Our View: Idaho college campuses should stay gun-free

February 2, 2014 

A bill being circulated by Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, would allow Idaho college students who are at least 21 and who have an enhanced concealed weapons carry permit to be armed in certain areas on our campuses.

“Why not?” seems to be the operational question. Followed by a tougher one, “Why? What problem does this solve?”

McKenzie submitted his bill during a week when campus shootings happened in three states. Mass shootings in the U.S. have been on a tragic upswing since the late 1990s, nearly one-third of them occurring at educational institutions. “The rate at which these events occurred went from approximately one every other month between 2000 and 2008 (5 per year) to more than one per month between 2009 and 2012 (almost 16 per year),” according to an FBI report you can link to at idahostatesman.com.

The report was published in 2013, a year in which 15 such events had occurred by the time it came out. The breakdown of locations: businesses, 40 percent; schools, 29 percent; outdoors, 19 percent; and other, 12 percent. One way to look at it is that 71 percent of the cases were not at schools.

The Second Amendment allows Americans the right to keep and bear arms, and all 50 states have concealed weapons permits. But guns aren’t allowed everywhere. You can’t have weapons on airplanes, within courthouses or certain government buildings, or within certain large-capacity arenas.

State legislators can decide to overrule a school policy that forbids eligible students to carry guns. The National Council of State Legislatures reported this month that this has happened in six states, with various nuances. The NCSL also reports that “the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the University of Colorado’s policy banning guns from campus violates the state’s concealed carry law, and in 2011 the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the Oregon University System’s ban of guns on campuses, allowing those with permits to carry concealed guns on the grounds of these public colleges (Oregon’s State Board of Higher Education retained its authority to have internal policies for certain areas of campus, and adopted a new policy in 2012 that bans guns in campus buildings).”

If McKenzie’s bill is meant to thwart an attack or other crime on an Idaho campus, we don’t see the evidence that such an unlikely event should overrule some possible unintended consequences: 21-year-old students with 8 hours of training with the potential to draw and fire should they feel the need arises; armed students in a heated classroom discussion or at a tailgating party (outside of an arena) where alcohol is being served; the possibility of weapons theft.

McKenzie’s bill would not allow guns in arenas, dormitories, so where would they be stored? Cars? Lockers?

Does society want a Wild West atmosphere during a Western Civilization class discussion? What about the shooter’s liability? Police officers train with firearms and consider deadly force circumstances for their entire careers, and much of that training is about the decision to pull the trigger, not just where the bullet lands. Though the need for self-defense could arise, what prepares a 21-year-old student to use lethal force on a crowded campus?

In 2011, when a similar bill was circulating the Idaho Legislature, the Idaho Board of Education opposed it: “It is the policy of the board to cultivate on our public college and university campuses a climate conducive to knowledge and learning, and the board does not believe that House Bill 222 assists it in achieving this goal.”

What we like about McKenzie’s bill is that it allows retired law enforcement and student/professional law enforcement people to carry. We can see where they and weapons-trained military on campus could bring judgment and assistance in a shooting attack.

But we are wary of seeing the gun-free zones of campuses altered because of an event that might never happen.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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