News & Politics

Professor Says It's 'Complicated' to Write Recommendation for Gun-Enthusiast Student

A professor writing under the pseudonym “Myrtle Lynn Payne” wrote to the Chronicle of Higher Education about a dilemma involving a letter of recommendation for a student who is a gun enthusiast.

The story goes something like this: a student named Sarah had enrolled in two different classes taught by “Myrtle Lynn Payne.”

“Sarah said she was applying to a teacher-credential program and asked me for a recommendation. Initially I said yes because I usually do,” Payne said. But she doesn’t “know what to do about the recommendation.”

The reason the professor doesn’t know what to do is because “Sarah shared that the most notable experience of her winter break was a visit to a gun range where she had fired an AK-47,” Payne explained. “I gave the usual ‘very good, moving on’ response but was thinking, ‘Whoa, that’s disturbing.’”

Disturbing? No one was hurt, and the student was at a gun range not at an elementary school or in a back alley. She didn’t fire the AK-47 during the commission of a crime.  What’s the problem? It sounds like the student had a normal, safe firearms experience. Hooray.

But in another course, the professor heard Sarah talking about how she was excited to get her concealed-carry permit. In other words, the student followed the law and the regulations to obtain a legal permit to carry a concealed firearm. And yet this is morally taxing for the professor.

“It’s so complicated. On one side are all of my ideas about supporting students, honoring their individuality and their journeys, creating a safe space for them (and myself), not taking things out of context, not over interpreting,” Payne wrote.

“On the other side are my memories of growing up in a situation where guns, people, and bullets had to be rigorously kept apart, lest they find each other in a tragic moment of instability,” the professor added.

Maybe the professor should examine her “ideas about supporting students, honoring their individuality and their journeys, creating a safe space for them.” It doesn’t sound like she really believes her own ideas. Instead, the professor should have just admitted that the student’s decisions contradict her own progressive anti-Second Amendment, anti-choice, anti-freedom impulses. The real dilemma here is squaring the delusional belief that the professor honors the individuality of her students with her impulse to disapprove of other people’s legally expressed choice while presenting herself as a champion of individuality.

The student has reached out to the professor asking about the recommendation. “So what do I do? Do I write her a recommendation because I originally said yes? Do I say no and explain myself? Do I ignore her email?” Payne asked.

What advice would you give the professor?