Pack­ing more than books

Gun ad­vo­cates’ push for cam­pus-carry bills like Texas’ is slow go­ing

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske molly.hen­nessy-fiske @la­times.com Twit­ter: @mol­lyhf

HOUS­TON — This year more than a dozen states have con­sid­ered mea­sures that would al­low the car­ry­ing of con­cealed weapons on col­lege cam­puses, but so far only Texas has ap­proved a so-called cam­pus-carry law.

By over­whelm­ing votes, Texas law­mak­ers ap­proved the leg­is­la­tion last week, and Repub­li­can Gov. Greg Ab­bott has said he will sign it into law. It would take ef­fect in Au­gust 2016. Texas would then join seven other states that al­ready al­low the car­ry­ing of con­cealed weapons on public col­lege cam­puses — Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mis­sis­sippi, Ore­gon, Utah and Wis­con­sin, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures.

Nine­teen other states ban con­cealed weapons on cam­puses, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Florida and New York. As so of­ten hap­pens with gun leg­is­la­tion, the rest of the na­tion is a hodge­podge of laws. The re­main­ing 23 states, in­clud­ing Alabama and Ari­zona, leave cam­pus-carry de­ci­sions to col­lege of­fi­cials or their state boards of re­gents.

Law­mak­ers pro­posed cam­pus-carry mea­sures in 15 states this year, ac­cord­ing to Laura Cu­til­letta, a se­nior staff at­tor­ney at the San Fran­cisco-based Law Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence. An Ohio pro­posal is pending.

“For some­thing that was such a big pri­or­ity for the [Na­tional Ri­fle Assn.] this year, this was a fail­ure,” said Cu­til­letta, adding that if more state cam­pus-carry mea­sures pass, “it won’t be be­cause of the pol­icy it­self.”

Op­po­nents of such laws say that al­low­ing more guns on cam­pus does lit­tle to im­prove se­cu­rity and in­stead makes it more likely that shoot­ings will oc­cur, in­clud­ing ac­ci­den­tal gun­fire and sui­cides.

While there have been few stud­ies of gun vi­o­lence on cam­pus, Cu­til­letta says op­po­nents also fear guns will have a chill­ing ef­fect on stu­dents’ free speech.

“You want to en­cour­age peo­ple to be de­bat­ing things and hav­ing heated dis­cus­sions. In­tro­duc­ing weapons into that kind of en­vi­ron­ment — some peo­ple have said it could curb that free flow of ideas and make peo­ple less likely to ex­press them­selves,” she said.

Pro­po­nents of the law say it will make cam­puses safer and al­low law-abid­ing peo­ple to ex­er­cise their 2nd Amend­ment rights.

Cu­til­letta says she ex­pects Texas uni­ver­si­ties will want to limit guns in cer­tain ar­eas, such as dorms, where prospec­tive stu­dents “might not want to live with some­one who has a gun. I think ar­gu­ments can be made for why you might want to ex­empt those ar­eas.”

The Texas leg­is­la­tion in­cludes a com­pro­mise pro­vi­sion worked out as the bill moved through the Leg­is­la­ture. The mea­sure al­lows public uni­ver­si­ties to leave por­tions of cam­pus gun-free, and give pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties the chance to opt out of the law, although it’s not clear how many schools might suc­ceed in be­com­ing ex­empt from the law.

“It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how they han­dle the fact that they still have some author­ity and see what ar­eas they pro­hibit and how that works out,” Cu­til­letta said.

The Uni­ver­sity of Colora- do at Boul­der re­mained a gun-free zone long af­ter the state passed its 2003 Con­cealed Carry Act. But af­ter the Vir­ginia Tech cam­pus shoot­ing in 2008, in which a gun­man killed 32 peo­ple and him­self, Colorado stu­dents formed a gun rights group, sued, and in 2012 won the right to carry on cam­pus.

Af­ter Utah al­lowed guns on cam­puses in 2004, the Uni­ver­sity of Utah also tried to main­tain its decades­long ban. Uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials sued, but in 2006 the state Supreme Court ruled against them.

David Kopel, re­search direc­tor at the Den­ver­based In­de­pen­dence In­sti­tute, said he and his fel­low gun rights ad­vo­cates rec­og­nized that cer­tain por­tions of cam­puses may need to re­main gun-free, such as hos­pi­tals and other health­care fa­cil­i­ties. The Texas com­pro­mise will be closely watched by those in other states hop­ing to pass sim­i­lar mea­sures, he said.

“My pre­dic­tion is that, as with li­censed carry in gen­eral, this isn’t some­thing that’s go­ing to sweep the coun­try,” Kopel said. “It’s go­ing to be more of a yearby-year thing; more states will adopt it once they see how it works in the ear­lier ones” — Texas in par­tic­u­lar.

“It’s a big and in­flu­en­tial state with huge uni­ver­si­ties,” said Kopel, who also serves as an ad­junct pro­fes­sor of ad­vanced con­sti­tu­tional law at the Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver.

Kopel said that con­ser­va­tive states in the Rocky Moun­tains, South and New Eng­land are re­cep­tive to cam­pus-carry laws. But he also said that it was not sur­pris­ing that such mea­sures failed in con­ser­va­tive states like Florida, Ne­vada and South Carolina this year, not­ing the in­cre­men­tal pas­sage of con­cealed-carry laws na­tion­wide.

“In any given year, you’ll find more states where cam­pus-carry bills failed than where they passed. It’s a mar­ginal process,” he said.

Kopel said the big­gest ar­gu­ment against al­low­ing guns on cam­pus — that stu­dents’ tem­pers might flare and pro­voke a mass shoot­ing — have been dis­proved in Colorado, Idaho and other states where the mea­sures have been on the books for years.

“It’s all th­ese dooms­day sce­nar­ios that don’t come true: ar­gu­ments in the class­rooms and then the guns come out. Utah’s had it for a long time and that hasn’t hap­pened,” he said.

Michael Ainsworth Dal­las Morn­ing News

IN­STRUC­TOR Mike Camp­bell shows Dwayne Reese a gun at a gun club in Frisco, Texas. The state is mov­ing to al­low guns to be car­ried un­der more cir­cum­stances.

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