A bill that would allow guns on state university and community college campuses has passed the state Senate Judiciary Committee, initiating a bitter philosophical shoot-out.
Senate Bill 1474, sponsored by Sen. Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu City) would allow faculty and students over 21 years of age to carry concealed weapons onto campuses if they have a permit.
However, school officials may continue to ban guns from buildings and stadiums by posting signs and providing gun lockers — a potentially expensive provision.
Critics have decried the measure.
“I’m absolutely opposed to allowing students to carry guns on campus,” said Tom Loeffler, a board member for Gila Community College. He said allowing guns on campus would hinder the free expression of ideas.
Larry Stephenson, president of the GCC board agreed with Loeffler that guns do not belong on the community college campus.
“The board has not taken an official position yet,” he said, “I have put this on the agenda for the meeting on Thursday, Feb. 16 and will communicate our position to Sen. Allen.”
However, the bill has support in the Legislature.
“I will probably end up voting for it, but I haven’t made up my mind,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. “I don’t believe this will cause more harm on campus.” Allen said guns are not the problem, people are.
All three state university presidents, their police chiefs, student unions, and the Arizona Community College President’s Council (ACCPC) wrote strongly worded letters in opposition to SB1474.
ASU president Michael Crow wrote: “Can you imagine a crowded college lecture hall in which one student pulls a handgun and fires a shot, then a dozen more students untrained in the use of firearms and how to handle potentially deadly situations all pull out their guns? Innocent people would be caught in a deadly crossfire of panicked students firing in every direction.
“And what does the SWAT team do when it arrives? How do they know which of a dozen or more armed and possibly firing shooters is the bad guy? Or do they take out everyone with a gun?”
John Haeger, president of Northern Arizona University wrote: “Allowing firearms on Northern Arizona University’s campuses jeopardizes the safety of our students, faculty and staff and disrupts our educational mission. No one on our campus has requested to exercise the freedom to bear arms on campus. None of our visitors has felt the need to be armed when coming to our campus.”
Eugene Sander, president of the University of Arizona wrote: “Last year, the law enforcement community was united and spoke vigorously in their opposition to the gun legislation. Bringing guns on campus creates enormous problems for law enforcement responsible for protecting the campus, which is why all the university police chiefs and most city police chiefs in Arizona will again this year speak out against this bad idea.”
The three police chiefs oppose the law for numerous reasons.
Citing the International Association of campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), 90 percent of college students victimized by violent crime experienced attacks off campus.
A Justice Department study, Guns at College, determined that students who own firearms participate in riskier behavior than those who don’t. Add alcohol to the mix and the police chiefs fear more injuries.
Moreover, they say student gun owners will not receive enough training to prepare them for a crisis situation.
“Law enforcement intervention should be done by law enforcement personnel who have been specifically selected and trained to perform these duties, not by individuals who may have marginally completed an eight-hour, non-comprehensive course years ago or other marginal training or training equivalency and possibly have not practiced with the firearm they are now carrying,” wrote the three police chiefs.
Michael Kearns, chair of the ACCPC, agreed with the police chiefs.
“The Concealed and Carry Weapons permit referred to in SB1474 requires little to no training and in no way assures us that holders will have the expertise to safely address a security issue on campus grounds or inside a classroom,” he wrote.
Yet violence on campuses, such as the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, has prompted many people to push to allow guns on campus.
Advocates of gun rights cite the Second Amendment which says, “... the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Sen. Allen says she has always been a strong advocate of Second Amendment rights — in fact, her husband has owned a gun throughout their marriage.
She has had to consider gun legislation before. Whenever she has, she wonders at the moral state of the country.
“It’s not the gun that commits the crime, it’s the person,” she said, “We need to start talking about the violence in society — how do we help those that turn to violence as the answer?”
She reported that professors and students have written her asking her to pass the bill so they can protect themselves in case of attack.
Loeffler said he supports the right of U.S. citizens to own a gun, but he wonders if guns would limit discussions and the exchange of ideas.
As an example of what could happen, Loeffler told the story of when he worked as a government employee. His job forbade him from accepting more than a cup of coffee from anyone. One day, a deputy in the police force took him to lunch. When it came time to pay the check, the deputy insisted on paying.
Loeffler explained his work’s policy. After a brief discussion, the deputy pulled out his gun, put it on the table and insisted on paying. Although done in jest, Loeffler took the situation seriously and let the deputy pay.
“If this happened in an academic situation, how would that affect the discussion?” Loeffler said.