University Presidents Speak Out Against Arizona Gun Bills

Two bills would allow students and faculty to carry guns on campus.

January 24, 2011, 5:25 PM

Jan. 26, 2011— -- Two weeks after a shooting incident that left six people dead outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz., two new bills remain in the Arizona Legislature that would loosen gun controls, specifically on college campuses. Neither proposal sits well with the heads of the state's public universities.

Guns and college campuses simply don't mix, the presidents of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona say.

If the measures pass, Arizona State in Tempe would follow the law but "it's a bad idea," President Michael Crow said.

"The creation of a safe environment for high-intensity learning doesn't permit guns on campus, besides the police," Crow said.

Arizona House Bill 2001 which was filed mid-December would allow faculty to "possess a concealed firearm on the grounds of a community college … a provisional community college … or a university … if the faculty member possesses a valid permit."

A second bill, House Bill 2014, introduced in late December would effectively stop the governing board of any university, college or community college to "enact or enforce any policy or rule that prohibits the possession of a concealed weapon by a person who possesses a valid permit…"

The president of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff is among those who're worried about the proposals.

"Part of the reason is that I think that it will create a climate on campus that is not what you want on an institution," John Haeger said. "That has a very chilling impact on it."

At the University of Arizona, a few miles from where a gunman allegedly attempted Jan. 8 to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was among the 13 wounded, President Robert Shelton expressed similar concern.

"I am unilaterally, completely opposed to that," Shelton said. " When I talk to all the law enforcement officials of Tucson Police Department and the University of Arizona Police Department … they say it's a bad idea for them."

But the bills' sponsor, State Rep. Jack Harper, remained undeterred. "With four hours of range time on gun safety, four hours of classroom time on gun laws of Arizona, an FBI background check, I feel that faculty members with a [Concealed Carry Weapon permit] should no longer be sitting ducks on Arizona's colleges and university campuses," the Republican said in a statement on January 20.

Harper's office declined an interview for this story.

Harper introduced a bill similar to HB 2001 last February as a state senator, but it got caught up in committees and never reached the floor. It is unclear if the two bills introduced in December will in fact reach a vote, or how long it could take if stalled in committees.

Gun Bills Spark Debate

Arizona is not the only state weighing this kind of legislation. Florida's legislature is also is considering loosening gun laws, which includes granting licensed gun owners the right to openly carry their firearms, including on college campuses.

Utah is the only state that requires its colleges to allow both students and faculty to carry concealed guns on its campuses. And just this week a Utah House committee voted to endorse a bill that would make the semiautomatic pistol the state's firearm, adding to a long list of state symbols. Read the bill HERE.

But gun rights advocates argue for anyone who has a concealed handgun license should be allowed to protect themselves "on a college campus as they do off campus because of the need of self protection and self defense," David Burnett, spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry.

"In Virginia Tech, there was no option [for defense] ... we want to give students or staff a fighting chance," Burnett said.

Burnett admitted, however, that the mass shooting in Tucson is "going to get people thinking about the [gun debate]."

Still, he argued, his opponents are "relying on stickers on the doors in those colleges that say 'no guns' to deter the criminals."

"Trying to argue that changing laws will actually change criminal behavior is completely illogical," he said.

One thing is certain: Students and teachers alike have a mixed opinion on the idea of having guns on their college campuses.

"I don't know if I would feel too comfortable with that being allowed on campus but it's their own right ... they can do whatever they want," said Marina Mandfredi, a 19-year-old freshman at ASU. "Who knows what'll happen?"

Some people who don't want guns on campus cite the uncertainty or potential threat of troubled students.

"Who's to say they get a bad grade and they can't handle the pressure and they want to kill everyone?" said Auston Johnson, a sophomore at ASU. "I want to feel safe ... not have to focus on somebody sitting with a gun next to me that I don't even know."

And such concerns are shared by some professors as well. "I think that when people carry weapons it perpetuates..." said Amy Pearson, a professor at ASU. " perpetuates ideas of violence and the actuality of violence occurring."

Others have a different view.

"Certainly, there's quite a few Republicans that support concealed carrying no matter where you go, whether it's on campus or anywhere in the state," said Tyler Bowyer, president of the College Republicans at ASU.

"There are quite a few people who are behind this, especially from the College Republicans," Bowyer said.

Bowyer points to the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007, for example. "I mean how many students walked out of Virginia Tech that day and said, 'I really wish I could carry a weapon on campus because I'd feel a lot safer,'" he said.

"How many of these horrible incidents does it take before we start taking it seriously that maybe we should give the right people the right to bear arms?" contributor Nathan O'Neal is a member of the ABC News on Campus program at Arizona State University.

The Associated Press and ABC News on Campus reporters Tia Castaneda and Siera Lambrecht contributed to this story.

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