Students advocate for concealed weapons rights

By Zachary Weishar

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Courtesy ednewscolorado.org

Courtesy ednewscolorado.org

It was an April morning at first like any other. Students filed into lecture halls and small discussion rooms at what is, more or less, a typical American state university. Then, around 7:15 a.m., a student walked into West Ambler Johnston Hall on the campus of Virginia Tech University and changed everything for students at the Blacksburg, Va. school and across the country.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 33 students including gunman Seung-Hui Cho lost their lives, representatives from many states proposed legislation which would grant college students the right to carry concealed weapons on campus as a means of protection. Since the shootings at Virginia Tech, the majority of these bills have been quelled in various statehouses. However, Arizona, Georgia and Tennessee all have pending legislation that would allow concealed campus carry.

Currently, 30 states statutorily ban firearms on public college campuses. Of the remaining 20, 19 have no official stance on concealed weapons on campuses, instead allowing colleges to make their own decisions. The twentieth state, Utah, actually mandates that public colleges specifically give their students the right to carry a concealed handgun on campus.

In December 2009, the student senate at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. passed a resolution in support of concealed carry on campus. Supporting students gave reasons such as self-defense, constitutional rights and research showing concealed carry makes people safer.

“The general sentiment on our campus was very pro-concealed carry,” said Cooper Anderson, then the student body president. “It was very one-sided when we were debating the issue.”

The group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) describes itself as a grassroots organization started to support concealed carry efforts at colleges. The main goal of the group is to grant those individuals who already possess a license the right to carry concealed weapons on their respective college campuses. According to its website, the group boasts 42,000 members nationwide, and is composed of college students, professors, and college employees alike.

The group holds that the right to carry a concealed weapon on campus would better protect students from acts of gun violence that would otherwise leave them helpless.

This notion had some students at the University of Massachusetts up in arms. Sebastian Zapata, a sophomore political science major, did not see the logic in the argument that having more guns on campus would make it a safer place.

“Arming the student population would not necessarily make us safer,” he said, “and by doing so we would be taking law enforcement out of the hands of the proper authorities.”

Ervin Staub, a professor of psychology at UMass, is also against the idea of concealed campus carry.

“Studies have shown that the presence of even a picture of a gun makes people behave more aggressively,” he said.

Staub is the founding director of the Ph.D. concentration in the psychology of peace and violence, and has recently published a book titled “Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict, and Terrorism.”

“If you look around on college campuses, the frequency of violence is extremely low,” said Staub. “But research has shown that individuals who tend to be aggressive because of their prior life experience interpret certain behaviors as hostile to them and respond aggressively. But aggression can become fatal if you carry a gun.”

Proponents of campus carry cite existing statistics to argue their case. After a combined 100 semesters where campus carry has been legal, there has not been a single incidence of gun violence resulting directly from the right to carry on campus, according to crime statistics and reports from the affected schools cited by the organization.

Furthermore, the group points to the fact that none of the 40 states that currently allow concealed carry in any capacity have seen an increase in gun violence since implementing their laws, despite the fact that many people carry their weapons in public places.

These statistics did not sway sophomore building and construction technology major Patrick Carey’s viewpoint on the situation.

“Being one of the biggest party schools in the nation, where alcohol flows like water, and students often drink to the point of total inebriation, there would be many more gun related incidents on campus,” he said.

While there is little debate that drugs and alcohol are prevalent on many campuses nationwide, SCCC does not view this as an issue. They strongly uphold that they are not out to change the current regulations governing licensed concealed carry. The law currently prohibits anyone that is under the influence of drugs or alcohol from carrying a concealed weapon.

Zach Weishar can be reached at [email protected]