George Pyle: In Utah, how you tell the truth about guns matters.

“Never frighten a little man. He’ll kill you.”

— Robert A. Heinlein, “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

Just telling the truth doesn’t always help. You have to learn how to tell it.

This was the lesson that should be drawn from the fuss surrounding a University of Utah graduate assistant who was pulled from a teaching assignment when the syllabus for her course was ruled inartful and offensive to the powers that be. Even though it was true and accurate.

Apparently, the young academic went out of her way to make it clear that firearms, even those toted by holders of Utah rubber-stamp concealed carry permits, were not socially acceptable in that classroom.

To bring a gun to class “is absurd, antisocial, and frightening behavior,” the course outline read. Anyone who did bring a gun to class was to be relegated, not to a desk, but to a 3 x 3 foot square taped at the back of the classroom, "because desks are reserved for students who respect the personal and psychological safety of their classmates and instructor.”

Some people objected to that description of firearms in what is supposed to be a civilized space, ratted it out first on social media and then to a particularly pro-gun member of the Utah Legislature. A place where being pro-gun is generally part of the cost of admission and some of them compete to be the top ideologue on the matter.

We were all reminded that, by state law, concealed carry carriers cannot be denied their right to tote iron on a state university campus. (Unless it’s not a state university but private property, such as, say Brigham Young University, which is owned by the same church that claims the loyalty of nearly all of the aforesaid members of the Legislature. Right.)

What’s sad about all this is that the graduate assistant’s basic point is unassailably true. It is “absurd, antisocial and frightening behavior” to carry a firearm just about anywhere, unless you are a sworn law enforcement officer or on your way to the firing range. Or both.

Every square foot of civilized society is made more dangerous by the presence of a gun. And a college classroom, which should be the pinnacle of civilized society, is perhaps the place most sullied by the presence of both the gun and the person who feels the need to carry one. Along with public school classrooms, churches, office buildings, post offices, shopping malls, dive bars and junkyards.

People who assume otherwise are not thinking clearly, if at all, and are obviously guilty of wishing to impose their sense of personal superiority over all who surround them. They quite simply do not, in the words of the former instructor, "respect the personal and psychological safety of their classmates and instructor.”

But our friend the grad student did deserve to lose this fight.

Her approach was similar to that of an abusive parent or nasty teacher who belittles or beats a small child for their irrational fears of things like the monsters under their bed or the consistency of lunchroom mashed potatoes. Good liberal teachers of today would never make a fearful, stuttering or painfully shy child stand in a square at the back of the classroom in order to single them out for public shame, no matter how inappropriate or even antisocial their behavior.

In our society, people who aren’t police officers who feel the need to carry guns — hidden or not — into public places are wrong and do, indeed, cause reasonable fear among all those who surround them. There is no reasonable excuse for the behavior.

But, as has been said before in this space, the wisdom of Sir Paul McCartney should be brought to bear on the situation. “When the brokenhearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer. Let it be.”

Someone who is so afraid of the world that they think it an unacceptable affront to their very being to be told that they can’t bring their guns to school should be counted among the brokenhearted. They don’t need to be coddled or deferred to, even though that’s what Utah state law requires. There might be some hope they can be reasoned with or somehow brought along to a civilized position.

But that will never happen if their fears are belittled and their psychological defense mechanisms demeaned.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Tribune, is still kind of brokenhearted over the deaths of two Beatles. gpyle@sltrib.com