Students, administrators and faculty are lining up to oppose a bill currently moving through the Senate that may prohibit universities and colleges from enforcing any policy restricting the possession of a concealed weapon on campus by any person who has a valid concealed weapons permit.
The Arizona Board of Regents and the state’s three large public universities, the Arizona Community College Coordinating Council, the Maricopa Community Colleges Faculty Association, among others, have signaled their opposition to Senate Bill 1123 through the Legislature’s request to speak system.
It is not the first bill to be recently introduced in the Legislature to allow concealed carry of firearms on college campuses. One of the first attempts was in 2008 after the Virginia Tech shooting. In 2011, a bill that would have allowed those 21 and older with permits to carry guns on campus made it all the way to then Gov. Jan Brewer, but was vetoed.
SB1123 would allow concealed carry for those who have qualified for and obtained the proper permits. The state’s three large universities, governed by ABOR, currently prohibit guns on campus, even for those who have a permit. Firearms are allowed to be stored in locked cars if they are not visible from the outside. The rule makes exceptions for certified police officers.
The bill has stalled since the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the legislation, with a 4-3 vote along party lines, on Jan. 20 after hearing testimony mostly from groups expressing opposition. Their resistance to the bill has been expressed outside the halls of the Capitol and some said they will continue to encourage no votes.
“University students make very poor decisions on a daily basis, sometimes hourly basis,” said Arizona State University Chief of Police Michael Thompson in committee. “Adding guns to an already high-risk environment of alcohol, drugs, overreaction, lack of experience and immaturity is a very dangerous combination.”
“University students make very poor decisions on a daily basis, sometimes hourly basis. Adding guns to an already high-risk environment of alcohol, drugs, overreaction, lack of experience and immaturity is a very dangerous combination.”
Arizona State University Chief of Police Michael Thompson
A spokesperson for the ASU Police Department said the department had nothing to add beyond a statement from ABOR released after SB1123 was passed in committee.
“ABOR opposed and is disappointed a legislative committee advanced this bill that opens the door to guns on campuses of Arizona public universities,” the statement said. “The board respectfully asks that lawmakers heed the alarm of campus police chiefs. … The board and university presidents take seriously their obligation to provide a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus. This legislation is counterproductive to that effort.”
The ASU University Senate introduced and passed a resolution opposing SB1123 on Jan. 31. The University Senate, a body representing over 3,600 faculty members and academic professionals, said in the resolution, “access and proximity to weapons in an educational environment is not consistent with the goals of learning, open communication and intellectual exchange in the university community.”
Research from 2016 conducted by several faculty members at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research showed increased gun availability on college campuses could increase the number of “acts of aggression, recklessness, or self-harm” and may “have a deleterious impact on the safety of students, faculty, and staff.”
Eduardo Pagan, associate dean of ASU’s West campus, University Senate president and chair of the University Academic Council, said he was persuaded by Thompson’s comments in committee about how more guns on campus can complicate emergency response. Pagan said there was little discussion of the resolution because most everyone was in support.
According to the resolution, the University Senate has adopted four resolutions in the past in opposition to allowing firearms on university campuses. Faculty representatives feel strongly guns on campus would not make campus safer, Pagan said.
Jacob Sumner, president of the ASU chapter of March for Our Lives, the youth-led movement to eliminate gun violence, said he wants people to know the club is in opposition of the legislation. He said schools are places for learning and adding guns into the mix is a “dangerous combination.”
Sumner said members of the club are calling legislators and posting on social media ways to get in contact with representatives for other students.
Ryne Bolick, president of ASU Young Americans for Liberty, a political activism campus club part of the nationwide organization that hinges on the promotion of individual liberty, said Second Amendment rights should apply to everyone no matter their location.
Allowing for concealed carry is similarly important for campus and women’s safety, Bolick said. He said female members of his club have expressed feeling unsafe on campus, but none were available to comment. Ryne Bolick is the son of Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick and state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix.
“I am a believer that guns save lives and if a college student has a concealed carry weapons permit then he or she should be able to carry on campus and thus make the campus safer,” said Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, the bill’s sponsor, in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Stephen Boss at the University of Arkansas wrote in January 2019 gun-safe policies point to deaths by firearms on college campuses to be 1,000 times less frequent than in other public spaces in the U.S.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, opposed the legislation and said experts at the state’s schools are more familiar with campus safety and “have campus police and they are the ones who are best equipped and best trained to handle these safety issues, not us.”
Outside of politically partisan student groups and those that engage with the Legislature, Bolick, who is a mechanical engineering student, said students aren’t typically talking about what’s happening in the Legislature, especially at the beginning of session. Until the bill makes it further, gains more traction or attention from national press, students are focusing on their studies.
Not aware of any campus safety issues that would warrant the legislation, Pagan said the solution should not be more guns on campus. He appreciates the concern from the Legislature but hopes increased financial support of higher education institutions will be prioritized.