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Guns On Campus: Five Of The Most Dangerous States To Attend College

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The massacre of nine people at Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon last week has drawn attention to the state’s policy of allowing guns on college campuses. Contrary to what pro-gun advocates claimed in the minutes and hours after the shooting, UCC is not a “gun-free zone.” That’s because, in 2011, an Oregon court of appeals ruled that gun bans on public campuses exceeded the university’s authority. 

“Oregon law actually forces colleges to allow guns on campus grounds,” Erika Soto Lamb, communications director at Everytown for Gun Safety, told The Guardian.

But Oregon is not an outlier.

In the wake of tragic shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, a group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus formed to advocate for the “right” of students and faculty to carry concealed handguns at colleges and universities in the United States. More specifically, the groups were actually the product of the gun lobby, who organized and funded their activities. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and other pro-gun organizations had been lobbying for years to liberalize America’s concealed carry laws, and more recently they set their targets squarely on America’s universities.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Violence, at least 19 states introduced legislation to allow concealed firearms on college campuses in 2013, and at least 14 states introduced similar measures in the 2014 legislative session. In 2015, Texas became the most recent state to allow concealed carry weapons on college campuses, bringing to nine the number of states that have passed laws permitting concealed firearms on campus. 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.

These laws have been passed in the face of strong opposition from university administrators, faculty and students alike. The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, a group fighting back against this dangerous push for more guns, has been building a coalition of educational institutions opposed to these new laws since they began trickling in through the state legislatures around 2008. To date, 370 colleges and universities in 42 states – 240 four-year colleges and universities and 130 community colleges and technical schools – have joined The Campaign to express their strong opposition to so-called “campus carry” laws. In addition, since December 10, 2014, 48 college Presidents have also joined The Campaign.

I’ve written about this issue previously on PublicHealthWatch, explaining why these laws are so dangerous. Parents are now catching on, and many are concerned about sending their kids off to college in states that not only allow guns on campus, but actually force public universities to permit concealed weapons on their campuses — regardless of what university administrators or campus safety officials think is the safest policy for their campus.

With that in mind, 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.

1. Idaho

On March 12, 2013, Gov. C.L. Otter signed Senate Bill 1254 into law. The measure 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 estimated that it would be forced to spend around $600,000 annually to fortify campus security to deal with the influx of weapons. Similarly, Boise State University estimated that it would 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.

2. Utah

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.” Yet even though they have no say in whether or not guns are allowed on campus, the burden falls on the Board of Regents to ensure that “reasonable means such as mechanical, electronic, x-ray, or similar devices are used to detect firearms, ammunition, or dangerous weapons.”

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.

3. Colorado

Just next door is another 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 licensed 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.

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.

4. Mississippi

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.

5. Wisconsin

In 2011, Republican Governor Scott Walker signed into law a series of sweeping changes to the state’s gun laws. At the time, Wisconsin prohibited the carrying on concealed firearms.  The 2011 Senate Bill 93 changed things in many areas, including allowing concealed weapons on college campuses (public and private).  In fact, according to the law, colleges and universities must allow concealed carry permit holders to bring their guns on campus. Although the law contains a provision that allows colleges to post signs prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons in specific buildings on campus, they are not allowed to ban firearms from campus.

This is strikingly similar to Oregon’s campus carry law, but obtaining a concealed carry permit is far easier in Wisconsin than Oregon. Wisconsin is classified as a “no-discretion shall-issue” state, which means that law enforcement officials are required to issue a concealed carry permit to anyone who meets certain minimal statutory requirements (e.g., that the person is not a convicted felon or mentally incompetent). Under the law, the licensing authority has no discretion to deny a permit if the person meets these basic requirements.

We already know that places with more guns have more gun violence. And we also know that so-called “gun-free zones” are actually among the safest places in the country. If it were the case that “gun-free zones” attract killers because of their susceptibility to armed violence, we would expect places like schools to carry a high burden of youth homicides. A 2011 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, however, found that “the percentage of youth homicides occurring at school remained at less than 2 percent of the total number of youth homicides.” Furthermore, less than 1% of all nonfatal firearm violence occurs at schools.

To put the improbability of mass deaths occurring at school in context, consider that the total number of handgun deaths in the United States (1980-2006) was about 32,000 per year. By comparison, since 1980, 297 people have been killed in school shootings. This amounts to roughly 9 deaths per year at school. The same goes for college campuses: In 2003, for example, there were 11,920 total gun homicides in the United States, but only 10 total murders on the nation’s college campuses.

Guns will make our campuses less-safe places. With campus carry, social, political or academic interactions will have the potential to explode in lethal violence. We knew that before campus-carry laws were passed, and we know it now. I could go over all of the arguments, and I could show numbers, piles of evidence and case studies all confirming these facts.

But the campus-carry debate has never been about logical, evidence-based, argumentation. Lawmakers did not examine the arguments of campus safety experts nor anyone else because the “debate” was not about reason but about interests – the legislators’ interests and those of the gun-lobbying groups that support them. And now, these lawmakers — very few of whom will ever find themselves on a college campus — have enacted laws that will fundamentally change the campus environment for those of us who work or attend classes there everyday. And they’ve left us to deal with the consequences.



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