way. Vitriol. Hate. Anger.

All of it.

But none of these people knew the real Tracy. It was a blog post turned into a headline turned into a tweet turned into thousands of angry readers, but it didn’t tell the whole story. I remembered classmates of mine while taking Tracy’s classes who would stand outside during breaks, mesmerized, over what the professor’s opinions forced you think long and hard about before believing.

The column also quotes the school’s faculty union president:

 “The reaction is weird,” said (Chris Robé, FAU’s faculty union president). “I mean, part of it I get. This isn’t being sensitive to the victims, and I get that, it’s OK. But there was one person commenting that said they believe in free speech but they don’t want their tax payer dollars to go to this. Well then, you don’t really believe in free speech, right?”

“The point is, the guy has the right to say what he’s saying. When people start saying he’s crazy or demand that he gets fired because they’re offended by something he says, well, shit, all of us could be fired for something offensive we’ve said.”

Cortes ends his column by saying of Tracy: “At least he was thinking something.”

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A retired University of Duluth professor has been joined by a Florida Atlantic University professor with accusations of various Newtown, Conn., school shooting conspiracy theories.

Last week, the Duluth professor and former Marine known for his conspiracy theories claimed the U.S. government was involved in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.

The Duluth News Tribune reported that professor, James Fetzer, wrote in online columns that “the Sandy Hook massacre appears to have been a psy op intended to strike fear in the hearts of Americans by the sheer brutality of the massacre, where the killing of children is a signature of terror ops conducted by agents of Israel.”

The act, Fetzer said in an interview with the News Tribune, “is part of an escalating series of covert operations intended to create hysteria in the American people in order to support gun control legislation that completely subverts the Second Amendment.”

This week, the Sun Sentinel reported that a Florida Atlantic University communications professor also known for conspiracy theories argued that the massacre “did not happen as reported — or may not have happened at all.”

James Tracy claimed in radio interviews and on his blog that “trained ‘crisis actors’ may have been employed by the Obama administration in an effort to shape public opinion in favor of the event’s true purpose: gun control,” the paper reported:

“As documents relating to the Sandy Hook shooting continue to be assessed and interpreted by independent researchers, there is a growing awareness that the media coverage of the massacre of 26 children and adults was intended primarily for public consumption to further larger political ends,” writes Tracy, a tenured associate professor of media history at FAU and a former union leader.

In another post, he says, “While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”

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A retired University of Minnesota Duluth professor and former Marine known for his conspiracy theories claims the U.S. government was involved in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.

Via the Duluth News Tribune:

A retired University of Minnesota Duluth professor known for his conspiracy theories on John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the 9/11 attacks and the Paul Wellstone plane crash has found himself in the news again — this time for claiming the U.S. government was involved in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.

… (James) Fetzer, also an author and former Marine Corps officer, claims in an online journal that Israeli Mossad death squads and the U.S. government might have been behind the school shootings in Connecticut.

… Fetzer writes in his online column, published on “Press TV and “Veterans Today”: “The Sandy Hook massacre appears to have been a psy op intended to strike fear in the hearts of Americans by the sheer brutality of the massacre, where the killing of children is a signature of terror ops conducted by agents of Israel.”

The act, Fetzer said in an interview with the News Tribune, “is part of an escalating series of covert operations intended to create hysteria in the American people in order to support gun control legislation that completely subverts the Second Amendment.”

Fetzer … says he doesn’t speak for UMD and that UMD hasn’t suggested he refrain from connecting himself to the university.

“There is something called freedom of research, freedom of inquiry,” he said, “which the University of Minnesota has respected. I can’t imagine why any university would want to discourage its faculty from exercising their independent thought and critical reasoning ability.”

… But to the average person who reads the Fetzer piece, it appears Fetzer represents UMD, said Donna Halper, an associate professor of communication at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.

“For a professor to be spreading stereotypes under the guise of academic freedom is profoundly disappointing,” said Halper, whose earlier career in radio led her to Duluth several times. She found Duluth to be tolerant and compassionate, she said, and she was surprised to read Fetzer’s work, which she classified as a “fringe view.”

“I’m not saying he doesn’t have the right to speak, but … when it comes from a professor, it makes me wonder: What did he teach his students?” asked Halper, who teaches courses on philosophy and communication ethics.

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