Arizona legislature OKs guns on campus

Arizona's legislature passed a bill Thursday to allow guns on the streets and sidewalks of public college campuses. Texas is also considering a broader bill to allow guns in campus buildings.

Matt York / AP
Jeff Miller's .40-caliber handgun is shown on his front seat in in Mesa, Ariz., in this 2010 file photo. Miller routinely carries his handgun in his vehicle. A bill passed April 8 by the Arizona House would allow guns on the public streets and sidewalks that pass through college campuses.

The latest attempt to expand gun owners’ rights in Arizona – by allowing them to carry their weapons on public college campuses – is now up to Gov. Jan Brewer.

On Thursday, Senate Bill 1467, which had already cleared the Senate, passed in the House 33 to 24. It would allow people to carry their guns when walking or driving through campuses on public streets and sidewalks. The bill was narrowed from its original version, which would have allowed guns in campus buildings as well.

Ever since the Virginia Tech massacre, advocates for allowing guns on campus have argued that people should be able to defend themselves in such situations if security can’t respond quickly enough. Some lawmakers have even proposed arming teachers in elementary and secondary schools.

But campus administrators and law-enforcement officers frequently oppose such efforts, concerned that the presence of weapons could lead to more violence.

Only in Utah are people allowed to carry guns into buildings on all public higher-education campuses. In Texas, a bill along those lines was hotly debated this week and appeared to be losing some support, but it could move forward again next week.

Currently Arizona law allows colleges or universities to decide whether to allow guns to be carried on campus, but none of the campuses do, reports The Arizona Republic. Other than Utah, the states are about evenly split between those that leave the decision up to each campus and those that specifically prohibit guns on campus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The fact that the Arizona bill was narrowed down to public passageways is a relief to gun-control advocates, who still oppose the bill but would be even more concerned if it allowed weapons into classrooms and dorms.

“This is one of those issues [where] parents of college students, law enforcement, students, and administrators are standing up and saying ‘No,’ ” says Brian Malte, director of state legislation at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington.

Since 2007, 45 attempts to allow guns on campus have been made in 24 states, and so far, all have failed, Malte says. He expects advocates to push again to allow guns in campus buildings in Arizona next year.

In Texas, two Senate Democrats who had originally supported the guns-on-campus bill withdrew their support this week after being bombarded with opposition from constituents and college officials.

“Anything that gets weapons closer to college students is a dangerous proposition,” says James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist and author of “Violence and Security on Campus.”

Alcohol use and depression among college students increase the potential for violent outcomes, he says, if weapons are introduced into the mix.

Homicides are rare on campuses – an average of fewer than 20 a year nationwide – which counters the argument that guns are needed for self-defense, Fox says. Even if there is an attack, “in the heat of the moment, most gun owners are ill-prepared for such a panic situation,” he says, and having attackers and victims both drawing guns would make it harder for police to intervene.

Students for Concealed Carry, a national grassroots organization, counters such arguments. Since 2006, in Utah and at two campuses in Colorado and Virginia that allow concealed weapons, there haven’t been any incidents of gun violence, the group’s website says. It also notes that police are trained to discern who an assailant is, even if some of the victims are armed.

Bills like those currently pending in Arizona, Texas, and about half a dozen other states “remove the idea that college is some sort of magical zone where people should not be allowed to protect themselves,” says David Burnett, the Kentucky-based president of Students for Concealed Carry.

This week, the group’s members have been wearing empty holsters to class, their signature yearly protest to signify how defenseless they feel when licensed gun owners aren’t allowed to bring them to campus.

The measure now on the governor's desk is one of a series of bills to scale back gun control that have been working their way through the Arizona state legislature. Gun issues are particularly hotly debated in Arizona in light of the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and wounded US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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