Students debate allowing firearms on campus

Ellen Crawford
Contributing Writer

About 30 students came together Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of allowing citizens to have guns on campus.

Virginia 21, a nonpartisan advocacy group for students organized the forum as their first event since opening a chapter on VCU’s campus last semester. The group aimed to initiate a dialogue about campus safety. Members of the group opened the forum with a statement about what the organization thinks is the best way to make VCU safer.

“We don’t want to see guns on campus unless they are in the hands of law enforcement,” said Tom Kramer, the executive director of VA 21.

Volunteers handed out copies of the VCU Weapons Regulation policy, which states that no person shall “have in his or her possession any firearm, other weapon, or explosive, regardless of whether a license to possess same has been issued, without authorization of the President of the University.”

“Persons whose official duty is to possess a weapon are exempted,” according to a regulation adopted recently by the Board of Visitors to clarify the policy.

One student said she felt unsafe walking home alone after night classes and said she would feel safer if she were allowed to carry a gun.

Members and associates of the VCU College Republicans advocated for allowing people with conceal and carry permits to have handguns on campus, but stopped short of advocating unlimited student accessibility to guns. Instead, they suggested having campus gun lockers or checking weapons in with VCU Police could be options to allow those with a permit to keep their guns nearby.

“You don’t wear your seatbelt because you’re expecting to get into an accident; you wear it just in case,” said Justin Smith, a third-year graduate student in public administration.

Some opponents of carrying guns on campus argued about the ability of young students to face situations of extreme pressure. Zao Vu, a fourth-year medical student, said that giving students access to regular training would help students keep calm in the face of danger.

“If students with concealed-carry (permits) went through the same police firearm qualification standard testing (as the VCU Police Department) then they would be as safe as the police because they would have the same stress inoculation,” Vu said. “It’s important to have access to ammunition and (continue) training sessions in a safe and effective manner.”

The group did agree that Virginia’s self-defense laws were reasonable and noted that laws which allow occupants to protect their domestic domain aggressively, often referred to as “Castle Doctrine” laws, are unnecessary.

In this year’s General Assembly Session, 33 bills dealing with firearms were introduced, including some that pushed for allowing unloaded guns or guns kept in locked containers on public school property. Of the 33 bills, only three passed through both chambers, none of which impacted carrying guns on campus.

2 Responses to “Students debate allowing firearms on campus”

  1. Actually you are wrong about college republicans about wanting lockers. We don’t. Virginia 21 suggested it in a hypothetical sense. Get it right.

  2. As a current college student I am a firm believer in students, faculty, and/or staff with legal state-licensed concealed weapons permits to be able to carry their firearms on campus. In recent months, universities nationwide have seen too many violent encounters on and off of campus. Some recent events just this semester [in Columbia, SC] include armed robberies, a rape, and shootings in the popular Five Points district just blocks away from freshman student housing. Just within the last week a student was murdered at Coastal Carolina University on campus, while other violent attacks continue to plague many other great educational institutions all across the country.

    Universities all across the nation, and their respective towns and cities, already have in place legislation designed to “protect students.” Far too often, these safeguards fail to protect students from the real world dangers. While their intentions are good, they do little to stop the determined criminal and do nothing but leave students and visitors to respective campuses defenseless. It is time that universities seriously consider following the examples of other (although few) institutions that allow students, faculty, and staff to carry concealed weapons for their personal self-defense.

    Organizations such as Students for Concealed Carry are beginning chapters on many campuses all across the country to push for this movement and have a lot of great information available on their website (http://concealedcampus.org/). Current federal “gun-control” legislation targets the wrong individuals and is attempting to impose restrictions on the law-abiding individuals’ rights to own firearms, rather than focusing on the real issue, criminals! (At times I wonder who the government is trying to protect, the citizen or the criminal.) Far too often we see the same common themes over and over (with the exceptions); repeat criminal offenders with extensive criminal histories, underage and illegal possession of firearms, carrying of firearms into areas designated as “gun-free zones,” etc. Often the very criminals preying on college campuses fall into these categories and take advantage of the fact that they know students are defenseless as long as they are within the designated “gun-free zones.” While campus and city police do everything they can to keep student bodies and the general public safe, it is impossible for police to be everywhere, all of the time. A common phrase that keeps coming to mind is “when seconds count, police are only minutes away.” In today’s society, with the installation of emergency response services such as 9-1-1, many fall into this false sense of security that a phone call will save them in an emergency situation such as a violent encounter by an armed attacker. As Milwaukee Country Sheriff, David Clarke Jr., stated in a recent radio address to county residents “…simply calling 9-1-1 and waiting is no longer your best option…[Y]ou can beg for mercy…or you can fight back.” While this address was directed to Milwaukee County residents, it is something that should be applied nationwide. Individuals have a right to protect themselves and their families from imminent danger, and no one should be able to take that right away.
    Many universities offer self-defense classes to students but classes are difficult to offer to every student that may want to participate when comparing individual class sizes to the student bodies of larger universities. These classes are beneficial but still limit the victim’s ability to a hand-to-hand combat encounter. A victim is still defenseless when limited to hand combat techniques when confronted by an armed attacker that is out of arms reach just a few yards away.
    To address the issue before it has a chance to spiral out of control, it is well known that colleges are notorious for their parties and alcohol/drug consuming atmospheres, especially on the weekends; many fear the thought of throwing legal weapons into the mix. Weapons are already in the mix whether the public wants to face it or not, and they are already present on campuses or in college towns across the nation. But such behaviors as drinking and handling firearms are already illegal and often these laws are disregarded by individuals that have no respect for the law or the safety of others. CWP holders are, more times than not, law-abiding citizens concerned about their personal safety as well as the safety of their communities. There is new legislation being proposed (in South Carolina at least, concerning campus carry as well as carry into a local restaurant or bar) that would prohibit the consumption of alcohol/drugs while carrying a firearm. If such a CWP holder were to violate this, they would be breaking the law, and that would make them a criminal. Nothing at this point in time is keeping such irresponsible individuals (criminals) that already own, or are in possession of (for those illegally possessing), a firearm from not mixing the two and jumping to irrational decisions. But this comes down to individual responsibility and the notion of free will. Unfortunately this country is moving in such a direction that individual responsibility has been thrown out the window, and society often times jumps to blame the first thing they can for the wronged actions of these criminals, other than the criminals themselves. They are the ones we often read about that prompt the very discussion of, and push for, a law-abiding, emphasis on law-abiding, citizen to carry a firearm for their own personal protection.

    Concerning the “ability of a young student” (keep in mind they must be 21 or older for a CWP) to face the extreme pressure of a violent encounter and the decisions that soon follow: a concealed weapons permit holder is licensed through their respective states and are deemed competent and trustworthy with a firearm not only in a public setting, but in a public setting that may very well experience a violent attack. Prior to their licensing, they are required to go through training. As in South Carolina, and I’m sure it is similar in Virginia, students/citizens enrolled in a concealed weapons permit qualification course are required to sit through classroom instruction (taught by a law enforcement certified instructor) that touches on many topics such as the proper and safe handling of firearms, when, where, and how they can conceal their firearm, as well as what to do if ever a situation arose that would require them to pull their weapon for their immediate self-defense. Following classroom instruction, they are required to pass a written examination, followed by a range qualification test that ensures they are competent with their firearms. With that being said, there is also a lot of literature and resources out there CWP holders can access that also discuss the very dynamics of a violent encounter and many different “in the heat of the moment” decisions available to the individual. CWP holders can also keep up to date on their skills by visiting ranges frequently and have the option to take more advanced handgun certification courses that would more than ensure they are competent with their weapon.

    The idea of keeping unloaded firearms locked and stowed away in a designated area of campus completely defeats the purpose of carrying a concealed weapon and prevents a licensed CWP holder from reacting to any immediate threats in a timely manner. These crucial moments may be the very moments that mean the difference between a violent offender taking the life of one, or multiple individuals, or the licensed CWP holder who was simply obeying the law and did not have their weapon on them. As in the high school shooting in Pearl Mississippi back in 1997, federal legislation kept anyone from possessing a firearm on school grounds. When a shooter entered the school and began firing on students and faculty, an assistant principal ran to get his firearm from his vehicle, instead of a holster or even his desk. In the time it took for him to retrieve his weapon and ammunition (in two different cases, as one source states) from a secure designated location, the shooter had already shot and killed/injured several other students. Fortunately, this assistant principal was able to stop the shooter before he could leave the premises and proceed to his next location, a junior high school. Keeping your weapon locked and stowed away in a specified location on campus still leaves individuals defenseless and wastes precious time that could be used to confront or incapacitate such an attacker.
    Then there are those that fear weapons would become as numerous as “cell phones” or other such popular devices if states allowed the concealed carry onto university campuses. It is important to keep in mind that federal legislation prohibits the sale or possession of a handgun to anyone under the age of 21. To put that into perspective, take the entire student body of any given institution, and anyone that is under the age of 21 can be ruled out as having the ability to carry a concealed weapon (that applies to anywhere else in public). You then further reduce the number of individuals 21 and up enrolled at the institution, by those actually willing to purchase and own a firearm from those that may decide not to. Consider next, the number of handgun owning individuals willing to spend the money and hours required to become qualified and certified by the state to carry a concealed weapon. Then consider the fact that firearms come in many different calibers, shapes, and sizes that provide their own varying degrees of ease of concealment. Any CWP holder that may feel as if they cannot easily conceal their weapon due to weather or other factors may decide not to carry on any given day. This puts a constraint on the actual number of individuals, if allowed to do so, that would be able to carry concealed weapons on campus.

    Society must first admit that this is not a perfect world and that there are violent criminals out there set on personal gain with no regard to other human life or safety. Second, law-abiding citizens must arm and train themselves in such a way as to take personal responsibility for their very own safety as well as the safety of the very ones they care about. Often times the mere sight of a lawful carrying citizen and his/her firearm is enough to prevent or deter crime; in extreme cases judicious marksmanship is required to incapacitate such threats to lawful CWP holders or others. Finally, I would like to emphasize that concealed weapons permit holders are not vigilantes, they are not “want-to-be” police officers or soldiers, they are simply law-abiding individuals that take responsibility for their own immediate safety as well as the safety of their loved ones and peers. I hope that you take the time to seriously consider the view point of not just myself, but many other concerned students across the country.

    “A citizen who shirks his duty to contribute to the security of his community is little better than the criminal who threatens it, and is better off living in a society that places lesser demands on his capacity to accept responsibility.”
    -Robert H. Boatman’s “The Constitutional Right And Social Obligation to Carry A Gun.”