Allowing concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on Idaho’s college campuses will make learning environments less safe is the common line of reasoning in objecting to a bill now before the Idaho Legislature allowing concealed weapons on campus.
However, law enforcement officials on campuses across Utah, where permit holders are legally allowed to carry, say that’s just not the case.
Officials at several universities, including the University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Dixie State College and Utah State University told IdahoReporter.com that though carrying guns on campus has been legal for nearly a decade, they haven’t seen evidence that their schools are less safe.
“We haven’t had much problem with it,” said Steven Mecham, head of the Utah State University Department of Public Safety. “It’s just not been an issue.”
Reached via email, University of Utah spokeswoman Maria O’Mara told IdahoReporter.com, “We have had no incidents on campus regarding this law.”
Mecham said his agency only receives calls when a carrier’s shirt pulls up and other students or faculty see the weapon and call the authorities. When that happens, the police official said, officers will check the carrier’s permit to ensure the holder is carrying legally.
With guns close at hand, though, has Utah State University, the state’s second-largest school with about 20,000 students, experienced college kids threatening faculty or other learners with weapons?
“We haven’t had any of that,” Mecham said.
Not so fast, said Ron Isaacson, assistant director of public safety at Dixie State College in St. George. Isaacson, a five-year veteran of the office, said that while he hasn’t seen any shootings on his campus due to concealed carriers, his agency handles “a few” reports annually of students threatening or intimating gun violence.
Isaacson also said that he’s fielded reports of students accidentally dropping their firearms and one incident of a gun falling out of a school bag onto a library chair. Another library patron, he said, sat on the gun and started playing with it, not realizing that it was, in fact, a real weapon.
“I’m surprised she didn’t start shooting that thing, thinking it was a fake,” Isaacson said.
Still, Dixie State College hasn’t had any accidental shootings or discharges, he confirmed.
Across the country, 21 states ban concealed carry on campus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 23 allow campuses themselves to have the final say.
Six states allow concealed carry on public college or university campuses.
Idaho could become No. 7, as Idaho lawmakers continue to debate Sen. Curt McKenzie’s legislation that would allow the practice in most campus areas, with the exception of dorms, arenas and theater halls that seat more than 1,000 people.
The Idaho Senate passed the bill on a 25-10 vote earlier this month, with only Democrats and a few Republicans opposed. The House State Affairs Committee will hear the bill Friday morning.
McKenzie said he believes the self-protection that comes with carrying a weapon is a constitutional right. Gov. Butch Otter hasn’t taken a position on the issue.
Though the law has been in effect of nearly a decade in Utah, Isaacson and Mecham remain torn on the issue.
Isaacson said that while he recognizes that a concealed weapons permit holder might be able to stop a shooting in progress, he believes allowing students to carry makes his campus less safe. “I would prefer students not carry on campus,” he said.
Mecham said both sides of the debate are defensible. Like Isaacson, he believes that concealed carry could save lives, but he also acknowledged that a permit holder trying to stop an active shooter on campus could confuse responding officers, leading to slower response times and unnecessary injuries.
“How do we know who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy?” Mecham asked.
Boise State University announced earlier this month that passing the guns on campus bill would force the school to spend nearly $2 million on new security measures, including training and moving to an armed police force, a change from the unarmed security officers roaming the campus now.
Mecham said that’s the right direction to go anyway, saying that “in this day and age,” all campus security officers should be armed, regardless if students and faculty can legally carry weapons.