Senate Bill 858 may bring weapons to campuses

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By Lornna Bates, News editor

Oklahoma Congress is in the midst of discussions regarding proposed Senate Bill 858.  What does this mean for students of Southeastern and other college campuses across the state of Oklahoma?  The bill is contesting the current laws against carrying concealed weapons on college campuses.

If it were to pass, students, faculty and staff who are in possession of a valid license would be able to carry a concealed weapon to school.  The new legislation would be slated to go into effect Nov. 1.

Oklahoma Sen. Steve Russell introduced SB 858 during the first session of the 53rd Legislature (2011) beginning Feb. 7.

Oklahoma is not alone.  Arizona, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas legislatures are also considering bills of a similar nature.

According to ConcealedCampus.com, which is the house site for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, Georgia and Tennessee may also be pending legislation regarding concealed weapons on campuses.

“Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization comprising of over 42,000 college students, professors, college employees, parents of college students and concerned citizens,” said ConcealedCampus.com, “who believe that holders of state-issued concealed handgun licenses should be allowed the same measure of personal protection on college campuses that they enjoy virtually everywhere else.”

Under the provisions of Russell’s proposed bill, anyone who possesses a valid concealed handgun license would be allowed to carry a weapon on campus.

However, the measure does allow colleges or universities the right to ban the carrying of weapons at sporting events and other access-controlled events, meaning “where all persons entering the event are subject to security checkpoint screenings by immediately available security personnel,” wrote Russell within the bill.

According to CarryConcealed.net, in the state of Oklahoma, any current resident of the state, who is at least 21 years of age, a citizen of the United States and able to complete a training course in firearms is qualified to obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon.  The permits are issued by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Following tragedies on college campuses, such as April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech where 33 people were killed (including Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator) and 25 were injured, a highly controversial debate has arisen regarding the carrying of concealed weapons on campuses.

The debate, simply put, is whether people having the right to carry a licensed concealed weapon on a college campus would make the students and faculty more or less safe.

Southeastern President Larry Minks said, “I have been part of ongoing discussions with other [university] presidents around the state in regard to the Senate Bill authored by Sen. Steve Russell.”

“We are all in support of the statement released by Chancellor Glen D. Johnson of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education on January 25, 2011 in response to press inquiries,” said Minks.

Per Johnson’s statement, “There is no scenario where allowing concealed weapons on college campuses will do anything other than create a more dangerous environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors.  A coalition of our 25 college and university presidents, law enforcement officials, students, parents, faculty and administrators will aggressively oppose any attempts to permit the carrying of concealed weapons on our campuses.”

“We don’t agree with it, basically,” said Capt. Stacy Ballew, Assistant Director of the SE Campus Police Dept.  “If they allowed it to pass and we had an incident, how would the police determine who was the bad guy?  Those decisions have to be made in split seconds.”

The SE Student Government Association has released Resolution 33 concerning the allowance of concealed weapons on university and college campuses.

Per the resolution, “It is in the opinion of the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Student Government Association that the carrying of concealed weapons on a university campus would do more to instigate violent acts than it would to deter them, and the knowledge that firearms in the classroom may create a sense of fear and tension amongst both students and faculty threatening the spirit of free academic expression, inquiry and the intelligent exchange of ideas protected under the first amendment.”

“The Southeastern Oklahoma State University Student Government Association unequivocally opposes any legislation allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on university and college campuses,” said Resolution 33.  “The Southeastern Oklahoma State University Student Government Association opposes any university, state, or regent’s policy allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on university and college campuses.”

Apparently this has been a hot topic of discussion for a few years now throughout states nationwide.  Thomas L. Harnisch, a policy analyst with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, wrote a higher education policy brief titled “Concealed Weapons on State College Campuses:  In Pursuit of Individual Liberty and Collective Security” regarding the topic in November 2008.

“Lawmakers in several states have advanced the idea allowing citizens with concealed weapons permits to carry their weapons on campus,” wrote Harnisch.

“These legislative proposals have been met with considerable controversy, evoking strong emotion on both sides.  Thus far, Utah is the only state to have adopted this policy.  All other state legislatures where similar bills have been introduced have rejected the idea.”

According to ConcealedCampus.com, “26 colleges currently allow concealed carry on campus, including all public universities in Utah and multiple college campuses in Colorado, totaling over 70 campuses.”

“According to crime statistics and inquiries to campus officials, there hasn’t been a single reported instance of shootouts, accidents or heated confrontations resulting from concealed carry on campus,” the site states.

“In fact, Colorado State University’s crime rate has declined steadily since allowing concealed carry. While no one can irrefutably claim this is due to concealed carry, we can at least state with certainty that allowing concealed carry does not increase risks to a campus population and may even help.”