Defense or Danger?

The Arizona Senate votes to allow guns on college campuses' public rights of way—but not in classrooms

When Robert Rosinski first held a gun during boot camp, he didn't feel completely comfortable.

But after a four-year tour of duty in Iraq, Rosinski—a sophomore at the UA studying civil engineering—now thinks of guns as empowering tools for safety, not things to be feared.

"They aren't evil dragons," said Rosinski, president and founder of Students for the Second Amendment. "They are hunks of metal that shoot bullets."

More guns may soon be present on Arizona's college campuses, thanks to Republicans in the state Legislature. On Monday, March 14, the state Senate voted 21-7, along party lines, in favor of Senate Bill 1467, sending it along to the House.

If it becomes law, SB 1467 will stop college officials from banning people with concealed-carry permits from possessing firearms on public rights of way.

The amended bill allows universities to continue to ban weapons in classrooms and buildings. As introduced, SB 1467 would have practically given people with concealed-carry permits free rein to possess firearms in buildings on college campuses. That prospect caused an uproar among many university officials.

Rosinski said police and university officials were overreacting. But University of Arizona Police Department Chief Anthony Daykin said he opposed the original version of SB 1467 because some students lack the maturity or sobriety to safely handle weapons. He also said that some classroom discussions can become heated debates.

"The culture that we enjoy that promises education and learning ... is better off without guns," Daykin said.

Democratic State Sen. Linda Lopez, an advocate for stricter gun regulation, said allowing guns on campus was a bad idea.

"We've got a lot more pressing issues to deal with, first of all, and secondly, when you listen to law enforcement and what people on campus say, they don't want it; they don't need it," Lopez said.

Republican state Rep. Terri Proud, a sponsor of SB 1467, declined to comment until the bill passed. Republican Sen. Ron Gould, another primary sponsor, could not be reached for comment.

Rosinski claims that signs calling the university a "gun-free zone" don't actually make it gun-free. He said it is "impractical" to forbid professors from taking safety measures, and to keep students from being in charge of their own safety.

Most members of the UA's student government disagree.

"It's not the students' job or the faculty's job to worry about self-preservation," said UA psychology senior Scott Rising, a student-government senator who penned a resolution against guns. Providing students with the option of carrying guns on campus "actively shifts the burden of self-preservation away from safety officials to students and faculty," and would "remove the strategic advantage in high-pressure situations" of police, reads Rising's resolution.

The leaders of a group called Students Against Guns in Education—helped by the student government—mobilized students to call officials to get the legislation killed, or at least scaled back. A forum on the UA campus held on March 9 drew around 100 students, faculty and community members. Some attendees heralded guns as a means of protection, but others expressed concerns.

Daykin said that allowing guns on campus would create more work for law enforcement.

"We still won't be able to ignore the reports of people with guns," Daykin said. "We will have to be responsible and respond to that when it occurs."

UA President Robert Shelton, like his counterparts at Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, does not want to see guns on campus.

"I get my information from the UAPD, (the Tucson Police Department) and by talking with colleges around the country," Shelton said. "All of them—to a person, man, woman or child—say this bill, this opportunity to carry firearms on campus, would create some serious hazards."

Shelton said he thinks "it's a bad bill" because universities are not the proper venue for firearms. In a statement, Shelton said having faculty, staff or students with guns is antithetical to the mission of the university and "staggeringly naïve."

At the UA, a group of faculty members against guns on campus wrote a petition which now has 600 signatures. The group penned a resolution expressing concerns about "simple accidents" during which bystanders could be wounded by discharged weapons, and overreactions to situations during which people with weapons could choose to use them without proper cause.

State Board of Regents Chair Anne Mariucci called for decisive action to oppose efforts to allow guns on campuses.

But Rosinski insisted that Mariucci and campus administrators were overreacting.

"We're not going to have people running around shooting people," he said. "People are more comfortable having the opportunity to decide their own fate."