Debate Over Guns on Campus Heats Up
Gunmen attacking a college campus is a nightmare scenario, and it has played out across the country too many times – from the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 to the April 2012 shootings at Oikos University in East Oakland, Calif., not to mention incidents further back in memory like the 1966 sniper attack at the University of Texas.
Should students be able to legally carry guns on campus? Groups are springing up on both sides of the issue. Some say allowing them to will decrease such violence; others say it will make things worse.
Protecting the Right to Carry – on Campus
Protecting and supporting the legal arming of students with concealed carry permits is the mission of Students for Concealed Carry (SCC). Founded at the University of North Texas after the Virginia Tech shootings, SCC now has over 36,000 members and over 350 chapters on college campuses and universities.
In March, SCC succeeded in requiring the University of Colorado to allow students with concealed-carry permits to bring their guns on campus, when the Colorado Supreme Court held that unelected college administrators do not have authority to forbid armed self-defense, says David Burnett, director of public relations for SCC.
UC-Boulder is struggling to implement the court’s ruling, announcing in August that “it is amending housing contracts to ask students who live in undergraduate residence halls and hold a Colorado concealed carry permit, or CCP, to forgo bringing a handgun to campus.”
SCC is watching carefully, Burnett says, concerned that the university “is trying to make an end-run around the law.” While the school has said it won’t penalize any gun-carriers, he says SCC has received reports that some people are being “affected by the policies, so we’re reevaluating our approach.”
Fighting for Gun Control – One State at a Time
Taking the opposite approach is Gun Free Kids (GFK), an Internet-based organization with over 10,000 subscribers that says it aims to “assist voters nationwide in learning about and supporting state-based candidates who favor sound gun violence prevention policies.”
“The vast majority of public and private colleges and universities in the U.S. prohibit firearms on their campuses,” notes Andy Pelosi, president of GFK. Whether a school allows students to carry firearms is a matter of state law, and the states definitely differ.
“Twenty-two states prohibit guns on campus by statute and another 20 allow the schools to decide their weapons’ policies, with nearly all schools choosing to prohibit firearms (including concealed weapons),” Pelosi says. His organization celebrated over the summer when “guns on campus” bills were defeated in 12 of the 14 states considering such legislation.
Dueling Perspectives on Violence
But Burnett indicates the tide may be turning. “Definitely more colleges are allowing concealed carry,” he says. “According to our own count (backed up by the National Conference of State Legislatures), over 200 colleges in six states allow concealed carry on campus in some form.”
“These colleges are virtually incident-free, and law enforcement at some colleges even admit crime has declined since the policies changed,” he adds. Asked whether he was aware of any situations in which a legally armed student had protected others – one of his organization’s big selling points – he said, “We are not aware of self-defense stories on campus at this time.”
Asked about methods to ensure that students who carry guns legally would not turn the weapons on other students or themselves, Burnett doesn’t seem worried. “It defies logic to assume someone will get a permit for their crime, or that permit-holders are just waiting for permission to behave recklessly on campus,” he says.
Pelosi, however, points to several incidents in which students with carry permits were injured or behaved badly: a 24-year-old man believed to be a student at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, accidently shot himself in January; and a football player at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., was arrested in May after he pulled his handgun on police outside a bar.
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