Concealed carry on campus: the threat or the solution?

With the rise in on-campus shootings across the United States, many colleges are changing their laws to allow students and faculty to carry guns on campus.

Photo by Michael Schumacher (AP/Amarillo Globe News).

A controversial topic that has been constant in American culture for years hit a substantial turning point this month.  The debate over the use of guns on college campuses has been thrust into the spotlight with the Umpqua Community College shooting that happened just a few weeks ago.  On the morning of October 1, 2015, a shooter walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon killing nine people and injuring seven before engaging in a gun battle with police.  The shooting at Umpqua was the 45th school shooting just this year in the United States.  Further, statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, estimate that around 400,000 people have died by firearms in the United States over the course of thirteen years.  As the list of shootings on campus gets longer, legislators are moving in both directions in making changes to state laws.

In this year alone, legislatures in approximately fifteen states have introduced bills to allow for the carrying of concealed weapons on campus.

The law in Oregon regarding guns on campus has an interesting history.  In 2011, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against the Oregon University system, which wanted to ban all firearms on college campuses.  The law as it stands currently is that public colleges can ban firearms from certain places on campus, such as classrooms, student dorms, and other places, but not on campus in general.  Before the October 1st shooting at Umpqua Community College, the law in Oregon allowing concealed weapons on campus was fairly unique.  However, the shooting has had a significant influence on other states now contemplating changing their law.

In this year alone, legislatures in approximately fifteen states have introduced bills to allow for the carrying of concealed weapons on campus.  Although more states are choosing to make changes in recent months, support for allowing guns on campus has been strong since the shooting approximately eight years ago at Virginia Tech.  Just like the shooting at Umpqua Community College this month, the shooting at Virginia Tech involved a shooter walking in during a class and killing thirty two people before taking his own life.  These shootings are only part of a significant increase in the amount of shootings on college campuses in the past few years.

The increase in campus shootings in the past few years has inspired action by many states.  North Carolina law changed more than two years ago to allow concealed handguns on the campuses of public colleges and campuses.  However, there are important limitations to the law.  The person carrying the gun must have a concealed weapons permit and the gun has to be locked inside a compartment in a vehicle that is also locked.  States are not only moving to allow guns on public college campuses, but also are moving towards allowing guns in campus buildings.

Almost two weeks ago, Wisconsin legislators proposed a bill that would allow students and faculty to carry concealed guns into buildings on campus.  Guns are already allowed on different parts of campus, but are currently banned from buildings on some campuses.  However, not all citizens in Wisconsin are in favor of the change.  Additionally, more than one public college in the state has expressed its disapproval of the proposed change.  Conor Smyth, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Technical College system stated, “Classrooms and buildings on college campuses are places where students and faculty sometimes engage in emotionally charged discourse and debates. Allowing armed participants in this type of discussion has the potential to lead to serious negative consequences.”

For those who support having guns on campus, the main point is that the firearms themselves do not kill people; it is the human who is pulling the trigger to the weapon. Supporters supplement this proposition with the idea that criminals will still get access to firearms.  Therefore, banning guns will only be effective for those who are law-abiding citizens anyway.

For those who oppose having guns on campus the shooting at Umpqua Community College should have the opposite effect, and not encourage more of what is behind the violence on campuses around the country.  The main point of this argument is that more protections are needed to stop guns from getting into the hands of those with a vendetta or suffering from mental health issues.  Opponents of allowing guns on campus argue for more thorough background checks and mental screenings in order to purchase a firearm legally.

Wisconsin is not alone in its proposed changes; just three days after the Wisconsin bill was announced, Tennessee lawmakers began drafting their own bill for their state.  Despite this, state legislators are not the only ones with a voice in the debate.  Students and faculty at public universities and colleges around the country have expressed their dissatisfaction with the proposed changes to allow guns in more locations on campus.

Instead of making it easier to carry guns on campus, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 717 into law just a few weeks ago. 

California has reacted very differently to the Oregon shooting than the majority of states.  Instead of making it easier to carry guns on campus, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 717 into law just a few weeks ago.  The law now bans any concealed carry on public college campuses in the state.  The law before this change was that guns were banned from campus, but there was an exception for concealed carry permits. California legislator and sponsor of the bill, Lois Wolk explained her view behind the legislation as, “It is our strong belief that law enforcement truly are the ones who need to be in control of arms on the campus.  And they are the only ones on campus that should be armed.”

Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees that this was the best solution.  During a deliberation in the legislature, Senator John Moorlach suggested that allowing for concealed carry on campus could be “a very strong way to curtail some of the nonsense that’s going on” with campus sexual assaults.  Despite the opposition, the bill was signed by Governor Brown into state law.

The campaign for the presidential election in 2016 has been heating up, with candidates taking different stances on allowing guns on campus.

 Although the current debate is raging on in states around the country, those involved in politics on a federal level are also not staying out of the debate.  The campaign for the presidential election in 2016 has been heating up, with candidates taking different stances on allowing guns on campus.  While Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson have been very outspoken in favor of allowing guns on campus, Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders have come to the aid of the opposition.

Although there appears to be a line drawn between Republicans and Democrats running for office, the American public has been a little more decisive.  In the most recent poll, fifty five percent of Americans believe there needs to be more regulation of guns, while thirty three percent believe the laws are sufficient as they are.  The issue of guns on campus has been a clear dividing line between Americans for many years.  However, what is unclear is the question of whether this country has finally reached a turning point on the issue.

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About Olivia Bouffard, Staff Writer (12 Articles)
Olivia Bouffard is a 2016 graduate and served as a Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She graduated from UNC-Wilmington with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2013. Following her first year of law school, Olivia participated in a study abroad program at Cambridge University. During the Fall 2014 semester she interned with Judge Stanford L. Steelman, Jr. at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Olivia worked with the Department of Public Instruction as a legal intern with the State Board of Education during the summer before her third year.