A letter to President Obama written by Emerson College president M. Lee Pelton that urges college campuses to engage in a wider discussion about gun violence has garnered the support of at least 197 university leaders.
“My goal is to get more than 200 signatures,” Pelton said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I think we will achieve that by tomorrow.”
The letter, one of the myriad responses to the Newtown, Conn., massacre, was written following an e-mail Pelton sent to the Emerson community Saturday afternoon. He wrote that an open discussion of such tragedies might lead to positive action.
“I was terribly saddened and upset by the events,” Pelton said, “so I concluded in the letter that . . . I needed to do more.”
On Monday, Pelton wrote another letter on the topic. This time, he noted the important gun-related issues the country faces after the school shootings and highlighted the ease of acquiring assault weapons.
“History requires that we not stand idly by,” the letter said. “We will be judged by our actions in the days and weeks ahead, by how we answered, as a nation and as individuals, the question, ‘What will we do?’ ”
After writing the letter, he sent it to other college presidents, asking if they wanted to show their their support. In less than 48 hours, Pelton said, he received responses from more than 100 university presidents, and more have been trickling into his inbox as the hours pass, pushing back an initial deadline for signatures set for Wednesday afternoon.
“We recognize and respect the rights of citizens to keep and bear arms,” Pelton said Thursday. “It is our belief that when the Second Amendment was written, it didn’t include civilians having access to guns of mass human destruction. They have an appropriate place in the hands of the military, but they don’t have a place in the hands of civilians.”
Among the signatories were presidents of several Massachusetts institutions, including Boston College, Smith College, Clark University, Brandeis University, and the University of Massachusetts system.
To his surprise, some college presidents asked Pelton to modify the language of the letter before signing.
“I refused,” Pelton said flatly.
Another letter, also supported by Pelton, has been circulating across the country. Written by presidents of two Georgia universities, it asks those in elected positions to enact “rational” gun-safety measures. That letter has received more than 160 signatures.
Pelton hopes that with some help from contacts in the White House, his letter can be delivered to Obama on Christmas Eve.
“We are going to get it in the hands of the president,” he said.
Sarah N. Mattero can be reached at sarah.mattero@