Guns on campus is a dangerous idea

August 11, 2016 Commentary, Editorials, Featured Slider Print Print
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Sophia Babb

Sophia Babb

College students in Texas are allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus under a new law, effective August 1.

Under Texas Senate Bill 11, those with a concealed handgun license can carry firearms on campus and in classrooms.

While the number of school shootings in America has increased considerably in recent years, the discussion of gun control has come to the frontline of political debate. Both critics and supporters of gun rights advocate vehemently for the same thing – increased campus safety.

After finishing my research on the Texas bill and it’s looming consequences, guns should not be in the hands of students on college campuses.

Since 2013, there have been a total of 190 school shootings in the United States. According to an ongoing study by Everytown Research, 10 of those shootings have occurred on community college grounds.

Supporters of open carry on college campuses often argue that an armed student body could prevent school shootings from becoming large massacres, making a safer overall environment for students.

Critics disagree, citing misfires and mishandling of firearms, emotionally fueled confrontations, and the unknown mental stability of students allowed to carry handguns.

Sharon Vaughan, Ph.D., a political science professor at OCCC, said the issue has become so controversial that it has shut down debate.

“My concerns are that it’s not good for academic discussion. I would be more hesitant to discuss controversial issues in the classroom, especially in my political science class,” Vaughan said. “With ideological issues being as sensitive as they are, people can get upset.”

Vaughan said she would also be more apprehensive about upset students visiting her during office hours.

“Every semester, you get a student who is really upset with you. They’re upset because they didn’t do the work or didn’t come to class, but they’re usually very emotional,” Vaughan said. “I find it disturbing to think that person could come to your office with a gun.”

Vaughan believes the OCCC campus is already safe, due to the OCCC Campus Police Department.

OCCC currently has an active police department on campus, operating 24 hours a day, each day of the week. Officers are armed and trained as any other city sanctioned police department would be operated.

Currently, OCCC’s policy on firearms on campus follows Oklahoma’s 2014 law “Possession of Firearm on School Property”.

OCCC College Policy NO. 1016 states:

“To promote the safety of students, employees, and visitors, Oklahoma City Community College (“OCCC”) prohibits the possession, use and display of Weapons of all types at all times on OCCC Property and during OCCC activities, trips or events, except as specifically authorized below or as otherwise required by the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act.”

This means that current OCCC students, faculty, employees and visitors can not currently bring guns through the college doors, but can leave their firearms in their vehicle if the weapon owner has a permit to carry.

Campus Police Chief Daniel Piazza said he supports the 2nd Amendment but is concerned about guns on college campuses.

“I’m a supporter of the second amendment, I was in the military, I have been in law enforcement. That’s what I’ve been trained to do,” Piazza said. “But you have to think about the handling of firearms.

“How is this student carrying that firearm? How is it secured? Can you have an accidental discharge? What’s going to happen when you have an accidental discharge in a classroom with a lot of people around you?” he asked. “These are all things you have to think about whether introducing handguns into a campus environment is going to make it safer or not. There are pros and cons for both sides of it.”

In a school shooting situation, open carry on a college campus could present unclear lines between those who are lawfully carrying a handgun, and those who are an active shooter. Students practicing open carry may try to assist in a school shooting, going after a shooter or readying themselves with a firearm for self defense.

It can prove difficult for law enforcement to determine the differences between “good guy” and “bad guy” when there is little time to ensure clarity of details before reaction.

Piazza said even among trained law enforcement, the lines can easily become blurred when including more weapons.

A report by the New York State Task Force on Police-­on­-Police Shootings said “the handful of fatal police‐on‐police shootings we have seen over the years are only the visible tip of an ‘iceberg’ of police‐on‐police confrontations.” This comes from an underreporting of non-fatal confrontations within the officers’ departments.  

The possibility of  accidents, miscommunications, and misunderstandings increases by allowing open carry on campus.

Supporters often claim that a student with a gun could stop a perpetrator before law enforcement arrive, preventing a mass shooting. An FBI report studying 160 active shooting incidents from 2000-2013 said “only one incident was stopped by a concealed carry permit holder.” 

By comparison, 21 active shooters were stopped by unarmed individuals.

Are most students prepared to carry a gun to class? Though individuals over the age of 21 may be issued a license to carry, the prefrontal cortex of young adults does not fully develop until around the age of 25, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. This part of the brain involves decision making, impulsivity, and planning behaviors.

The Journal of American College Health says students who own guns are “more likely than non-gun-owning students to binge drink and then engage in risky activities ‘such as driving when under the influence of alcohol, vandalizing property, and having unprotected intercourse.’”

Even with proper training, permitting young adults to carry guns on campus allows more room for impulsive, deadly mistakes.

Vaughan said the combination of youth and a lack of mental health resources could be deadly.

“College is sometimes a very stressful environment. We have a lot of young students having their first time on a college campus, and it could be a stressful combination to include guns in that experience,” Vaughan said.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services says Oklahoma consistently ranks as one of the worst states to live in with a mental illness. State budget data shows that Oklahoma only spends $53.05 per capita to provide mental health services, while the national average is more than double that amount, at $120.56.

When pairing poor access to mental health services with more lenience on firearms, the combination can become grim.

Since 2008, the University of Oklahoma President David Boren has taken action to prevent Oklahoma lawmakers from enacting legislation that would allow guns on campus. Several other Oklahoman college presidents have stood in solidarity with Boren, including OCCC President Jerry Steward  (use this as a hyperlink for online possibly.

The belief held among college officials in Oklahoma has been nearly unanimous — more guns on campus will not prevent gun violence, only perpetuate it.

In the past eight years, several bills filed by members of the Oklahoma Legislature would allow guns on Oklahoma campuses. Those bills, however, have died before reaching the Governor’s desk. This has kept our campuses safer, more responsible, and more conducive to academic discussion.

If guns were allowed on our college campus, I would have to walk through the school doors knowing deadly weapons were close to me. While worrying about an upcoming test, I’d also worry about the possibility of being shot by another student. In lectures or heated discussions, our attention would be divided between schoolwork and self-defense. We would see more injuries, deaths, and suicides. Our campus would become more dangerous, and our classrooms would not only be the learning environments we paid for, but zones where active fire could easily erupt.

If more bills are presented that threaten the safety of Oklahoma students, it is the responsibility of students against guns on campus to back their college presidents, blocking legislation.

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