Recent tragedies involving guns and murders on school campuses have once again heated up the debate over whether teachers and students of college age should be allowed to carry firearms on school grounds. Utah and a few other states are beginning to open the doors for concealed carry holders to do just that.
The group “Students for Concealed Carry” is pushing to increase the number of campuses allowing concealed carry through educational efforts, as well as law suits. It is not certain where exactly the law will end up, with more people are becoming aware that law enforcement cannot be everywhere, nor can security guards. Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that gun free zones really aren’t gun free after all.
In the event that the courts rule in favor of removing “gun free” restrictions, college administrators and security personnel will be required to adapt. So the question remains should students carry guns on campus and if not what alternative deterrent solutions can be found to stop the appalling loss of life we have witnessed in recent years on college grounds?
Should Students Carry Guns On Campus
Ideas from Utah University
Utah State University is one college campus that allows concealed carry on campus. They coordinate concealed carry through their campus police department. One of the challenges to college campus concealed carry is how to properly secure the firearms when not in use.
College dorms are notoriously susceptible to theft and rarely have storage areas appropriate to securing a firearm. To deal with this issue, the University recommends strongly that firearms not being carried should be stored at the secure storage provided for the students at the University Police department, which can be accessed around the clock. In addition, the University policy manual delineates acceptable conduct with a firearm, whether concealed or open carry, including consequences of policy violations.
Other Utah public colleges and universities follow similar policies that mirror state firearms laws. Despite the concerns of faculty and some students over allowing concealed carry on campus, there has been no evidence of misconduct of students as a result of concealed carry ending up in media reports despite intense scrutiny.
Most of the controversy since the law changed in Colorado has been over college professors refusing to teach if a student carried concealed in class. In the end, the college administration required the professor to uphold his contract and teach the students regardless of whether they were carrying or not.
One student in a Massachusetts college expressed the opinion that carrying a firearm was akin to regressing in civilized society, much like the “knuckle dragging, club carrying caveman days”. He felt that seeing a gun disturbed his quality of life and therefore they should be banned altogether.
My Field Experience
Given the unrealistic and idealistic view of the Massachusetts student, there is more education required to overcome many of the myths that surround lawful gun ownership and personal defense. Having survived a violent crime at the age of six, as well as a career in law enforcement spanning almost 13 years, I have personally witnessed the effects of criminal activity and the difference it makes when a targeted potential victim has the capacity to effectively defend themselves.
In almost every instance, a criminal, including those involved in domestic violence, chooses their victims based on the ease of overpowering them and the potential consequences they may incur at that moment. Most criminals do not consider the risk of future legal consequences sufficient to override the potential payoff for their crimes. It is only the immediate danger to them that provides deterrence. This observation is based upon both my professional experience, as well as studies done by forensic psychologists and psychiatrists.
Since retiring, I have become a firearms instructor teaching new gun owners safe gun handling, storage and shooting proficiency. As part of that instruction, conveying the immense responsibility of owning a firearm, situational awareness and conflict avoidance is a high priority.
Encouraging gun owners to learn the legal standards of lawful self-defense for the states they will be carrying in is part of the core curriculum for most firearm instructors. In every class I have helped to teach, students consistently express feeling the weight of responsibility in choosing to carry a firearm for self-defense and seek additional information on how to prevent getting into a situation where they would have to use the firearm in self-defense.
While many of those concerned about guns for self-defense are fearful of scenarios like getting into disputes in line at a store or in a classroom and resolving it by using the firearm to shoot their way out of it or brandishing it to intimidate others, this has not been the case for those campuses opening up to students with concealed carry permits.
In my experience, the law abiding gun owners disengage from conflict escalation and failing that, leaving the area, rather than risking a self-defense situation. There are in fact, two “gun cultures”, that of law abiding citizens exercising their 2nd amendment rights and that of the gang culture, using guns to settle disputes, revenge and other criminal activity. Understanding the vast difference between those two cultures is the beginning of a more productive dialogue for those tasked with administering and securing college campuses.
Recommendations for College Administrators and Security Personnel
Administrators and campus security personnel understandably have concerns over college students utilizing concealed carry on campus, having visions of “Animal House”, the movie, running through their heads. Developing policies that mitigate those risks and respect the rights of law abiding students to provide for their own self-defense may seem overwhelming.
As a first step, obtaining a copy of the state gun laws and implementing policies that mirror state requirements for lawful carry provides a framework to build on. Coordinating student carry through campus security, who should be very familiar with state gun laws, as well as what constitutes lawful use of force will provide more consistent policy and a more effective means of monitoring student activity.
Administrators, teaching faculty, students and security personnel should participate in a security briefing and training session covering crime prevention, situational awareness, emergency procedures, changes in applicable state law and campus policy at least each semester. Emergency drills for fires, active shooters and other emergencies should be coordinated regularly with local emergency response personnel, which will assist in preventing “friendly fire” incidents as part of the training.
Security personnel, as much as practicable, should strive for a neutral stance in disputes between pro and anti-gun factions on campus, relying as much as possible on encouraging mutual respect and tolerance. Depending on the individual characteristics of the campus facilities, policies may require storage of firearms in campus security for those students living in dorms, unless other effective storage can be developed, when the firearms are not being carried.
In conclusion, students interested in concealed carry are highly motivated to follow reasonable policies allowing them to carry on campus and conduct themselves to ensure they will continue to be able to lawfully carry. We, as security professionals, can support and encourage good decision making by engaging in regular training, dialogues in which we share our experiences and reminding them of the legal consequences and responsibilities they bear as a result of exercising their 2nd amendment rights.
Utilizing properly moderated social media and bulletin boards can continue improving the dialogue and easing fears or concerns that may arise on campus. Modeling respect and effective conflict resolution not only reduces friction on campus, it provides effective leadership for students going forward in their own personal and professional lives, a worthwhile legacy for security professionals everywhere.
What are your thoughts on the two different gun cultures? Should students carry guns on campus or is there another solution? Given that banning guns on campus has not stopped criminals from using them, is it possible to incorporate trained law abiding gun owners into campus security procedures? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.