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Arizona legislators push bill to allow guns on college campuses

by Bob Morris, published

In a move sure to be controversial and which has already received national attention, Arizona legislators have redrafted legislation to allow guns to be carried at public colleges and universities. Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a previous attempt, not because she was particularly opposed to the idea, but because it was unclear and murky. She hasn't voiced an opinion on the new bill but is known to be pro-gun.

Existing Arizona gun law says colleges and universities can allow guns but, so far, none have done so. The new bill, which will be introduced when the legislature opens on Jan. 9, prohibits public universities and community colleges from banning concealed-carry (with a permit) and open carry on campus. Schools would be able to ban guns inside buildings but would need to provide gun lockers with keys if they do.  The storage units cost between $100-$300 and schools would have to pay for them. Obviously, this could become expensive for large universities. However, they would only have to offer the units at one entrance, not all of them. Arizona’s three state universities have about 1,800 buildings.

As is almost always true with our welter of confusing gun laws, just determining how many other states allow gun carry on campus is confusing and contradictory. Armed Campuses, which opposes guns on campus says four states currently allow it. They are Utah, Colorado, Michigan, and Virginia. All four states are ‘shall-issue’ states for concealed carry. Barring a criminal record or mental instability, the permit must be issued, usually after a brief training period.  Utah has the most permissive policy. Gun carry is legal on higher education campuses because it is specifically protected by the state constitution. A school cannot ban it. In Colorado, you can open carry on a college campus but need a concealed handgun permit. Michigan and Virginia permit it, but it must be specifically permitted by the institution. Currently, only one school in each of those states does.

However, Wisconsin, Mississippi, and Oregon also allow some type of concealed carry on campus in addition to Utah, Colorado, Virginia, and Michigan. Other states are proposing campus carry legislation, among them Tennessee, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Florida, Texas, and Nebraska.

The push for guns on campus accelerated after the horrendous shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 in which 33 students were killed. Some say that allowing weapons on campus could have stopped the shootings, and that it is better to be able to defend oneself and others rather than playing dead and hoping you don’t get shot. This of course could lead to unintended consequences like several armed people around a shooter opening fire at once, potentially hurting others. Interestingly, the Virginia Tech Review Panel recommended that guns be banned from the campus after studying the shooting.

Others feel that guns on campus could be intimidating and kill academic debate.  Also, the storage issue could be problematic, especially if guns were stolen. Plus, insurance rates could rise for universities. But, the pro-forces say that carrying guns is protected by the Constitution and thus should be permitted by responsible citizens with no criminal records or mental problems.

The bill is expected to pass in the Arizona legislature. It will then be Gov. Brewer’s decision whether or not to sign it into law.

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