Guns on campus: creating more problems than solutions

By Tom Moore
Staff Writer

On Feb. 3, the Florida House of Representatives passed two gun laws – one, which passed by a 80-38 vote, allows permit holders to carry their weapons openly in public. The other would allow permit holders to carry concealed on college campuses.

The vote was welcomed by gun owners across the state.

The open carry bill was sponsored by state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. If passed, his legislation would allow the open carry of firearms throughout the state of Florida.

Looking at these news reports, I cannot help thinking of similar debate on this very topic raging in the Florida House and State Senate just last year.

“If the open carry bill and the campus carry bill, which also passed the House, become law,” Gaetz said, “individuals will be able to openly carry their weapons on the campuses of public universities across Florida.”

Students, faculty and staff openly carrying guns on college campuses… What could possibly go wrong?

The debate about guns on campus has been raging for years.  The strongest case for gun supporters is “safety,” guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

But what does this language mean?  Everyone agrees we have the right to bear arms. We also have the “right” to go around, flip each other off and act like jerks. I would hope that “We the people” will exercise a little self-control and restraint.

Open carry on college campuses could set a very dangerous precedent. Arming Florida’s universities could, in fact, lead to even more violence.

The first time this legislation was introduced, the pros and cons became evident as I researched the powder keg of stresses, feelings and raw emotions experienced by college students in their everyday lives. The pressure to succeed. The pressure not to disappoint family and friends. The pressure not to be perceived as a failure. All these pressures led to a rise in the suicide rate in colleges and universities across the country. The suicide rate in 2016 alone rose to 7.5 percent. This is higher than it has been since WWII. http://www.collegedegreesearch.net/student-suicides/

All these factors contribute to why most university administrators believe throwing firearms into the mix would not be a wise decision.

“There is no point to allowing concealed carry on campuses,” former UWF President Judy Bense said last year, when the issue was first before the legislature. “All university presidents hate the idea. It’s all political, and will do nothing to make our campuses any safer.”

In a January 2016 interview, UWF Police Chief John Warren said, “I feel that colleges are a place where students should be able to learn. Mixing guns with alcohol and other recreational pursuits and drugs is not conducive to that learning environment; it is also dangerous.”

When I started my research, I fully agreed with this assessment. I didn’t want to go to class and be surrounded by a bunch of cowboys with six shooters strapped to their hips.

But as I dug deeper, I began to realize there was a legitimate argument for the other side of the debate. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 3,000 forcible rapes occur each year on college campuses. The victims are often encouraged to allow the university to handle it “in house,” and not to go to public authorities because of the bad light it would shine on the university.

Ironically, this is the same argument used by the pro-gun legislators. They argue that a gun is a great equalizer, and it could be the difference between life and death. The case that drove this point home for me was the story and testimony of Amanda Collins, a gun owner, hunter, and Olympic Rifle Champion. She was also a victim of a violent rape in her parking garage, within sight of her car and the college police station at the University of Nevada at Reno in October of 2007. In her car was her trusty .38 revolver that she had a permit and carried in her purse at all times. The only exception was when she went to classes. As the law-abiding citizen she was, Collins left her weapon in the trunk of her car, per university policy.

“Red tape and university policies led to this happening and empowered my assailant while punishing me,” Collins said in testimony advocating campus carry laws. “I was legislated into being a victim.”

The Collins case was the final straw that initially changed my mind from being an opponent to concealed carry on campus to being a proponent.

But now I have to say Collins’ case is the exception, rather than the rule. She had a father who taught her to use her weapon since she was a little girl. She was comfortable with her gun and knew how to use it safely.

The average person, male or female, buying a gun for safety in Florida does not have Collins’ years of experience and training. The Florida law only requires a four-hour firearm safety course, which can be obtained for around $150 at most firing ranges. That is it. Compared to the experience and training Collins had, four hours is paltry at best.

This is why there are so many horror stories about people being accidentally shot with their own guns. Most people who buy a gun for safety, and obtain their concealed carry permit, have just enough experience to make them dangerous to themselves and those closest to them. For this reason, after careful consideration, I believe that overall, concealed carry on college campus would make them more dangerous than the current regulations that classify them as “gun-free” zones.