Oklahoma Lawmakers Say Student Guns Can Stop Violence (Update1) By Matthew KeenanMarch 27 (Bloomberg) --
Oklahoma lawmakers have a plan to prevent violent outbreaks at colleges: let students carry guns. The state's House of Representatives voted March 13 to allow students and employees who have law-enforcement or military backgrounds, or who undergo training, to carry concealed weapons on public campuses. If the measure is enacted, Oklahoma will be the fourth state where collegians can be armed legally, as a result of legislative, court or administrative action in the past five years.
A group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus has sprung up, claiming 23,000 supporters including members at Harvard University, since a senior at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg killed 32 people last April. Legislators in 10 states are considering bills to permit weapons at colleges, pressed by gun-rights proponents. Opponents, including Oklahoma's 25 college presidents, say firearms will make crossfire deaths more likely.
`If it would help for me to get down on my knees to plead with the legislature for the safety of our students, I would do so,'' said David Boren, the president of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. The legislation, which would add 25 schools to the list of those with guns allowed, would invite ``chaos'' during emergencies, said Boren, a former U.S. Democratic senator from the state.
Jared Sano, 25, a senior studying business information systems at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, said he carries a .45-caliber Heckler & Koch semiautomatic handgun almost all the time on the campus. ``If somebody wants to do harm to me or a loved one, I want to have the ability to protect myself or protect them,'' Sano said. ``I hope and pray there's never a day when I need to use my firearm, but it's just there in case I ever need it.''
More than 40 states have laws that permit licensed residents to carry concealed firearms. The laws usually exclude campuses from the places guns can be carried. Carrying guns currently is allowed at nine state colleges and universities in Utah; Colorado State University in Fort Collins; and Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Virginia. ``It's just a common-sense answer to the campus-university problem as I see it,'' said Jason Murphey, 30, the Republican state representative who sponsored the Oklahoma legislation.
Representative Jerry McPeak, a Democrat who voted against the measure, said he learned to shoot at age 6 and has a ``house full of guns.'' Still, McPeak, a former college dean, said he's worried students, especially those who drink alcohol, could make poor choices, he said. Proponents believe ``that the good guys will outshoot the bad guys,'' said the 61-year-old McPeak.
``I'm more concerned about the good guys who make bad decisions with guns.'' The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says letting students carry guns will lead to more suicides and firearms accidents.
`Laughed Out of the Room'
``Even just a few years ago, anybody who had seriously proposed arming college students with semiautomatic weapons would have been laughed out of the room,'' said Doug Pennington, a spokesman for the Washington-based center. Lawmakers in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina were considering school-related gun laws as of March 24, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Proposals in Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington have been defeated.
As the U.S. Supreme Court considers the extent to which Americans are free to bear arms, Justice John Paul Stevens this month raised the question of whether a university could ban guns in student dormitories. The court is expected to decide this year whether to uphold a District of Columbia ban on handguns.
Membership in Students for Concealed Carry on Campus has more than doubled since Feb. 14, when a gunman killed five people at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb.
`Empty Holster Week'
The Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech assaults ``are the types of scenarios where someone with a concealed-handgun license would have had ample time to take aim and shoot,'' said W. Scott Lewis, 28, a real-estate agent in Austin, Texas, and a board member for the student organization. While the group has raised just $3,000, from T-shirt sales and donations, its leaders have appeared on CNN and Fox News. It has representatives on more than 200 campuses, including Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The group doesn't know how many students actually carry guns, Lewis said. About 1 percent of residents in so-called right-to-carry states are licensed, he said. Students for Concealed Carry is planning its second ``empty holster week,'' starting April 21. The first, in October, drew about 550 participants on 120 campuses, while 3,000 have signed up for next month's event, the group says.
`I Didn't Think It Would Pass'
The event was delayed to avoid intruding on memorial events at Virginia Tech, said Ken Stanton, leader of a 140-member chapter there. Stanton, a 30-year-old Ph.D. candidate in engineering education, got a weapons permit and joined the gun- rights group after the attack, which claimed a friend's life. ``I really thought a lot, obviously, about the loss of my friend, and what I would do to protect myself and anybody else from having this happen to them,'' Stanton said. Oklahoma Representative McPeak said there is little support beyond the student group for the campus-weapons bill, which now goes before the state Senate. ``I don't think there's a chance in thunder that it will pass,'' he said. ``But I didn't think it would pass on our side either.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Keenan in Boston at firstname.lastname@example.org