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12/20/2012 01:14 pm ET

College Presidents Call For Gun Control In Open Letter To President Obama

Hundreds of college presidents have signed an open letter to President Obama calling for tougher gun control laws and declaring their opposition to laws that would allow guns on campus.

The campaign was started by presidents Lawrence M. Schall of Oglethorpe University and Elizabeth Kiss of Agnes Scott College, both located in Georgia. So far, 218 presidents mostly from private, non-profit colleges have signed the letter, which was written in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and 6 adults.

Since the on-campus shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, several states have sought to allow guns on campus, even in opposition from college officials and faculty. After the Newtown massacre, some conservatives are now calling for teachers to have access to firearms in their classrooms.

But the College Presidents for Gun Safety are demanding a crackdown on access to guns. Their letter reads, in part:

We are college and university presidents. We are parents. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We urge both our President and Congress to take action on gun control now. As a group, we do not oppose gun ownership. But, in many of our states, legislation has been introduced or passed that would allow gun possession on college campuses. We oppose such laws. We fully understand that reasonable gun safety legislation will not prevent every future murder. 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.

The letter calls for an end to the gun show loophole on firearms purchases and for a ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons, along with high-capacity ammunition magazines.

"The time has long since passed for silence and inaction on the issue of reasonable and rational gun safety legislation," the letter adds. "We hereby request that our nation’s policy leaders take thoughtful and urgent action to ensure that current and future generations may live and learn in a country free from the threat of gun violence."

Obama announced Wednesday he had directed Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to develop new proposals for gun control laws within a matter of weeks.

A separate letter written by Emerson College President M. Lee Pelton, which pledges to provide support to Obama in a push for gun control, has attracted 161 endorsements from college presidents. Pelton's letter also asks for lawmakers to address care for mental illness in the country.

Pelton's letter reads, in part:

We acknowledge, as you have, that these are complex issues that bring into play competing interests that will require us to balance the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms with the concerns of those calling for more stringent restrictions on gun ownership. Nevertheless, we ask that urgent attention be paid to developing measures that would have the effect of curtailing easy access to assault weapons, especially guns that can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition without reloading and have no place in the hands of civilians.
[...]
We, therefore, pledge to do what we do best in our academic communities: engage thought leaders, faculty, students, staff, trustees and friends in meaningful debate and dialogue, which, in turn, might lead to positive action.

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