Numerous States Debate Allowing Guns on Campuses

February 19, 2015 Updated: February 19, 2015

Several state legislative bills currently being considered would expand the reach of guns on college campuses in the United States. The proposals have met with a variety of reactions ranging from staunch support to strong opposition.

There are 4,400 college and university campuses in the U.S.—most of which do not allow students, faculty, or visitors to carry firearms. Only one state, Utah, forces its public institutions to allow firearms, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Six states have provisions that allow for concealed carry and 23 allow the college or university to make the decision.

That could change if a number of Republican-controlled state legislatures get their way. But the various debates are not easing through the system without public opposition.

In Montana, for example, earlier this month the state Senate narrowly endorsed a bill to allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.

“People say you can’t have guns on campus because it causes shootings,” Republican Sen. Cary Smith, the bill’s sponsor said. “I would argue it prevents some of these tragedies.” Smith is a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

In Florida, a bill would erase a longstanding ban on carrying concealed weapons on campuses. It is sponsored by Republican Sen. Greg Evers, also an NRA member.

People say you can’t have guns on campus because it causes shootings. I would argue it prevents some of these tragedies.
— Sen. Cary Smith

Nevada’s longstanding contentious debate over guns on campus is also heating up, and has garnered national attention. Some lawmakers there want to allow gun owners with concealed carry permits to bring their weapons to schools and certain parts of airports. A bill introduced by Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore would remove restrictions that bar concealed weapons permit holders from carrying their guns at colleges, public schools, child care facilities, and non-secure parts of airports.

Nineteen Assembly members and two senators signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors of Nevada bill. All are Republicans.

Then there’s Texas. Known for its widespread support of second amendment rights, the Lone Star state became a hotbed of contention over whether guns should be allowed on campus. The Texas proposal would legalize concealed firearms on college campuses and open carry everywhere else.

Texas is actually one of only six states that prohibit gun owners from holstering handguns in full view. That may change this legislative session, though. Just last week after nine hours of testimony, the measure passed in a 7-2 vote along partisan lines in favor of approving both the open and the campus carry bill. The state is likely now on the fast-track for a full Senate vote when lawmakers can begin passing bills next month.

Michael Smith, a junior physics major at the University of Texas at Arlington is totally in favor of allowing guns on campus.

“I’m in favor of students who have their concealed handgun licenses to have the ability to carry on campus–especially a publicly funded university,” said Smith on Thursday. “The students and faculty should be able to exercise their second amendment rights.”

A gun owner himself, Smith said that the argument that it would make campus less safe just doesn’t ring true to him. Based on personal experience of witnessing crime, disturbances, and being in situations where he felt unsafe, Smith said he’d prefer to be allowed to carry a gun with him. Just in case.

“There’s always something going on on campus, crime wise,” he said, noting that one of his classes is at night and he has to walk across campus alone from where he parks in the dark. “The chance of something happening is slim, but if something happens I’d like to have my handgun for protection.”

Others disagree by 180 degrees, including Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus. He says the greatest worry of mixing guns and college life is the unknown.

“There are just too many unintended consequences,” said Pelosi on Thursday. “There is a lot of drinking, there’s a lot of drug use.”

He said his organization is also concerned about a number of potential risks including where guns would be stored, potential domestic violence, and weapons theft. There’s also the pre-existing high of suicide risk among college students.

“We do not want to increase risk on campus.”