by Hannah Gold
According to the Law Center to Prevent Violence, 26 bills in 12 states that lift restrictions on the ability to carry a concealed weapon on a university or college campus are currently pending in state legislatures. In the past few years seven states have fought tooth and nail to wrestle the control of firearms on campuses from the Boards of Regents and won, most recently in Idaho where a new bill allowing concealed carry at universities passed the House in early March and was signed by Governor C.L. Otter just two weeks ago. All this despite the fact that college campuses are some of the safest spaces in the country—93 percent of crimes against college students ages 18-24 occur off campus.
It’s clear that the Second Amendment enforcement squad over at the NRA is behind this recent explosion in legislation. But if you look at who’s giving comment on these bills to the media on behalf of the pro-gun agenda it’s usually the local sheriff or a grassroots group called Students for Concealed Carry, which formed shortly after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and has been a major player in organizing for decreased restrictions on carrying firearms through university campuses. It claims no affiliation with the NRA. However, Ladd Everitt, director of communications at the Coalition to Stop Violence has his doubts that the organization is who it says it is (and he is not alone).
Ladd said, “Student for Concealed Carry on Campus at some point was legitimately a group of students, but now it has become more nebulous whether they are still students. They have some relationship with the NRA and have probably been funded by them at some point.”
One group that isn’t buying the gun-slinging slop the NRA has brought to market through the media, the legislature and the courts, are universities, not just the Boards of Regents but faculty and students as well. The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus has been building a coalition of educational institutions opposed to these new laws since they began trickling in through the state legislatures around 2008. As of June 20, 2013, the organization has gotten 365 colleges in 41 states plus the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to sign a petition opposing such laws.
Ladd thinks the consequences of these new laws could be severe. While the NRA focuses on eliminating mass shootings, these are relatively rare and can’t be policed effectively from within the student body and faculty. “A far more common occurrence you will see,” says Ladd, “are suicides, someone messing around with their gun and accidentally killing someone, relationship issues where someone ends up making a terrible decision.”
Here are the five states with some of the worst policies in the country when it comes to concealed carry laws on college campuses. Each of these is a study in the gun lobby’s powers of persuasion.
On March 12, Gov. C.L. Otter signed Senate Bill 1254 into law. The law, which will take effect July 1, allows anyone with an enhanced permit to bring a concealed firearm onto a university campus. Kurt Mueller, the national director of public relations for SCC heralded the passage of the bill as “a major step forward for Idaho, and for our nation as a whole.”
The bill’s proposal and eventual passage has been met with plenty of discontent. The presidents of Idaho’s eight public universities unanimously oppose the bill, an easy calculation on their part since it’s the schools that will suffer, not only in terms of the safety, the level of free discourse, and mental health of its faculty and students, but economically as well. Idaho State University has estimated that it will have to spend around $600,000 in the next year alone fortifying campus security. Boise State University claims it will need to spend $2 million over the next three years so it can purchase metal detectors, better arm its security force and train campus officers to respond to gun violence.
Utah was the first state to pass laws allowing firearms on campus back in 2004, and for a long time it was the only one. According to the “Enforcement of Regulations at Institutions” section of the Utah State Legislature Constitution, the state Board of Regents may, “enact and authorize higher education institutions to enact traffic, parking, and related regulations governing all individuals on campuses and other facilities owned or controlled by the institutions or the board.”
But can the Board control its schools’ guns? Not a chance. The pursuant clause affirms that, “the legislature has the authority to regulate, by law, firearms at higher education institutions.” Again, the burden falls on the Board to ensure that “reasonable means such as mechanical, electronic, x-ray, or similar devices are used to detect firearms, ammunition, or dangerous weapons.”
The situation has become so ingrained that students attending Utah’s public universities are permitted to request roommates who are not licenced to carry a concealed gun. Thirteen colleges and universities in Utah don’t ban firearms as of the latest count, August 2013.
The state also has particularly relaxed requirements for obtaining a concealed carry permit; anyone who wishes to do so need only sit through a four-hour training class, no range practice necessary.
Just next door is the only other state that as of now requires that public universities and colleges don’t interfere with the right to carry a concealed weapon.
In Regents of the University of Colorado v. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, decided March 5, 2012, the SCC claimed that the Board of Regents was in violation of the Colorado Concealed Carry Act of 2003 by taking steps to regulate concealed carry of licenced firearms on college campuses, using the “broad language” of the act to stake its claim. The SCC got its way, overturning the ban that had blocked a way to load up campuses with guns since 1970.
Now that the ban has been dismantled by the NRA-backed Republican legislature, students can bring a concealed gun garnished with the proper permit into their college classrooms. The law also clearly stipulates that while faculty have the right to ask if the student is concealing a handgun, the student has the right not to answer this question. It is likely the ban will be revisitedas a ballot initiative in the 2014 state elections.
In a state that has suffered some of the most nightmarish mass shootings in the country’s history, such lust for locked and loaded legislation is particularly bewildering. This is the same state where in 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and one teacher in what is still the deadliest mass shooting to take place in an American high school. Just months after the campus gun ban was lifted, a University of Colorado Denver graduate student murdered 12 people in a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Only this past December, 18-year-old Karl Pierson fired six rounds into Arapahoe High School, killing a fellow classmate.
Effective July 1, 2011 firearms became permissible on higher education campuses with an “enhanced” concealed carry permit. All that is required to obtain this special permit is the endorsement of “an instructional course in the safe handling and use of firearms offered by an instructor certified by a nationally recognized organization that customarily offers firearms training.”
All 33 of Mississippi’s public and private colleges and universities are fair game for the permit, although certain loopholes in the law have allowed some universities to ban concealed carry in select areas of campus including dorms, dining halls, and event centers.
Students across the country are overwhelmingly opposed to lifting gun bans on college campuses. A study conducted by Ball University in 2013 found that 78 percent of students surveyed at 15 colleges in the Midwest wanted to keep guns off school grounds.
The single exception to this rule is Virginia’s Liberty University, that bastion of mega conservative teachings founded by fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell (the president since Falwell’s death in 2007 has been his son Jerry Falwell Jr.). In April 2013 the university’s board of trustees approved a policy that allows students and faculty to carry guns on campus, so long as their permits are approved by the Liberty University Police Department. Before the university’s weapons ban was lifted, civilians could only wield “prop weapons” on campus, and even then only with the permission of the university’s police force.
Liberty general counsel David Corry told the school paper, Liberty Champion, “I think this is probably the trend for a lot of schools, to not want to be set up to be weapon-free zones, to look like attractive targets, and this is one step to help ensure that they don’t look like that, and [that] they aren’t setting themselves up to be vulnerable.”
Eight months after the ban was lifted, Liberty University security officer A.S. Mulberry fatally shot 19-year-old student Joshua Hathaway in a women’s dormitory on campus. Mulberry claims he acted in self-defense after Hathaway tried to attack him with a mallet. The charges against Mulberry were later dropped.