After UCLA shooting, should colleges fear guns on campuses?

Professors fear disgruntled students being armed in their offices, while gun advocates say professors and students alike should be able to defend themselves. 

Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters
A Los Angeles Metro Police officer stands watch on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus after it was placed on lockdown following a murder-suicide on Wednesday. The shooting raises questions about whether should guns should be allowed in faculty offices.

After a former graduate student killed a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and took his own life Wednesday, professors and gun rights advocates are highlighting one aspect of the concealed carry debate, with both sides saying their stance could save lives: whether licensed carry holders should be able to bring their weapons on campus, and into faculty offices in particular.

Opponents, including university staff, say allowing guns into professors' offices will put them in danger of being alone with a disgruntled, armed student, which was reportedly the case on the southern California campus. Concealed carry advocates, however, say the murder-suicide emphasizes why professors should be able to protect themselves. 

"If this premeditated shooting at UCLA calls any policies or laws into question, it is the policies and laws denying law-abiding professors the means to defend themselves where they're most vulnerable," Students for Concealed Carry said in a statement it shared with The Christian Science Monitor. Licensed adults should have "the same measure of personal protection on campus that they're allowed virtually everywhere else," it said.

On Wednesday, former UCLA doctoral student Mainak Sarkar killed William Klug, an engineering professor and Mr. Sarkar's adviser, in an office on campus, then killed himself. Dr. Sarkar had accused Dr. Klug of stealing his computer code and giving it to someone else, and had lashed out at his former adviser on social media for months, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Students and staff were alerted to an "active shooter" on campus, and barricaded themselves in classrooms as police and firefighters swarmed UCLA. Klug, one of two professors on a "kill list" police found in Sarkar's home in Minnesota, was the only victim; the other professor, now safe, was off-campus at the time of the shooting.

According to police, Sarkar drove from Minnesota to California with two semiautomatic handguns in his sedan. He is also suspected of fatally shooting a woman in a Minneapolis suburb before making the trip, according to the LA Times. 

California, which already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, tightened its "campus carry" law in October. It is illegal to possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of a campus or school in the Golden State without permission from the administration. Previously, however, those with concealed carry permits were excluded from this restriction. Senate Bill 707, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed this fall, closed that exemption, making current and retired law enforcement officers the only people allowed to bring firearms near or on campus. 

Eight states currently allow "campus carry," allowing licensed concealed carry holders to bring their weapons on campus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas will become the ninth state in August, once a law requiring the state's 14 public universities to allow concealed carry license holders to bring handguns into campus buildings and classrooms becomes effective.

Each Texas public university can draft policies about campus carry before it becomes effective this summer, such as the creation of gun-free zones. In May, the president of the University of Texas System regents proposed allowing faculty to ban guns from their offices, amid professors' fears about students entering their offices armed.

Concealed carry turns "every interaction on campus into potentially one that involves a weapon," Ian Bogost, a Georgia Tech professor who earned his PhD from UCLA, tells the Monitor. Dr. Bogost shared his Texas colleagues' concerns when the Georgia Legislature passed a bill to allow campus carry. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal, however. 

"Your office is the one place for a professor to sort of feel safe, to ensconce yourself there and be cloistered – whether those things are violence, noise or colleagues," he says in a phone interview. "When I saw the news of [UCLA], this is exactly the nightmare scenario for any professor."

"The nightmare scenario is a student of mine, unstable or otherwise dissatisfied, tries to do me harm in a private space," he says, suggesting that students are under more "enormous pressure" with grades and other "arbitrary measurements of success" than ever. 

Andy Pelosi, executive director of Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, tells the Monitor that Bogost's and Texas professors' concerns about "disgruntled" students are one his organization has heard in other states, including Idaho. Asked if a campus shooting in California, with such strict gun laws, reinforces the need for professors and students to be able to arm themselves, he says that's not the answer.

"When it comes to campus carry, our view is it increases the risk," he says. "If people are concerned about safety on campus, and it's a legitimate concern, let's look at other avenues to increase safety – campus security, escorts, safer doors – that have been done and could be done."

But for some on-campus gun advocates, completely safety-centric debates miss a main point.

"The question isn't whether it lowers on-campus crime rates or serves as a deterrent to crime," Students for Concealed Carry write on the group's website, "the question is whether there is justification to deny licensees on campus the same measure of self-defense they enjoy at movie theaters, shopping malls, churches, and museums.

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