Although numerous states currently ban guns on campus, perpetual legislative efforts are pushing the country in the opposite direction, according to a new policy analysis released Tuesday.
“The pivot toward allowing guns on campuses across many states has been made without sufficient evidence to answer a critically important question: Will concealed carry laws make members of the campus community safer?” argue the authors of the report, titled “Guns on Campus: The Architecture and Momentum of State Policy Action.”
“The possible negative, unintended consequences of allowing individuals to carry firearms on campus deserve careful consideration,” the authors continue in the report, jointly issued by the Education Commission of the States and the Research and Policy Institute at NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
The report shows states are going in the right direction “in the sense that most of the (campus carry) bills are failing,” said Thomas L. Harnisch, director of State Relations and Policy Analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which opposes campus carry.
“It’s just that the problem is every year it seems like one or two states are allowing guns on campus, which is something that is opposed,” Harnisch lamented, citing statistics that show most college and university presidents and students don’t want guns on campus.
A recent Gallup poll, however, found that 56 percent of Americans believe that more concealed weapons would make the country safer.
Currently 21 states prohibit guns on campus—19 through legislation and two at the systemwide level—and nine states allow guns on campus—seven through legislation and two through court rulings.
The report released Tuesday shows how the legislative landscape of campus carry varies from state to state. Some states, such as Wisconsin, for instance, allow campus carry but also enable colleges and universities to restrict guns in certain buildings on campus.
Harnisch cited Wisconsin as an example of how the gun lobby is seeking to weaken weapons policies on campus.
“A few years ago in Wisconsin, they allowed guns on campus but not in buildings,” Harnisch said. “What was introduced this year? A proposal to allow guns in campus buildings.”
Harnisch said the effort is one of several that show how gun rights activists are seeking to “progressively weaken the laws, so they loosen the screws a little bit every year on campus weapons policy.”
“Every year they come back,” he said. “They’re playing the long game.”
But what gun opponents see as a gradual weakening of gun laws, campus carry proponents see strengthening of gun owners’ rights.
“I definitely think states are definitely going in the right direction,” said Zachary Zalneraitis, a spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry, a national, nonpartisan organization that advocates for state handgun license holders to have the right to carry guns on campus.
“While a lot of the campus carry bills are getting defeated, they’re getting further in the legislatures, a lot further than they have in the past,” Zalneraitis said. “Each of those small steps is a sign of improvement as well as the fact they’re getting reintroduced after being defeated.”
Texas was the only state to pass legislation in 2015 to allow concealed weapons on college campuses, the report states.
The Texas law, which takes effect in August, grants “limited discretion for institutions to establish rules and regulations that articulate carried guns and how they should be stored,” the report states.
Zalneraitis said Texas is “going to run into issues” if questions are raised about whether schools are being arbitrary about how they restrict concealed carry.
“Whatever compromise they come to, both sides will be unhappy, and you’ll have lawsuits from both sides,” Zalneraitis said. “So the more clarity that legislatures put in the law, the better.”
The analysis released Tuesday contains a set of recommendations.
Among other things, the authors suggest that campus leaders be cognizant of the fact that not all licensed gun holders have gone through basic gun safety training and that not all states have the same prerequisites for gun ownership.
“State leaders may consider policy that requires gun owners wishing to carry a concealed weapon on campus to be authorized by the same state within which the postsecondary institution is located,” the report states.
The report also urges policymakers and campus leaders to “keep in mind the challenges conceal and carry laws enacted in postsecondary settings may present to police and other first-responders.”
“The difficulty law enforcement faces in distinguishing a perpetrator from other armed, innocent bystanders may increase the potential for delayed response times, lead to inadvertent harm, and add complexity to the development and implementation of crisis response plans,” the report states.
Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.