Campuses debate gun control issues

Not even a year after the most horrific school shooting in this country’s history, the debate has been brought back to college campuses.The debate as to whether students should be allowed to carry a concealed firearm into a college classroom has been a prevalent topic among special-interest groups, university administrators, lawmakers and students alike since that fateful April 16th morning in Blacksburg, Va.

The heart of the debate focuses on whether allowing concealed weapons in a classroom setting can save lives if a catastrophe such as the one at Virginia Tech happens again.

Since the tragedy, groups such as Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC) have sprouted around college campuses nationwide, advocating that students who are concealed handgun license holders should have the right to carry these concealed firearms into university buildings.

The group saw its membership climb in October, adding about 3,000 new student activists to put the group at 7,500 members through October, said W. Scott Lewis, SCCC’s spokesman. This spike in membership numbers coincided with an “empty holster” protest university representatives took part in Oct. 22 through Oct. 26. The protest took place at almost all of the 111 universities and colleges represented in the group and had students wearing empty gun holsters around their campuses. There is not a TCU chapter of SCCC. Texas universities with SCCC chapters include the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Baylor University, Texas Tech University, the University of North Texas, Texas State University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Stephen F. Austin State University and Angelo State University.

The discussion has even made its way to Texas State where, according to a recent article in the University Star, the campus newspaper, a resolution presented at an Associated Student Government meeting calling for the state legislature to allow concealed weapons to be carried to class.

Lewis, an Austin resident, said critics may be misinformed as to what the group’s objective might be in regard to who should have the right to carry a concealed firearm into a classroom.

“This is not a debate about keeping guns out of the hands of immature, substance-abusing college students,” Lewis said. “This is a debate about allowing licensed individuals – age 21 and above, in most states – to carry their concealed firearms on college campuses, the same way they carry them virtually everywhere else.”

Even though the discussion has become more lively as of late, university officials such as Chancellor Victor Boschini know the serious repercussions that could accompany such a movement.

“I would be opposed to their being allowed to do this in a group living environment,” Boschini said. “My gut just tells me, from 20-plus years experience in a campus environment, that this is a recipe for disaster.”

Abbie Spangler, the founder of Protest Easy Guns – a grassroots movement “focused on protesting lax U.S. gun laws, which provide criminals and dangerous individuals easy access to guns,” she said – agreed with Boschini that the results would be dangerous if they were to be put in place.

Demonstrators with Spangler’s group have organized lie-ins involving 32 people lying on the ground for several minutes – a symbolic protest remembering the 32 people killed in the Virginia Tech shootings and the amount of time it took for Seung Hui Cho to obtain his gun.

“Our protest movement believes that students should not have guns on college campuses,” Spangler said. “That is completely ridiculous.”

Despite the strong push on the part of Spangler and Protest Easy Guns, she said in a Nov. 1 Chronicle of Higher Education article that the level of enthusiasm for this movement was not on par with past influential movements on college campuses.

“Students just don’t seem to be caught up in this issue the way they were in the civil rights movement,” Spangler said in the article. “I don’t know whether things will change because of these demonstrations and other things.”

Even with such strong opposition to the idea, the push from SCCC state delegates and licensed concealed firearm holders alike has only intensified since Gov. Rick Perry’s proclamation shortly after the Virginia Tech shootings that concealed-weapon license holders should have the right to carry their firearms anywhere in the state. Perry would even go so far as to sign a bill a little more than two weeks after the shootings that would prohibit law enforcement officials from confiscating weapons from license holders in emergency situations.

“It’s time for us to have that debate in Texas from the standpoint of whether or not a law-abiding citizen in the state of Texas can take their appropriately licensed and permitted weapon anywhere in this state, whether it’s on a college campus or wherever,” Perry said April 30. “A person ought to be able to carry their weapon with them anywhere in the state if they are licensed and they have gone through the training.

“The idea that you’re going to exempt them from a particular place is nonsense.”

Cold Hard Facts

In Texas, an individual 21 or older must meet 15 requirements before successfully obtaining a concealed handgun license, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Some of the requirements include: the individual must not have any felony convictions, must not have any family violence convictions of any kind, must not have any Class A or Class B misdemeanor convictions within the last five years, must not be chemically dependent, must not be disqualified if a court ruling presents the person as being a danger to himself/herself or to others, must pass state and federal fingerprint and background checks, must pass a 10-hour training course on the applicable laws and appropriate use and must pass written and shooting tests.

Lewis said the individuals dedicated enough to go through the application process are not the ones anti-gun activists should be worrying about.

“The people who meet all of these requirements and pay approximately $250 to take the course and apply for the license are not contributing in any measurable degree to the problem of gun violence in America,” he said.

According to information gathered from Sept. 1, 2006, to Aug. 31 by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Tarrant County issued 6,561 concealed handgun licenses – good for 7.22 percent of the nearly 91,000 issued licenses by the state during that time period. The totals were good for third in the state, behind only Harris and Dallas Counties. The county would also finish tied for third with Bexar County and behind Harris and Dallas Counties in license denials at 23, or almost 6 percent of the state’s concealed handgun license denials.

Of the 90,867 licenses issued, 2,929 were issued to people ages 21 to 23, which was good for 3.22 percent of the licenses issued during the yearlong period, according to these same Texas DPS statistics. These figures dwarf the 392 applicants and the 40 people ages 21 to 23 – which totaled a much larger chunk of concentrated data at 10.21 percent – whom were denied a license.

Even with the statistics being as concentrated as they are for college-age students in Tarrant County, legislation in the 2007-2008 Official Student Handbook indicates the use, storage or possession of weapons or devices potentially causing harm to others “may result in immediate expulsion in addition to the filing of criminal charges.”

“There is no benefit to having a firearm on campus unless you are a member of our police force,” Boschini said.

Open Your Eyes

The discussion has trickled onto the lawn of TCU among students who support and oppose the idea of concealed weapons on campus.

Students such as Chris Benavente, who is an active member of the National Rifle Association, said gun owners are law-abiding, responsible individuals, and thus should allow for concealed carrying on campus. Benavente, a senior political science major from Spring, said his strong views on the Second Amendment through his NRA affiliation and what it means has shaped his perspective on the issue.

“I support in protecting our Second Amendment right,” Benavente said. “Your right to defend yourself, your family and your position is important, and is the most basic right we have in America.”

Other students such as James Michael Russell disagree. Russell, a sophomore religion and anthropology major from Fort Worth, said he disagrees with Perry’s viewpoints on concealed weapons being allowed in all public places.

He offered his opinion on what should be done to gun control, not just what should be done in regard to college campuses.

“Get rid of all of them,” said Russell, a member of Young Democrats and TCU Peace Action. “If we don’t do something that extreme to limit the violence, what are we going to do?”

By implementing gun-free zones for potential victims at universities such as TCU, officials are essentially creating safe zones for potential criminals, said John Lott, an author who wrote the books “More Guns, Less Crime” and “The Bias Against Guns.”

“A decade ago I think hardly anybody would have questioned the idea of gun-free zones,” said Lott, a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland. “But I think now, it’s still a minority. You have a number of people who are concerned about this and I think eventually it’s going to dawn on people that these multiple victim public killings are all occurring, anything of any reasonable sign, is taking place where guns are banned.”

There is no such thing as a 100-percent gun-free zone at the University of Utah or Brigham Young University. The two Utah institutions, both of which are affiliated with TCU through the Mountain West Conference, allow people to carry concealed weapons under a one-of-a-kind state legislation found nowhere else in the country. Sixteen states have placed a specific ban on guns on college campuses, compared to the 38-state total that bans firearms on school grounds teaching kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Adam Snell, BYU’s SCCC delegate, said the policy has not had a negative effect on BYU or other institutions in Utah.

“Other Utah campuses where concealed carry is allowed have not had any problems since the policy was implemented,” said Snell, a senior political science major from Mesa, Ariz. “Many people claim that if students were allowed to carry and a gunman came on campus that the whole campus would turn into a shooting gallery with everyone shooting at everyone.”

If there were to be a repeat of the Virginia Tech tragedy, guaranteed protection by way of campus security is something that is less than a guarantee at any given college campus, Lott said.

“It would be great if one can go and guarantee protection some other way, but you can’t,” Lott said. “Even if you increased the number of police tenfold from what you had, you still wouldn’t be able to cover the entire campus.

“The big thing that affects how many people get killed or injured in these attacks is the amount of time that takes place between when the attack starts and when somebody is able to arrive on the scene with the gun. The longer the time, the more carnage takes place.”

It is the collective responsibility of the students to engage in whatever they must do to save their lives if a horrific act were to take place at TCU or any university for that matter, said Wyatt Tubb, Texas A&M’s SCCC delegate.

“When I ask a person what they are going to do when a killer walks into the classroom and blows his or her best friend away, most of the answers I have heard have been, ‘I have never thought about that,'” said Tubb, a senior mechanical engineering major from Canadian, Texas. “The sheep mentality of ‘It will never happen to me’ has permeated many people’s minds. As soon as people put themselves in the shoes of the victims at Virginia Tech, they realize that the police will not respond in time to save their lives and they must be able to defend themselves if they want any chance of survival.