Guns on Campus Legislation

LEGISLATION TO LIFT THE BANNING OF GUNS ON CAMPUS
House Bill 1243
Committee on Education
Arkansas House of Representatives
Statement by UALR Chancellor Joel E.  Anderson
State Capitol, Little Rock, AR
February 12, 2013

(Note: This statement was prepared but was not presented because the day before the committee hearing the sponsor of the legislation announced that he would amend HB 1243 to authorize the Boards of Trustees of the public colleges and universities to decide whether or not a campus would permit faculty and staff with concealed-carry permits to have guns on campus. This statement is offered here as information regarding the Chancellor’s views on the subject.)

 

Let me first establish some common ground. I grew up on a farm in northeast Arkansas, just east of Swifton in Jackson County. My father and I went hunting many times in numerous places in that part of the state. I had a single shot .22 rifle for squirrel hunting and I also had a bolt-action 16-gauge shotgun I ordered from a Sears-Roebuck catalog. My father had a beautiful semi-automatic .22 rifle as well as a 12-gauge shotgun that sounded like a cannon and kicked like a mule.

Two of my friends and I would take our .22’s and sit on the edge of the long wooden bridge over Village Creek on Highway 226 and shoot – or at least shoot at – snakes that appeared in the creek or on its banks.

Safety rules were simple. No loaded gun was permitted in the house or in the car. And you were never to point a gun, loaded or unloaded, at anyone. Early on, I learned both to enjoy guns and to respect guns.

All of us who have been hunters have seen the damage a gunshot can do to the body of an animal and can easily imagine the horrible damage a gunshot could do to the body of a human being. In addition, while I was growing up I heard repeated a number of times the tragic story of another student, several years ahead of me in school, who had accidentally shot and killed his father. Guns are lethal.

Because guns are lethal, writing public policy about the possession of guns is a solemn undertaking that calls for thoughtful deliberation—without emotion and bravado.

This morning someone on a college campus here in Arkansas, or here at the State Capitol, or in a local restaurant, or a parking lot could be killed by an active shooter. Furthermore, it could be a situation in which, had a person with a concealed-carry permit been present, that person with the concealed-carry permit might conceivably have had the composure and the skill to take out the assailant and thereby spare other lives.

It is just as likely, however, that a person with a concealed-carry permit trying to respond in such a circumstance could exercise faulty judgment that not only failed to prevent the shooting but made it worse, with the wrong person or more persons being killed.

My point is that those for this legislation and those against it can both offer frightening hypothetical circumstances, which could become reality tomorrow, that support their respective positions.  It can become an argument based on might-be or might-have-beens, which will yield a tie in the debate.

I do not object to concealed-carry permits nor would I criticize citizens of Arkansas who have obtained such permits. I think there is much that is commendable about Arkansas’s concealed-carry statute—including the required in-class instruction although it is minimal (4-5 hours in length); the shooting certification though it is also minimal; the FBI background check; the full finger-printing; and the emphasis on concealment of the weapon. I have friends, who are upstanding citizens, who hold permits for concealed-carry and I have discussed with them their experience in qualifying for their permits. The rigor and quality of their training varied considerably, depending upon the instructor.

What I do object to is opening the door at all to more guns on campus.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, those of us who lead universities are obliged to promote and protect the sensitive intellectual environment of our campuses. We also bear the solemn responsibility for the safety and security of everyone who lives, works, and learns on our campuses. I can say this regarding the presidents and chancellors of all of the public two-year and four-year colleges and universities in Arkansas:

  • None of us has asked for this legislation.
  • None of us thinks this legislation would make our campuses safer or our jobs easier.
  • In fact, with more guns on campus, we believe this legislation would complicate safety issues and make our campuses less safe and our jobs harder.

Why does it become more complicated? Because campus administrators and law enforcement personnel—charged with the solemn responsibility for the safety of every student, faculty member, staff member, and guest on campus—would be dependent on the good judgment and responsible behavior of a larger number of people with guns if this legislation is approved.

If the number of guns on campus goes up, the odds of bad judgment in the use of a gun go up–just as when the number of hunters with guns in the woods goes up, the odds go up that some hunter will be shot by accident or by mistake.

Universities are special places in a number of respects, perhaps foremost among them their openness to, indeed their encouragement of, the pursuit and expression of ideas that may not be popular at the moment, along with vigorous but civil debate and critical analysis. It is an environment that not only stimulates the growth of young minds but also nurtures new ideas and fresh ways of thinking that benefit—especially over the long run—both the university and the public. Scholars toting guns are simply out of place.

And our campuses have remarkable records as safe places, safer than most places off campus.

Yes, the individual’s sense of personal safety is important. But we need also to factor in the sensitive environment of a college or university campus.

I worry about circumstances in which a layperson, with or without a concealed-carry permit, decides to act as a lawman. I know how nervous someone can become quickly, how everyone has a panic threshold that can be crossed in a dangerous and fluid situation. I also know how hard it can be to fire a pistol straight at the intended target even when you are calm. And most ordinary citizens have no experience—the very scary experience— of shooting at another human being.

I realize that some people draw comfort from the possibility that a lay person with a concealed weapon could act as a lawman, and that to them is a justification for the legislation. However, I draw no comfort from it.

There was a recent example—not hypothetical—of a shooting at a gasoline station in west Little Rock.  A person nearby with a concealed weapon decided to take out his handgun and fire it, no doubt with the intent to be helpful, but this person’s bullet hit the wrong car.

No less an authority than U. S. Justice Antonin Scalia has provided a justification for the position taken by the presidents and chancellors. He wrote:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. (Italics added) (D.C. v. Heller, March 18, 2008)

To me it is a matter of simple math. If you have more guns on campus, the risks of an injury or death from a firearm goes up due to an accidental firing or an intentional but improper use of a gun or due to a person’s making a deadly mistake under the pressure or panic of the moment.

Despite the merits of the instruction required of concealed-carry permit applicants, such limited instruction could not possibly train applicants nor practice and rehearse them for a variety of emergency circumstances. Law officers have to undergo months of training, and sometimes they misread a situation and make a serious mistake.

In short, I cannot be confident at all that persons with a concealed gun on campus will react responsibly and skillfully if they feel threatened or think others are threatened. Also, it is impossible to ensure that an unauthorized person will not come into possession of a weapon brought to campus by a legitimate permit holder.

It should be noted that the Arkansas Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators voted to oppose this bill.

All of our public colleges and universities have police officers on campus who are authorized to carry and use guns and who have had extensive training to prepare them for such an eventuality. The roster of the UALR Public Safety Department includes 39 positions, 25 of whom are sworn officers of the law with the authority to carry and use their service weapons on campus.

The training of our officers is substantial and includes:

  • Initial orientation training by UALR’s public safety department
  • Attendance at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy for a 12 week course that includes instruction and training with regard to:
    • firearms
    • non-deadly defensive tactics
    • officer safety techniques
    • civil liability and legal aspects of law enforcement
    • crisis intervention
  • Semi-annual firearm qualification

These trained officers are the only people who need to be and should be authorized to carry firearms on campus.

In summary, in my judgment and that of my fellow presidents and chancellors, the proliferation of guns on our campuses would not make our campuses safer and would in fact complicate the work of campus leaders and law enforcement officers and make it harder to assure safety for all members of the campus community.