In 2009, police arrested a Western Oregon University student at the student union with a concealed handgun and knife in his pocket. Later, the Newberg School District sought, and failed, to keep guns from its schools. These cases ignited a strongly-contested conflict about guns on the campus of Oregon state universities and other state schools. Under Oregon law, any citizen at least 21 years old without prior law infractions can pay a small fee, get a license and carry a concealed handgun. While most universities have historically had a policy not allowing guns on campus, a November 2011 Oregon Appeals Court case between Oregon Universities and the Oregon Firearms Federation, a political action committee, held that state universities could not ban students from carrying concealed weapons in Oregon state universities. State Representative Kim Thatcher of Marion and Yamhill counties, and the Oregon Firearms Federation, have been leading proponents of repealing the gun ban in universities and in school districts. Oregon University System chancellor, George Pernsteiner, and others have fought for tighter control in banning guns from state schools.
The Oregon University System believes that prohibiting guns on our campuses has been and is an effective safety system for our students and campus community. While we respect Oregonians’ right to legally carry concealed weapons, we also strongly believe that there are places where firearms should not be allowed. Besides airplanes and federal courts of law, prohibiting guns at our public universities is an important measure to ensure a safe environment.
Concerns about firearms on campus include the potential for accidental firing or misuse of guns where large numbers of students and the public congregate, especially when alcohol or drugs are being consumed. Most recent statistics show that gun accidents annually kill Oregonians, with four deaths in 2009 alone. On-campus counselors have stressed their concern that the presence of firearms also creates a more dangerous environment for students who are struggling with mental health problems and may use a weapon as effective means to take their own life.
University public safety officers have testified before the State Board of Higher Education about witnessing the tragic finality that firearms can bring to situations. What may be fleeting thoughts or actions by an individual can bring irreparable harm when a gun is present. There is also a real concern among law enforcement officers that, when responding to a situation involving an active shooter on a campus, they may not be able to distinguish between the shooter and “good guys” with firearms.
Campuses must be safe environments where students can engage in learning without fear, and feel secure in a robust exchange of ideas. Our responsibility is to ensure that college is first and foremost an environment of inquiry and civil engagement, and a training ground for our next generation of leaders. Banning weapons on campus is the best way to ensure this.
The opponents of self defense firearms on college campuses have relied on a few false and often repeated arguments.
Invariably, they argue that college students are too immature, too drunk or too emotionally unstable to be trusted with firearms. They claim that college students would use guns to resolve disputes or shoot themselves over the end of a romance. Their second argument is that guns serve no defensive purpose on a college campus because in the event of a need for a defensive tool, the (late) responding police could never determine who was the “good guy” and who was the criminal, and, as a result, more innocent people would be killed. A variation on that unsupportable theme is that allowing trained, licensed people to have the ability to defend themselves would only create more gunfire and more folks shot in the crossfire.
If any of this were true, why allow people to carry concealed firearms anywhere? Where would these unproven allegations not apply? Why are college students (who hardly can all be pigeon-holed by age, maturity or personality) not be killing themselves and others off campus? It is, and has always been, lawful for a licensed person to carry a concealed handgun on the property of Oregon state universities. Where is the carnage that they predicted?
College campuses are no different from any other location. There is nothing that makes firearms turn otherwise rational, trained people into dangerous lunatics.
Time after time, colleges have been the scene of horrific mass murders because the people there were denied the ability to protect themselves. Oregon Universities should not deprive trained adults the ability to keep themselves and those around them alive when faced with a deadly threat.