COLUMBIA — Presidents of Missouri's four-year public universities are uniformly opposed to a bill that passed the state House of Representatives last week to allow concealed weapons on campus.
“All of our members are united in opposition to this provision,” said Brian Long, director of the Council on Public Higher Education. The council is a member organization of all the public four-year higher education institutions in the state.
Other opposition comes from:
- The MU Police Department, and two organizations it belongs to — the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and the Missouri Association of Campus Law Enforcement.
- The Missouri Students Association, which passed a resolution Friday opposing the legislation.
- Students polled this spring by the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, two-thirds of whom voted in a Student Voice survey against such legislation.
The provision passed the state House on Thursday and had a first reading in the Senate.
It comes with rules that lower the required age for obtaining a conceal-and-carry license to 21 from 23, for those who have a valid permit and at least eight hours of training.
What are the objections?
Objections center on the increased danger to students, faculty, staff and campus law enforcement officers. Some administrators cite the risk of guns used by people with little training during a chaotic incident and the difficulty of sorting out the suspects.
Others worry about accidental discharges, arguments being settled with guns and weapons falling into the wrong hands.
"The truth is, our public safety officers undergo an incredible amount of firearms training — to the point thst they are ready to distinguish targets and exercise proper discipline when shooting," Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University, wrote in an e-mail.
"No one should be able to carry concealed firearms on campus," he wrote.
Michael Nietzel, president of Missouri State University, concurred, saying, "Removing the ban on concealed weapons on campus is not wise, it is not necessary and will not promote greater safety."
'Innocent people could get killed or injured'
MU Chief of Police Jack Watring said the MU Police Department is also against the bill. He said the department's position matches those of the two organizations — the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and the Missouri Association of Campus Law Enforcement.
The tactical problem with the legislation is that if it is passed, campus police officers could be exposed to danger, Watring said. If an officer responds to a call where “a good guy is trying to stop a bad guy” and they are both armed, he said the officer would not know which is which.
“Innocent people could get killed or injured in these situations,” he said.
Shooting in a situation of high tension is different from shooting during a training session, Watring said.
“When you are in a shooting situation and emotions are running high, there is no telling what could happen,” he said.
It takes one eight-hour training session for an ordinary citizen to have a conceal-and-carry license for life, but MU police officers go through more extensive training, Watring said. They are required to undergo 24 hours of training every year: two eight-hour daytime sessions and one eight-hour night session. The training also includes classes on when weapons and deadly force may be used.
Concerns about weapons at parties
The combination of alcohol and weapons on campus also worries Watring. MUPD answers calls to parties in and around campus with intoxicated individuals and mentally disturbed individuals "all the time," he said.
"It's not a good idea to mix weapons into that situation," he said.
Those who support the bill say the background check and cost of the training help ensure responsibility.
“Everybody who goes through the training is very concerned with staying out of trouble with the law and ordinary citizens,” said Kevin Jamison, a lawyer who graduated from MU. He teaches the two-hour and 45-minute sessions on the law in the eight-hour conceal-and-carry training class.
Someone willing to pay for training and be subject to background checks is responsible enough to carry a concealed weapon, said Jamison, who is also the president of Missourians For Personal Safety.
Arguing for the right to protection
Jonathan Ratliff, MU sophomore and campus leader for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, has been working with legislators on passage of the bill.
“All I’m asking for is that students and individuals have the right to protect themselves. I don’t believe that a few college presidents have the right to deny me the right to protect myself,” he said.
Ratliff said he is aware of at least 2,000 supporters at MU based on responses gathered from events held by the Mizzou College Republicans and the local chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.
“The opposition does not trust students. Students are supposed to be adults, they are supposed to be educable, they are supposed to handle sex and their cars,” Jamison said. “For every other reason, a 21-year-old is an adult, and to insist that they won’t act like an adult is not consistent with what we have seen elsewhere.”
“Some people are afraid of guns,” he said, “ It’s called ‘hoplophobia.' That’s why they are concealed. You don’t see them. You don’t think about it."
Watring said increasing the number of weapons on campus will increase the possibility of accidents.
“There are very few shootings that are random,” he said. “Do we take a chance and put all of those weapons on campus for that one time that that has occurred? Is it using common sense to add that into our situations here?”
Similar bills are pending in at least six other states — Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
Utah is the only state that prevents individual schools from banning guns from campus. Other states either ban them outright at all state schools or leave the decision up to each institution. Missouri has been a "right-to-carry" state, letting each college or university decide on the matter.
Missourian reporter Nicolas Jimenez contributed to this report.