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New gun laws would permit firearms on campus

Debate rages over the need for firearms on college campuses

Published: Friday, February 25, 2011

Updated: Friday, February 25, 2011 11:02

Allowing guns on campus is not typically the first solution that comes to mind when trying to combat school shootings, but the idea is certainly up for debate.

Nine states — though not Massachusetts — are currently considering legislation that would permit students, faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus. In the forefront of the debate is Texas, a state notorious for its gun culture and one that is poised to pass a bill allowing for the presence of concealed firearms on college campuses.

David Burnett, president and spokesman of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, supports the impending legislation and believes that the constitutional right to carry a gun should not end once a person steps on campus.

"If someone has a concealed weapon permit and is already certified by the state to carry a firearm with them for their own protection, they should be allowed that same right on a college campus that they have off a college campus," he told the Daily. "[Many states that permit concealed carry] already have a process in place that requires background checks and fingerprinting."

College campuses would be the latest in a long list of locations where possession of a concealed firearm is legal, according to Burnett.

"These people can already carry firearms to places like churches, banks, shopping malls, movie theaters, grocery stores — they already responsibly carry and they already have the right to defend and protect themselves against others," he said. "We're saying, what's different about a college campus that colleges can deny someone that right when the colleges cannot guarantee students or faculty or staff personal safety?"

Burnett's group was created in the wake of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech in which a student opened fire and killed 32 others before eventually shooting himself.

According to Burnett, allowing students to carry concealed firearms on campus would serve to protect students in the event of a critical on−campus threat.

"I can't say that the outcome of Virginia Tech would have been any different," he said. "We feel that we [can] contribute a chance of self−defense … if we allow professors or former marines or anyone with a concealed carry permit to carry on a college campus."

But not everyone agrees that having more guns on campus would lead to greater feelings of safety or protection. According to Rebecca Seferian, a junior at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, a campus in which the debate is in full swing, additional guns would pose an unnecessary risk.

UT in 1966 became home to what was then the deadliest school shooting in history when former marine Charles Joseph Whitman climbed to the top of the school's observation tower armed with seven guns, eventually killing 16 people and wounding 32 others. Last September, the school experienced another incident when a student fired several shots with an AK−47 in the university library, but turned the gun on himself before anyone else was injured.

While gun advocacy groups like Students for Concealed Carry point to these examples as proof that gun−free zones are ineffective, Seferian believes that allowing concealed guns on campus is not the answer.

"I would feel less safe on campus if students were allowed to carry guns," Seferian told the Daily. "I do not feel that I need a weapon as a means of protection. A lot of people were startled by the incident in September and I think seeing someone with a gun on campus now would cause panic."

John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, a nonprofit organization in Newton, MA, believes that allowing students to carry guns on campus would only compromise public safety.

"I think it's a terrible idea," Rosenthal said. "In states that have lax gun laws that allow for easy concealed carry, there is much greater incidence of injury and deaths from firearms than states with strict gun laws and discretionary permitting for concealed carry."

The mass shootings discussed by proponents of the gun legislation are relatively rare, according to Rosenthal. Instead, a greater number of people would be harmed as a result of potentially careless gun use at colleges.

"More guns lead to more gun violence," Rosenthal said. "There is irrefutable evidence of that. It is a complete fallacy to say that more guns on campus would somehow result in less gun violence. In addition, who could possibly think that having guns and a beer party is a good idea on campus?"

Rosenthal, who lives and works in Massachusetts, believes the state is on the right track, especially in comparison with the likes of states with more relaxed gun regulations.

"Massachusetts has comprehensive gun violence prevention laws," he said. "We have among the strictest laws in the nation.

Massachusetts has the lowest firearm mortality rate of any urban industrialized state, with 3.5 deaths per 100,000 people, according to figures released last year by the Violence Policy Center, a non−profit gun control advocacy group. By contrast, Arizona, where no permit is required for concealed carry, had 15.9 firearm deaths per 100,000 residents.

While the debate over gun control is certainly not as loud in Massachusetts as it is in other states, gun culture is not completely absent from Tufts. Tufts Gun Club, founded by sophomore Nick Vik, held its first meeting on Feb. 23 in Wren Hall. According to Vik, the club seeks to fill a void at Tufts for those who are interested in sport shooting or hunting.

Vik, who has experience with recreational shooting and a family history of fur trapping, intends for the club to educate students on all issues of gun use and plans to bring in both advocates and opponents of gun control for future debates.

Although the discussion of guns and the use of firearms for recreational or protective purposes are not as frequent at Tufts as schools like UT, Vik believes there is a definite interest.

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