College campuses have never been and never will be Gun Free Zones: It's time to trust the students
By Mark Noble
A few days ago, the Dayton Daily News ran a piece proclaiming that "Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is fighting for the right to be armed at school." The reality is that all students have an inherent right to be armed – it cannot be forcefully removed from a determined student. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus are merely pressing legislators to bring their civil liberties in line with their existing inherent rights.
Officials are none too happy with this effort as evidenced by comments from their spokespeople in campus police and security departments. According to CNN, Gene Ferrara, the police chief at the University of Cincinnati (UC) said "I don't think the answer to bullets flying is to send more bullets flying." One wonders why campus police are armed at all if they object so strongly to armed intervention to stop violent criminal attacks.
Chief Ferrara went on to explain that police can’t be trusted to exercise restraint in such a situation. "I shoot everybody with a gun who doesn't have a uniform on and I then I end up shooting somebody who was a citizen with a carry permit," Ferrara said.
Campus safety professionals may want to revisit such approaches. Historically when understaffed university police departments have called for support in the event of an emergency, police officers from surrounding departments – including plainclothes officers – respond. If a police officer from Cleveland is visiting their daughter at college at UC, would Ferrara shoot them for lack of a uniform?
Maybe campus police management should focus less on who has a gun, and more on assessing criminal behavior. Should the police shoot first, or assess the actions of the armed person to determine if they are a madman, a law enforcement officer, or a lawfully armed citizen complying with police orders? The answer is obvious. Anyone who has been through the concealed handgun licensing process knows that there are serious legal and physical ramifications to their actions.
Since campus mass shooters tend to off themselves when faced with armed resistance of any kind, the likelihood of police stopping a mass public shooter is astoundingly small. In the official Virginia Tech shooting report, the timeline indicated that the attacker committed suicide immediately after the police fired a shotgun to breach a locked door floors below. As it turned out, the answer to bullets flying was to send more bullets flying.
The Assistant Chief of University Police at Ohio State, Rick Amweg objected for another reason. "Whether it's a handgun or mace, there's always a chance the criminal could use the weapon against that person," he said. The most obvious problem with this assumption is that criminals won’t know who is carrying concealed firearms and thus will be unable to determine who to take them from. When asked to provide a source or study backing his statement, the Assistant Chief ignored the request. After the request was repeated at a higher level, Amweg responded that he had no evidence to support his claim – that it was just his opinion after years of work as a police officer.
There’s a lot of opinion to go around. Miami University Police Chief John McCandless said "I believe that we are more likely to have more problems with having guns on campus than in having an active shooter." Of course, these are the same arguments that were made in opposition to concealed carry in general, and even with more than one in eighty Ohioans licensed to carry, none of these worries have translated into the sort of incidents law enforcement managers had predicted.
Of course, school administrators aren’t the only group weighing in on the issue with concerns. In a recent editorial, the anonymous Lantern Editorial Staff at Ohio State concluded that students couldn’t be trusted because, in their view, being a college student and a drunken riotous brawler go hand-in hand. While it’s true that Ohio has had some notable riots in its past, very few of the participants turned out to be Ohio State students. Most were troublemakers from the surrounding areas – and the sort of violent characters CCW may well protect against.
It should also be noted that while students commonly carry pocket knives and baseball bats on campuses, political discourse in class doesn’t seem to devolving into armed brawls and spilling into common areas. Why college journalists seem to think the situation would be different with firearms has yet to be explained.
Student newspapers like the Lantern at Ohio State routinely interview students whose opposition to CCW comes in the form of gems like the worry of one co-ed that licensees would become bored between classes and start hunting ducks with handguns.
I cannot explain why school newspaper editors and the students they interview feel the need for self-deprecation. Perhaps it’s a force of habit. Until age 21 when lawful concealed carry of handguns becomes an option under federal law, those under the legal age are lumped in with felons and the mentally ill as people who cannot be trusted with handguns. From personal experience, the irresponsible individuals in society seem unwilling to spend their beer money and the better part of a weekend on training, licensing, and equipping themselves for lawful concealed carry.
The matter boils down to a simple question. Why should people that have proven themselves competent and trustworthy in safely using firearms for personal defense in the rest of society be refused that same ability within the imaginary lines that represent the confines of college campuses? Surely felons and those bent on murder-suicide pay no attention to such distinctions.
When Ohio first passed its concealed carry law, Mike Weinman, a legislative liaison for the Columbus Division of Police said "Something we are worried about is that cars are already broken into all the time while on campus, but now with the possibility of having a concealed weapon in your car, the vehicle may become more susceptible to auto burglary. Now, not only do we have a problem with theft, but also with a criminal carrying a stolen gun." Of course one obvious solution is to allow students to carry their firearms on their person – where they are safe from theft.
Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, has introduced Senate Bill 318, which would permit taking concealed weapons onto college and university campuses if they are unloaded and in a closed package, box or case. Unfortunately, this legislation would not only require students to remove their firearms from their holsters in public places like sidewalks and parking lots in and around campus, but it would introduce safety hazards associated with loading and unloading firearms in public – problems that we don’t have today.
Representative John Adams, R-Sidney has sponsored House Bill 225, which would ensure that the civil liberties of Ohioans would be in synch with their rights by removing “Gun Free Victim Zone” restrictions found in our current laws. (The bill is stalled in the House, having received only one hearing.)
In the mean time, university leadership hopes to distract the public until the problem subsides – they spend millions on better lighting, security cameras, advice to walk in groups, and the suggestion to always carry valuables on your person to deter theft from a car or dorm (and make the students more tantalizing targets for robbery).
Jim Heinen, General Manager of Ohio State’s South Campus Gateway project - which in the past few years has been host to two fatal shootings and one student disappearance (despite hundreds of video cameras), said "I think we're pretty effective at what we do; we can't stop the violence, random stuff, nobody can, but the things that we really can address, we do.” Advocates of lawful concealed carry on campus recognize this – and accept the responsibility associated with the ability to defend them on-campus and off.
The fact is college campuses never have been and never will be gun-free zones. The best we can do is trust responsible adults with their freedom to defend themselves when administrative efforts fail.
Mark Noble is an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor teaching pistol marksmanship and firearms safety to college students on a volunteer basis. He has appeared on Fox News as a representative for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus at The Ohio State University, is Chair of the Libertarian Party of Ohio’s 2nd Amendment Subcommittee, and ran as an Independent candidate for Lt. Governor of Ohio.
Related stories from around Ohio during this weeks' Empty Holster Protest:
Students aim to change firearm laws with empty holsters