Special Report

Self-Defense 101

One way to combat school shootings: allow more guns on campus.

By 3.31.08

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With school violence on the rise and campus shootings becoming increasingly more common, some states are rethinking their gun laws. Instead of putting more useless restrictions on guns, many of these states are looking into the possibility of allowing people with valid permits to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.

Arizona State Senate Bill 1214, for example, would allow permit-holders of at least 21 years of age to carry concealed firearms at K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Idaho, and Washington all have similar concealed-carry legislation pending.

Currently, Utah is the only state that allows guns at all public institutions of higher learning. In fact, state law makes it illegal for public colleges and universities to create their own restrictions regarding concealed carry. At least 11 institutions, including all nine public colleges in Utah and Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Virginia, permit concealed carry on their premises.

The University of Utah in Salt Lake City had banned firearms on campus until the state's supreme court struck down the ban in late 2006. Undaunted, the university is currently fighting in federal courts to reinstate the ban.

State law in Colorado leaves the decision up to institutions whether to allow concealed carry on their campuses. So far, the Colorado State University is the only public institution in the state to allow properly registered individuals to carry concealed weapons.

W. Scott Lewis, the media spokesperson for the non-profit organization Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, reported that since allowing concealed carry on campus, the aforementioned universities have not reported a single gun theft, incident of gun violence, or gun accident.

"There is no evidence to suggest that allowing concealed carry on college campuses will lead to more violence," said Lewis.

CRITICS WORRY THAT loosening restrictions on concealed carry on campuses would put guns in the hands of "just any college student," but this is not the case. Many students already own guns and use them responsibly but aren't allowed to bring them on campus.

In the 40 states that currently allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, individuals can take their handguns to shopping malls, grocery stores, office buildings, cinemas, banks, churches, and most public places. None of these states have experienced an increase in crimes or accidents involving guns since concealed carry became legal.

Obtaining a concealed carry permit isn't an easy process. Most states require individuals to go through extensive background checks, take and pass a concealed carry safety course and pay a steep permit fee. To obtain a concealed carry permit in Utah, one must be at least 21 years of age, have no criminal record -- everything from violent crime to the abuse of illegal substances is disqualifying -- and be mentally competent.

Most states require an individual to be at least 21 years of age to obtain a concealed carry permit. But in Indiana, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, and the Dakotas, the age requirement is only 18. What is most interesting about these states is that, according to FBI and DOJ crime stats for 2006, they all have very low crime rates. In fact, Maine, North and South Dakota, and New Hampshire are four out of the five low crime U.S. states, and Montana has the 10th lowest recorded crime rate in the country.

It is clear in the case of these states that more lenient concealed carry laws are not contributing to higher crime rates and more violence. Numerous studies conducted by the Journal of Legal Studies, Florida Department of Justice Statistics, Florida Department of State, Texas Department of Public Safety, and the U.S. Census Bureau have reconfirmed this.

Several sources report that concealed handgun license holders are about five times less likely than non-license holders to commit violent crimes.

ANTHONY RYAN, Colorado State University's SCCC representative, first became involved in the organization when researching concealed carry laws regarding colleges and universities. He is convinced that more guns do not cause more violence.

"It [concealed carry on campus] certainly has not produced the opposite effect as opponents believe it will. If it truly makes us safer or not, we don't know," he admitted. However, Ryan said that there is sufficient evidence to believe that allowing concealed weapons on campuses could "evens the odds" of survival in a tragic event, such as the shootings that took place at Virginia Polytechnic Institute or Northern Illinois University.

Tiffany Pickett is a student at Westminster College in Utah. She said she owns a firearm and has a concealed carry permit. Because Westminster is a private college, it does not have to follow state mandates. Westminster does not allow concealed carry on campus but that doesn't prevent Pickett from trying to change regulations at her school.

Pickett said she thinks that allowing concealed carry on campus will make people think twice about committing acts of violence. "At Virginia Tech, out of the 32 killed, 20 were over the age of 21 and may have qualified for a concealed weapon permit. If that many would have been carrying [a weapon] do you think 32 people would be dead right now? Probably not," she said.

Jim Manley, also a campus representative for SCCC, attends the University of Colorado at Boulder. He argues that gun bans offer the "illusion of safety," which people find "comforting" right up until "a tragedy like Virginia Tech shatters the illusion."

AND THEN WHAT? "The question going forward," said Manley, "is whether we will rebuild the illusion with more gun control, or endeavor to create schools that are actually safer by allowing law-abiding guns owners to carry on campus."

Advocates of concealed carry on campus aren't trying to re-create the Wild West. Rather, they insist that they are merely trying to make their colleges less vulnerable to violent rampages. "The perpetrators of mass shootings do not respect 'gun-free' zones any more than they respect human life," Manley reminded. So: "Banning concealed carry on campus effectively bans self-defense."

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