COLUMBIA — Seven years ago, Keith Moum left college after a semester to join the Army. When he returned from Iraq in 2004, a new law had made it possible for people 23 and older who have undergone the required training to carry a concealed weapon.
Always a gun rights advocate, Moum obtained his own concealed weapon permit when he turned 23.
But he still wasn’t satisfied. A computer science student at Columbia College, Moum was unhappy that he couldn’t carry a weapon on campus because the law enacted in 2003 exempts certain locations from concealed carry provisions. Polling places, courthouses, airports, places of worship and schools – including colleges and universities — are on the list.
After the shootings on college and university campuses last year, Moum decided to create a Columbia College chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. The national student-run organization lobbies government and university administrations for the right to carry concealed weapons on campus. Since April, when Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., the organization has attracted a total of more than 25,000 members nationally.
The organization has some traction. Thirteen states are considering legislation that would allow students to carry concealed weapons.
Still, campuses have become safer. In 2006, the last year that data was released by the FBI, eight students were killed on college campuses across the country — and not necessarily with guns. It’s the lowest number of students killed on college campuses in the past 10 years.
Violent incidents in general are also showing a steady decline on college campuses. According to data from Security on Campus Inc., a non-profit organization, violent crime dropped by about 10 percent on college campuses across the country from 1999 to 2006.
The concealed carry effort has been defeated in two states in this legislative session, and there is other opposition.
An organization called Protest Easy Guns is organizing a nationwide “lie-in” to peacefully protest how easy it is to purchase guns in America. According to the organization’s Web site, lie-ins will take place in 34 states across the country. On their Web site, they call for groups of 32 people — representative of the 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech who were killed — to plan a time and lie down on the ground together as a protest. There were no lie-ins planned for any campuses in Columbia.
At Virginia Tech, Alison St. Onge organized a lie-in on the Tech Drillfield in between planned memorials of the shootings that shook the campus just one year ago.
St. Onge wrote on the group’s Facebook event page that the anniversary of the shootings is another time when “we should band together again. We should represent our lost ones and show people that guns are still too easy to obtain.”
Moum views concealed carry as a vital right and a safety precaution.
“Specifically at Columbia College, I’m worried about the evening students because it’s not in the best area of town and the security force is unarmed,” he said. “The parking lots aren’t fabulously lit, and the majority of our evening students are going to be professionals and working students who are 23 and older. There’s no reason for them to be left defenseless.”
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence takes the view that individual colleges and universities should decide whether to allow concealed weapons on campus. But Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the coalition, said that allowing guns on campuses would be “a terrible idea” and could increase the number of gun deaths.
Everitt thinks adding more weapons to the mix could do more harm than good and put law enforcement officers in even more complex situations.
“How are law enforcement arriving at the scene going to identify who the shooter is if they arrive on the scene and see 10 handguns drawn,” Everitt asked. “How are they going to know how to defuse that situation?”
Moum takes the opposite view on the safety issue.
In the Northern Illinois University shooting, in which six people including the shooter died, and the Virginia Tech shooting, Moum said that it’s possible that a student carrying a concealed weapon could have stopped the shootings.
“You never know,” he said. “But you do know for a fact that they could have done more than just taking pictures.”
“We have young, impressionable minds that are in a cloistered environment,” he said. “Our best and our brightest are in an unprotected environment and are essentially being led to the slaughter. It’s not as graphic as that, but it clearly shows that there is an element out there that has targeted college students, and campus policy has left them with no way to defend themselves.”
He said that element is poor legislation and an infringement of registered gun owners’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“It’s a federal right that we have it, so why is it a particular college’s position to allow or disallow a constitutional right — and in the state of Missouri, a right that has been backed up by the (voters),” he said.
Moum is actively working to extend the current concealed carry law to campuses across the state. Paul Ready is leading a similar effort at MU.
A senior business major, Ready met with legislators in Jefferson City during his spring break. His goal is to rapidly change Missouri law to allow concealed weapons on campuses.
But the politics during an election year, he said, made quick action more difficult.
“It’s is an election year, Matt Blunt is not going to go up for re-election, and we don’t know who his successor will be,” he said.
Moum shares Ready’s concerns about the political process.
“It’s not the belief of the people, it’s the makeup of the legislature,” Moum said. “The American people are the ones that should make the policy.”
Ready’s initial goal was to have legislation introduced before the April 1 deadline for this legislative session, but he said that he is now pushing for the change in the next two years.
Though he lobbied extensively in Jefferson City and had support from Reps. Danielle Moore (R-Fulton) and Brian Munzlinger (R-Williamstown), Ready could not find a sponsor for the bill.
Ready will make a presentation to the Chancellor’s Safety Committee on April 22 to try to gain institutional support on the MU campus for the change. Aside from the state law prohibiting concealed weapons on university property, the university’s M-Book also bars concealed weapons on campus.
Moum is in the process of making a similar approach to the safety committee at Columbia College, as well as the college’s president.
“If we could get the support of campus leaders, or at least a promise that they would be neutral, it would make a world of difference in our ability to move on this issue earlier,” Ready said.
MU Police Chief Jack Watring, who sits on the Chancellor’s Safety Committee, said his department is opposed to the idea of concealed weapons on campus
“We don’t need armed individuals on campus unless they are licensed police officers,” he said.
Watring said that he doubts the Students for Concealed Carry group, which has more than 70 members, is representative of the student body.
“It would probably affect a very few people,” he said. “But we’ll listen to them and see what they have to say. But I’m not aware of any policy change on the horizon.”
Only one state allows students on all its campuses to carry their guns, and officials say there have been few complications.
Since legislation passed in 2006, Utah students who meet training requirements and apply for a permit have been able to carry their weapons on campus.
Utah Board of Regents spokeswoman Amanda Covington said the state’s legislation permits weapons on college and university campuses but mandates that weapons must be concealed while on campuses.
“This is the law, and each institution had to work with their policy to enforce that,” Covington said.
About 28,000 students attend the University of Utah, located in Salt Lake City. A spokeswoman for the university, Coralie Alder, said there’s no way to measure how many students, faculty and staff actively carry concealed weapons on campus. The university doesn’t track registered gun owners.
Alder said that aside from several rooms designated for dispute resolution, concealed weapons are allowed in all areas of the campus.
University of Utah Department of Public Safety Capt. Lynn Mitchell said there have been no problems with licensed concealed weapons carriers on the university’s campus, and Covington backs up that claim at the state level.
Colorado State University in Fort Collins and Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia also allow students to carry concealed weapons, but they are exceptions, not the rule, in their respective states.
Ready and Moum want Missouri to be the next state to allow concealed weapons on campus, and they want the change soon.
“There’s enough urgency that I want it done as quickly as possible, but I want it done right,” Moum said.