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Ryan Johnson, Published January 08 2013

Concordia president joins call for gun control

MOORHEAD – Concordia College President William Craft and more than 300 other campus leaders from across the country have signed an online letter calling on Congress to take action on gun control.

The letter, organized by leaders of Oglethorpe University and Agnes Scott College in Georgia, was posted online Dec. 19, just five days after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 people dead.

“For many years now, our nation’s leaders have engaged in fevered debates on higher education, yet lawmakers shy away from taking action on one issue that prevents thousands of young people from living lives of promise, let alone realizing their college dreams,” the letter said. “That issue is gun safety.”

Craft, one of five private college presidents in Minnesota to sign on, said in an email statement Monday that the letter “appropriately conveys the urgency of this issue.”

“I share the concerns of educational leaders who are calling on our nation’s leaders and communities to engage in a prompt and fruitful conversation to reduce the threat of gun violence in our schools and colleges,” Craft wrote.

The letter’s authors wrote that 80 percent of all gun deaths in the world’s 23 wealthiest countries happen in the United States, and 87 percent of all children killed with guns in those countries are killed here, citing a report in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.

“In 2010, 2,694 young people were killed by gunfire,” they wrote. “1,773 were victims of homicide; 67 were elementary school-age children. If those children and teens were alive today, they would fill 108 classrooms of 25 each.”

The letter said signers do not oppose gun ownership. But it calls for several specific goals: banning “military-style semi-automatic assault weapons” and high-capacity ammunition magazines; requiring background checks to buy firearms from unlicensed sellers at gun shows; and opposing efforts by some states to pass legislation that would allow gun possession on college campuses.

“We fully understand that reasonable gun safety legislation will not prevent every future murder,” the letter said. “Identification and treatment of the mental health issues that lie beneath so many of the mass murders to which we increasingly bear witness must also be addressed.”

Leaders of four other private colleges in Minnesota, St. Catherine University, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Macalester College and College of Saint Benedict, also signed the letter.

North Dakota State University spokeswoman Laura McDaniel said President Dean Bresciani was not approached to sign and wasn’t aware of it. She said many of the 319 signatures on the letter as of Monday came from private college presidents, not leaders of public institutions like NDSU.

The same was true with Minnesota State University Moorhead President Edna Szymanski, who had not heard of the letter until asked about it by The Forum on Tuesday, according to spokesman David Wahlberg.

A spokesman from the University of North Dakota said President Robert Kelley also was not aware of the letter.

No public schools from North Dakota or Minnesota were represented on the College Presidents for Gun Safety letter or a separate letter circulated by the president of Emerson College in Massachusetts that had 255 signatures by Tuesday from presidents pledging to lead campus discussions on gun violence.

That second letter included at least two leaders of private colleges in Minnesota, including Macalester College and Hamline University.

On Jan. 2, leaders of the Association of American Universities, which represents top research institutions, said in a statement: “We believe that strong, meaningful action needs to occur in three domains: gun control, care of the mentally ill, and the culture of our contemporary media.”

The Washington Post contributed to this article.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587