Leading Academic Pro-Gunner, Preston Covey Jr., Dies at 64
October 10, 2006
by Joseph P. Tartaro
When I returned from the Gun Rights Policy Conference in Charlotte, NC, the night of Sept. 24 I was stunned to learn that the firearms civil rights community had lost Preston K. Covey Jr., a towering pro-gun giant and champion in the academic community.
Just days before his death, Covey had testified before the Pennsylvania state legislature which was about to undertake a broad-based reevaluation of the commonwealth’s firearms laws. The news of his death came first in the form of an email from a friend and fellow Pennsylvanian, Harry Schneider, chairman of the Pennsylvania Sportsmen’s Association.
“It is with the deepest regret that I announce the passing of a friend and patriot: Dr. Preston Covey Jr.,” Schneider began.
“Pres Covey was a brilliant academic. He taught applied ethics at Carnegie Mellon University. I recall one year it had fallen to Professor Covey to select the speaker for Carnegie Mellon University’s Presidents Distinguished Lecture. It was customary to bring in the likes of Henry Kissinger, but Pres treated the students and faculty of CMU to Massad Ayoob. Dr. Covey told the audience that Ayoob, a practical firearms instructor, teaches the best short course in applied ethics that he had ever seen,” Schneider continued.
“When the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League sued the city of Pittsburgh over their illegal assault weapons ban, Dr. Covey lent his name as plaintiff. The hoplophobic newspaper in Pittsburgh ran a cover article attacking Preston for his ethical views, but admitted that while other academics at CMU disagreed with Preston, the only dirt they could find was that he swears a lot. (No wonder!).
“Dr. Covey recently testified before the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committeeand laid bare the prevarications and misstatements of Philadelphia officials who demand that the state demonize law abiding gunowners, in effect making scapegoats of them to conceal and avoid addressing the real reasons why Philadelphia has a serious crime problem.
“Dr. Covey’s work survives him and will continue to give us guidance and intellectual ammunition far into the future.
“Pres was well aware that his positions were unpopular in academic circles. A man of his extraordinary intellect could have gone much farther in academia if he acquiesced to the hoplophobic biases and prejudices that dominate most universities. That would have been the easy route, but Pres had struggled with numerous polio related disabilities his entire life and knew that the easy way is not only unethical, but that it leads to greater disability.
“Dr. Preston Covey Jr. distinguished himself as a friend and warrior-academic of the finest caliber.
“Pres, rest in peace my brother,” Schneider concluded his notice.
Covey, a resident of Squirrel Hill, PA, and an associate professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Pittsburgh, PA, died at home of post-polio syndrome on Sept. 18. He was 64.
“Preston was 10 years old when he developed polio,” his wife, Denise Troll Covey, principal librarian for special projects at CMU, told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He managed well through his teenage and adult years, but his mobility began to deteriorate in the mid-1980s when he developed post-polio syndrome.
“Up until then, Preston jogged, played tennis and racquetball, lifted weights and walked 3 to 5 miles a day,” his wife added.
When his legs could no longer sustain him, he began using a motorized wheelchair.
“And even when Preston was confined to a wheelchair, we enjoyed entertaining friends in our Squirrel Hill home,” his wife recalled.
Born and raised in Minneapolis, Covey was one of five children of Preston Sr. and Nancy Humphrey Covey. His father was employed as a market researcher.
His sister, Barbara Covey, recalled her brother as opinionated but fun to be around. “He never let his polio discourage him,” she said. “He took it in stride.
“Preston joined the swim team at Blake School in Hopkins, MN, and although his right arm was paralyzed, he stroked with his left arm,” his sister added.
Although diagnosed with polio, Covey was a member of a championship swim team at Blake. He also took part in backpacking and canoe trips with friends on the rivers and throughout the rugged Minnesota terrain.
After graduation from high school in 1960, he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stanford University, later earning a PhD jointly through the philosophy department and the humanities graduate program.
In 1973, Mr. Covey joined the CMU faculty, where from 1982 to 1985 he was the director of the interdepartmental Ethics, History and Public Policy Program.
“Preston was also the founding director of the Center for Advancement of Applied Ethics at CMU,” his wife added.
As one of his students, she found her professor to be a brilliant yet down-to-earth man who enjoyed going head-to-head in profound conversations.
“I married Preston in 2001,” Denise Covey said. “I was his third wife. His first wife was Patricia Dudley, and his second wife was Kate Maloy.”
One of the courses Covey taught at CMU involved conflict resolution as it applied to issues of criminal justice and violence in American society.
He took that course one step further when he was sworn in as a special deputy sheriff of Allegheny County and detailed to the firearms training staff.
“Preston was concerned about the ethics and moral dilemma of using firearms,” his wife said.
“He purchased a gun after his house was robbed twice. He taught that under certain circumstances, the use of firearms could be justified,” she said. “But he added that they should only be used as a last resort, when you can no longer talk it out with someone aiming to harm you.”
There was much more to Covey’s interest in firearms that these brief quotes from a newspaper obituary can convey.
He wrote many learned and scholarly articles about firearms and participated in handgun competitions. Covey was also an advisor and frequent confidant of mine during my long tenure as editor of Gun Week. He was not the only academic to tackle the gun grabbers in politics, academia and the media, but he was certainly a leader among them.
I always welcomed his calls, correspondence and advice and looked forward to reading his erudite commentaries related to different aspects of the gun rights issue. On several occasions I sought his advice on my writings or those of others.
I regret that I never met Covey face to face, and now I never will. But his legacy lives on and lights the way for others.
Covey’s writings appear on websites and in books and journals. His most recent testimony before the Pennsylvania legislature is quoted in its entirety on David Codrea’s website: WarOnGuns.com
Covey is survived by his wife, Denise, a son, Adam, of San Francisco; stepchildren, Ryan Troll, of Santa Clara, CA, Isaac Troll, of Johnstown, PA, and Bronwyn Korchnak, of Clinton, PA, and a grandson, as well as by three sisters, Susan, of Palo Alto, CA, Barbara, of Oakland, ME, Judith Carson, of Skokie, IL and a brother, David, of Sebastapol, CA.