December 2, 2016

Missouri considers campus concealed carry gun laws

Missouri’s state legislature is considering a bill that would lift a ban on concealed firearms on college and university campuses.

The possession of firearms on college campuses is currently prohibited in Missouri. Now, Republican Missouri state senators Brian Munzlinger and Bob Dixon aim to change that law. They introduced legislation that would require all college campuses in Missouri to allow concealed carry unless they comply with additional safety regulations.

If the proposal, Senate Bill 731, becomes law, schools wishing to ban concealed weapons on campus must place metal detectors and security personnel at each entrance to screen individuals before they enter. The enforcement of this policy would be the responsibility of the colleges’ departments of public safety.

Missouri state senator Scott Sifton and state representative Jeanne Kirkton, whose districts both include Webster University, said they plan to oppose the bill.

“My constituency voted overwhelmingly against conceal and carry the last time it came to a vote,” Sifton said. “I don’t think folks in Webster Groves want concealed carry on the Webster University campus.”

Kirkton said the idea that concealed carry permit holders could help stop shooters is unrealistic.

“If someone with a concealed carry permit actually does get involved in trying to stop a shooting, and law enforcement comes on the scene, it’s difficult to know who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy,” Kirkton said.

Kirkton also cited concerns about drug and alcohol use and suicide rates on college campuses as reasons why they are unsafe places for firearms.

Andy Pelosi is the executive director and cofounder of the organizations GunFreeKids.org and The Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. He said he opposes legislation like Missouri’s proposed bill because he believes it will cause more harm than it prevents.

“There’s always an increased risk for an unintentional shooting,” Pelosi said. He also cited the number of suicides among college students as a reason to limit their access to guns.

Pelosi said he thought it was unlikely a student or faculty member with a concealed weapon could help stop or prevent a shooting.

“Our view on that is that the vast majority of people who have a concealed weapons permit do not have tactical training,” he said.

Chris Armstrong, a business management major at Webster who is also a police detective, said that he sees the value in the proposed law.

“Concealed carry for universities is a good idea if it helps the student body feel safer,” Armstrong said.

While he felt most people who wanted to commit a crime would bring a weapon onto campus even if they were not allowed to, he said others being armed could be an incentive to think twice.

“With the idea that there may be other students or staff members that may be able to counter the attack, that may be enough to act as a deterrent,” Armstrong said.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which promotes independent and strong state legislatures and studies trends in their lawmaking, has been tracking the issue of guns-on-campus laws for about four years.

Suzanne Hultin, an NCSL policy specialist, said about two states per year introduce similar legislation.

“I think it’s part of a bigger trend that’s been going on nationwide,” she said.

Hultin said most of the laws are introduced by Republicans, and that recently, they often relate to increasing awareness of campus sexual assault.

“In the last year, we’ve seen more legislation that tries to link the two together,” Hultin said.

Currently, 19 states ban concealed weapons on campus, and eight mandate that they be allowed either on public or all campuses. The remaining 23 leave the decision up to individual schools.

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) released a document in 2008 stating their opposition to concealed carry on campus. The organization said that such policies raise the risk of crime, and that student gun owners make campuses less safe, not more.

Because the language of the bill is still subject to change, Webster’s director of public relations, Patrick Giblin, said any statement from Public Safety would be premature at this time.

Webster Groves police department public information officer Andy Miller also declined to be interviewed, but said in an email that the department is “supportive of legislation that, by design, helps control potential gun violence”.

In at least one state, new laws about concealed carry may have an impact on academics. The Houston Chronicle reported that professors at the University of Houston, which will soon allow concealed carry under a new Texas law, discussed limiting sensitive classroom discussion. A slideshow advised professors to “drop certain topics from your curriculum” and “not ‘go there’ if you sense anger.”

Gwyneth Williams, a political science professor at Webster and the current president of the faculty senate, said she could imagine the presence of guns on campus changing the behavior of both professors and students.

Williams spoke about the issue at a faculty senate meeting and said that, at Webster, she has only heard from people who are opposed to the bill.

“As far as I know, no one in the administration is in favor of having people with guns on campus, and I doubt many faculty members are in favor of it either,” she said.

Kirkton said that if the Senate passed the bill, it’s difficult to determine whether it would become law.

“I think it would pass the House in a heartbeat,” Kirkton said. “Whether Governor [Jay] Nixon would veto it is another question. I think he probably would.”

Sifton said that he believes the legislation could spark a conversation about gun safety on Missouri campuses, but that it goes about it in the wrong way.

“I don’t think that Jefferson City should dictate how that’s going to be done in every community,” Sifton said.

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