Victory in the West, Battles in the South
A News21 analysis of on-campus shootings found 87 of them, or 60 percent, have happened in the past decade. Campus carry supporters nationwide said in interviews that the increase in shootings partly influenced their desire to bring concealed guns on campus.
SCC formed after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Mueller argues an armed student could’ve stopped the shooter without waiting for police to arrive.
“The confrontation would have ended a lot sooner,” he said. “Lives would have been saved.”
Campus carry supporters point to the legal doctrine of preemption, which says only the state legislature can regulate guns in the state. No other government in the state, such as cities and counties, can make gun rules. Many states exempt K-12 schools and some public buildings from concealed carry of guns.
Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi and Wisconsin — and now Idaho — have laws on the books that allow students to conceal weapons on campus.
The first state to finalize campus carry was Utah in 2006. University of Utah continued banning guns on campus despite the state’s 2004 preemption law. Two years after the law passed, a lawsuit against then-state Attorney General Mark L. Shurtleff led to colleges allowing concealed guns.
A 2011 lawsuit by a division of the Oregon Firearms Federation led to a state court striking the Oregon state education board’s ban against guns on campuses.
The victories are not complete. As in other campus carry states, Oregon universities insist they can limit guns in buildings, and the Oregon state board bans guns in event centers, classrooms and dorms.
In Utah, students may ask not to live with gun owners in dorms, and universities can ban guns from certain meeting rooms.
Kansas' 2013 campus carry law included an optional four-year delay before licensees could bring concealed guns on campus. Arkansas’ law allowing only faculty and staff to carry requires colleges annually renew any on-campus bans.
The laws on campus carry in other states vary, from letting students store guns in their cars to leaving policy decisions to the schools.
Colorado courts sided with SCC in 2010 and 2012, ruling the state’s public universities and colleges must allow concealed weapons permit holders to bring guns on campus. The courts said college gun bans violated a 2003 state law giving the legislature sole gun regulation control.
Colorado colleges still regulate guns in dorms, dining halls and event centers. University of Colorado, Boulder, designated dorm space for gun owners, but no students have requested it, said campus spokesman Bronson Hilliard. In Colorado, concealed carry licensees must be at least 21.
SCC’s focus next year is Texas, Mueller said. As of September, students could store guns in cars on campus. The group plans to have members write and call state lawmakers to demand more places on campus that allow concealed guns.
The law shouldn’t block licensed gun owners — including college students — from carrying on campuses, Mueller said. In some places, crossing the street could mean a law-abiding gun owner is now on campus and breaking the law.
“If you’re responsible off campus, you’re going to be responsible on campus,” Mueller said. “Likewise, bad people don't change. They’re bad off campus, and they’re bad on campus.”
“We’re not interested in every college student carrying,” he said. “There might be a lot of people who might never want to use or bring their firearms. If that’s the case, that’s cool. We don’t think anyone should have to exercise rights they don’t want to. But on the other hand, we don’t think they get a veto over the rights of others.”
Encouraging students to own guns raises questions for some firearms researchers.
Crime research consultant Tom Gabor said he believes letting students possess guns in more places is too risky and goes against dozens of public health and criminal justice studies.
People in the 18- to 24-year-old age range are more impulsive and at greater risk for suicide, said Gabor, who taught criminology at the University of Ottawa for 30 years and studied firearms for 20 years.
Gabor cites statistics from a 1986 New England Journal of Medicine article — an article contested by gun rights groups — that said for every one time someone shoots and kills another in a home in self-defense, about 43 other home gun deaths result from suicide, murder or accident.
“People will thwart an attacker, but I imagine many more reports of death and disabling injuries,” he said.
He sees campus carry as a gun industry move to gain customers.
“It’s very mercenary, in my view, to profit at any cost and put young people at risk in school,” Gabor said. “More people carrying, bringing guns on college campuses, in public venues, grocery stores, makes people feel more afraid than providing them security.”
Capitols and courts
Marion P. Hammer calls opposition to campus carry “nothing more than an attempt to make gun-free zones, where murderers come on campus and kill kids."
Hammer, a former NRA president and the organization's longtime lobbyist in Florida, said that NRA will use the state’s preemption law to push state legislators to authorize concealed carry on campuses.
“Students can't (carry) right now, but we’re going to fix that," said Hammer, one of 76 NRA board members.
On July 30, the Florida Carry lobby lost its suit against the University of Florida over the university’s guns-in-cars policy and whether colleges must let guns in campus-owned housing statewide. The lobby will appeal, according to its website.
Florida Carry, which is unrelated to SCC, has a reputation for using the preemption law to successfully sue cities, counties and colleges over their gun bans. Last year, the lobby successfully sued the University of North Florida to get guns allowed in cars on college grounds.
The NRA led the campus carry effort in Idaho, where the NRA state lobbyist was a regular at bill hearings. Though the NRA has been a major player in Idaho and Florida, it usually takes a supporting role on campus carry, NRA board member and former lobbyist Todd Rathner said.
“The NRA is a huge organization, and second to none in protecting gun rights. It gets spread thin,” Rathner said. “There’s a need for these (single-issue) groups. They help maintain focus.”
The NRA’s press office declined to comment for this story.
SCC and a grassroots group called Ohioans for Concealed Carry cited Ohio's pre-emption law in a July lawsuit against Ohio State University that seeks to allow campus carry there. The trial is expected to start next year.
SCC has also threatened to sue Georgia after a letter from the state attorney general’s office declared campus carry still illegal, SCC Southeast Director Robert Eagar said.
The groups say campus carry is allowed by Georgia’s Safe Carry Protection Act, which critics have called “guns everywhere.” The law, which took effect July 1, allows permit holders to bring concealed guns into K-12 schools, bars, churches and more.