In Massachusetts, state law prohibits the carrying of firearms on the grounds of any college without special permission. Like most of the gun laws in Massachusetts, this law exists because people allowed their emotions and feelings dictate what to impose on the masses. Let us take a step back and look at what this law and concurrent University policy actually does, and whether or not it makes sense to unilaterally ban the carry of firearms by all persons other than police officers on campus property.
In Massachusetts, residents over the age of 21 may apply for a license to carry. Many are granted this license without restriction, which allows them to carry a gun concealed in the vast majority of the state. One of the few places you can’t carry without being in violation of the law is “on the grounds of any elementary or secondary school, college or university,” according to state law. This of course precludes these people who are licensed to and often do carry these guns almost everywhere in the state from carrying onto the 20,000-plus person city of the University of Massachusetts if they don’t want to end up in prison, or at the very least expelled and no longer with a gun license. What this doesn’t mean is that there is any physical barrier preventing those who don’t wish to follow the law or those with malicious intent from carrying a gun onto campus.
Advocates of this law as well as school policy say that UMass is a very safe place with an excellent police force, and they would be correct. UMPD does a very good job and trains very well, and UMass is an exceptionally safe place, as are the surrounding towns. However, being a generally safe place with a good police department isn’t a valid reason to prevent all adults who lawfully carry a gun on a daily basis from continuing to serve as their own protector once they enter some magical bubble. Likewise, a police officer will be the first one to say they can’t be everywhere at once.
There are many irrational fears and ideas about what it would mean to have a concealed carry-friendly campus. The first of these is that if students and professors were allowed to carry guns on campus, this would somehow open up a huge influx of guns onto school grounds. Due to the 21-year-old age restriction, lack of residency and the already low rates of firearms licenses in Massachusetts, only a handful of students would ultimately actually carry at UMass. There is another irrational fear about accidents. Those who are serious enough to carry a gun on a daily basis are among the most responsible in the gun community. The majority of the students driving cars amongst thousands of pedestrians and texting are an exponentially greater threat to public safety than holstered guns on campus could ever be. Remember when you are out in town you are likely always amongst a few people carrying guns, and they don’t just “go off.”
The most absurd argument frequently made is that in the terribly unlikely event a student had to fire a gun in a crowded area there could be crossfire. This is the point where one must ask oneself a simple question: Is a chance of crossfire for a chance of stopping something awful really worse than a guarantee of nothing being able to stop the unthinkable? Unfortunately, these terrible events only take seconds or minutes, and it is not realistic to assume the police department will necessarily be able to interrupt any given event within seconds. The more likely event one must remember is that people may be assaulted on an individual basis on their way to or from school, or on any area of the school grounds, and adults should be allowed to protect themselves.
It would not be impossible to implement a policy allowing for concealed carry on the campus. While a change in the law and school policy would ultimately be ideal, Massachusetts law does provide for “the written authorization of the board or officer in charge” to make individual exceptions. This is technically the same policy which must be followed for items such as pepper spray. It would not be unreasonable for a system to be put in place to allow students and professors to be further vetted by an authority such as the UMPD, and then have their ability to carry a firearm extended to campus property.
Personal defense doesn’t need to be political or emotional. A common sense approach must be made when it comes to allowing people to protect themselves. Would a small handful of students and professors who carry guns on a regular basis having that ability extended to campus really make UMass a more hostile environment, despite no barrier existing that prevents armed criminals from being on campus? I don’t believe it does, and I don’t believe that conclusion would be made by many who look at the situation objectively. Gun owner or not, it is important to not let common sense go by the wayside in this increasingly emotionally charged political world.
Michael Ball is the co-founder of the UMass Gun Club. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.