Idaho lawmakers recently passed legislation allowing campus carry at institutions of higher learning. Though the bill passed in both the house and the senate by wide margins, it met significant opposition, particularly from the education sector, and it has awakened the debate around weapons on college campuses.
There are two sides of the debate: those that believe that allowing guns on campuses will lead to a public safety nightmare; and those that believe allowing guns on campus will enable people to better protect themselves.
Given the recent increase in campus shootings and public safety crises, it’s natural to expect a sharp increase in campus carry legislation. But that has not been the case, according to Kathy Christie, Director, Information Clearinghouse at the Education Commission of the States.
“After the sexual assault cases at Penn State we saw a sharp rise in sexual assault legislation,” Christie said. “That has not been the case with guns.” Part of the reason is because gun laws are “so controversial that it is difficult to come to consensus,” Christie explained in an interview with AS&U.
Still, a few states have passed campus carry laws. In 2013 Utah and Texas both passed bills related to firearms on higher education campuses. The law that passed in “Utah says university officials cannot order anyone to leave campus for merely possessing a firearm, although they can if they believe that person intends harm (HB 28),” the Education Commission of the States (ECS) explained in an email interview.
“In Texas, universities cannot restrict anyone who is licensed, including students, from storing or transporting firearms on campus (SB 1907),” ECS also noted.
Opponents of the campus carry law have been most vocal in Idaho. The Idaho State Board of Education and all of the Idaho college presidents opposed a bill that would allow guns on Idaho campuses.
Despite this opposition, the bill passed in senate and house legislative committees and was passed in the Idaho House of Representatives 50-19. The law would allow retired law enforcement officers and those with Idaho's new enhanced concealed carry permit to bring their firearms onto campus.
Assuming Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch Otter signs the bill, Idaho will become the 10th state to allow for carrying of firearms or weapons on school grounds, according to the Education Commission of the States. Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah all currently have legislation that allows school security to be armed on school grounds and prohibits universities from regulating weapons on campus.
But educators and campus safety officials have scoffed at campus carry legislation. One of the reasons that campus public safety officials give for opposing the bill is that it will cost universities millions of dollars. Director of Campus Security of Boise State University, John Uda, estimates that the Idaho bill could cost Boise State University $3.5 million. It would cost $895,000 for the first transition phase and $1.42 million for subsequent years, Uda said in a memo assessing additional security needs the university would need to take. Those figures include the costs associated with additional security training and equipment purchases for weapon detection, particularly at large venues like the stadium.
But Christie says that it seems unusual that a campus carry law would be so expensive. Most of the legislation pertains to concealed weapons and not open carry, and thus should not have a cost associated with it, she told AS&U.
Uda acknowledged in his memo that “SB 1254 expressly prohibits bringing firearms into a campus dormitory or a venue that is hosting 1,000 people or more.” But this restriction will actually necessitate added security measures. “This `weapons in venue’ prohibition will now require an enhanced access control program that will necessitate a metal detection capability at entrances,” he said.
Both sides feel very strongly, but it seems the guns have it.