A new bill before the Tennessee state legislature would permit licensed college and state university employees to carry concealed guns onto college campuses.
The bill, proposed by State Sen. Stacey Campfield, has received flack from gun-rights opponents who say concealed carry will create a more dangerous university setting, rather than crime-free campuses.
Campfield points to the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 people died, as an example of the perils of gun-free campuses.
“A paper sign has never stopped any criminal from carrying a gun on campus,” he said. “When someone decides they’re going to use a gun to go on a massive shooting rampage, the only way they will stop is if someone shoots them back or they get tired of shooting.”
Shooting rampages are tragic, but relatively rare — Campfield says they’re only part of the problem with gun-free campuses.
“Police can always write a report after a crime has occurred, but they can’t be everywhere, and I don’t think they’re effective in stopping crime,” Capfield said. “If they’re over the legal age of 21 and have undergone training and a background check, then I don’t see the problem. They should have the right to defend themselves.”
Daniel Crocker, the Southwest Regional Director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, believes that anyone who is licensed and trained by the state to carry a gun should have the right to self-defend, be it on a college campus or anywhere else.
“We depend on the kindness of criminals,” Crocker said. “College campuses don’t have metal detectors, and it’s too much work to disarm everyone. Gun-free campuses are defenseless.”
Crocker believes the concealed carry debate needs to focus more on the realities of campus crime.
“Opponents say ‘the more guns, the more violence,’ but that’s a simplistic approach,” he said. “They’re so afraid of imaginary crime they’re willing to ignore real crime. A criminal might try to shoot you, or rape you, or hit you over the head with a crow bar.”
“We want to even the odds and give the law abiding the option for self-defense,” he added.
In Tennessee, schools haven’t taken up the case for self-defense yet.
Recently, the University of Tennessee faculty senate voted, unanimously, to oppose Campfield’s bill. The administration has also taken that position.
“The safety and security of our students, faculty and staff is paramount among our priorities, said Hank Dye, Vice President for Public and Governmental Relations. “We agree with law enforcement professionals who say ‘guns on campus’ is a bad idea…Our campus security officers feel strongly that the introduction of firearms into that kind of mix hinders rather than helps in the safety equation.”
The Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees public colleges in the state, said it is opposed to guns on campus.
“We have been vocal and forthright in our opposition to all campus-related gun legislation in our general assembly,” Dye said. “Our chancellors across the UT System are unanimous in their strong support of that position…We will continue to work in opposition to any legislation that would put guns on our campuses.”
Andy Pelosi, the Executive Director of GunFreeKids.org, said personal guns are not necessary for campus safety, and would be more likely to cause rather than prevent crime.
“The overwhelming majority of the 4,300 colleges and universities in the U.S. prohibit the carrying of firearms on their campuses,” Pelosi wrote in an email. “These gun-free policies have helped to make our post-secondary education institutions some of the safest places in the country. Another study conducted by the Department of Justice found that 93 percent of violent crimes that victimize college students occur off campus.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 48 states permit concealed carry–but 22 of those states ban guns on campus. Another 25 allow universities to set their weapons policies. Schools in states like Colorado, Utah and Virginia have concealed carry on campus in place, however.
Cpt. Pat Cunningham of the Vanderbilt University Police Department said the VUPD is in agreement with the International Association of College Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), which promotes gun-free campuses.
The ICLEA published a statement opposing concealed weapons on college campuses, listing as on of their concerns “the potential for accidental discharge or misuse of firearms at on-campus or off-campus parties where large numbers of students are gathered or at student gatherings where alcohol or drugs are being consumed, as well as the potential for guns to be used as a means to settle disputes between or among students.”
Student opinion’s as varied as anyone’s. In the most recent high profile example in the state, four years ago, students at Middle Tennessee State voted against concealed carry on campus.
“(Guns aren’t) going to prevent violence,” said Katherine Paring, a junior at Vanderbilt University. “But students can be impulsive—if they get into an argument and there’s a gun in their room, they might grab it. They might shoot and kill.”
But Vanderbilt sophomore Andrew Samuels disagrees.
“In the context of the Virginia Tech shootings, I don’t think it’s a bad idea for faculty to carry handguns,” he said.
Liz Furlow is a staff writer for the Vanderbilt Hustler. She is a member of the Student Free Press Association.