Do Weapons Increase Safety or Threaten Students?

If a college student is allowed to bring a handgun to class, will it increase the risk of violence toward other students or provide the student with a necessary measure of self-defense?

The issue of gun control has long been a subject of national debate, but in the months following the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, discussion has centered on college campuses.

On April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho used two handguns to shoot and kill 32 members of his college community in what stands as the largest mass shooting in American history.

"The university was struck today with a tragedy of monumental proportions. There were two shootings on campus. In each case, there were fatalities," said Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, who spoke candidly on the shooting later that same day.

Questions about Cho's mental health, the weapons he purchased, his motives and security at the university became controversial issues after the tragedy.

Now, as students return for the fall semester at Virginia Tech, the questions of gun rights remain largely unresolved — both at a school, where gun violence is a recent memory, and on the national scene.

A National Question

Gun control at schools and universities is legislated on a state level, and there is no federal legal standard. Currently, 38 states have banned weapons on school grounds, with 16 states extending that ban to college campuses. Even so, individual universities are often allowed to create their own campus security rules.

At the extreme end of the gun rights spectrum sit many rural states.

With vast stretches of land open for hunting and farming, along with a sparse police presence, Montana is known for its liberal gun control policy. It is a state where close to 90 percent of households contain firearms, according to a Montana Shooting Sports Association estimate.

This is, in part, due to a state law that allows Montana residents to openly carry firearms without a permit, and to also carry concealed weapons with the legal permission of a county sheriff.

Montana's liberal policies also stretch onto its college campuses. At Montana State University, many students check their rifles and ammunition at the front desk of their residence halls.

A recently proposed ban of concealed weapons on the MSU campus prompted a heated response from students. "The idea that they're instituting the exact same policy as Virginia Tech is ludicrous. People who use guns for ill aren't going to follow university policy," said Dan Bothwell, a premed student at the university.

Another western state, Utah, allows students over 21 to carry concealed weapons at public universities, drawing on a 2004 law that permits concealed weapons on state property. That law was challenged by the University of Utah in a case that reached the state Supreme Court, but failed to overturn the legislation.

Helping or Hurting?

Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is a nonpartisan grass-roots group that supports gun rights on university campuses.

In a written statement on the group's Web site, Chris Brown, the founder, and a senior at the University of North Texas, explained the group's stance.

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