Off Target

An effort to allow guns on college campuses runs into trouble

A bill to allow people with concealed-weapons permits to carry guns on college campuses has stalled in the Arizona Senate.

Lobbyist Todd Rathner, a board member of the National Rifle Association, said that Senate Bill 1474 ran into trouble after passing the Senate Judiciary Committee in early February.

"There were a number of Republicans who made it clear that it's more important for them to become re-elected than support the Second Amendment," Rathner said on March 8. "Right now, I just don't know what's going to happen."

A similar bill passed the Legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

The bill has run into opposition from administrators and staff from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona; police chiefs from around the state; and student groups from each institution.

Despite that opposition, Rathner—who has successfully pushed a number of bills loosening firearm regulations through the Legislature in recent years—says that lawmakers should support it because "we have to do what is right, and what is right is not always popular."

In an effort to derail the bill, the Arizona Board of Regents issued a news release on Feb. 29 detailing the estimated costs of installing and maintaining gun lockers that the universities would need to purchase if they wanted to keep weapons out of campus buildings. The release said SB 1474 would cost the three universities a combined total of $13.3 million immediately, with $3.1 million in annual costs.

The UA has said it would be on the hook for $6.7 million in one-time installation costs, and $693,000 in personnel costs, including additional campus police.

Pima Community College officials had not determined the projected costs as of press time.

The bill doesn't make it clear where the funds to pay for the construction and installation of the lockers would come from; that fact made a number of legislators skittish.

But Rathner, along with other lobbyists from the NRA and the Arizona Citizens Defense League, has a simple solution: Get rid of the gun-locker provision entirely.

Officials at the schools remain opposed to the bill, with or without lockers. The faculty organizations at both UA and PCC have passed resolutions against SB 1474.

Dolores Duran-Cerda, president of PCC's Faculty Senate, said forcing students and faculty members to study and work in an environment where weapons are present would be detrimental to learning. She also is concerned that allowing weapons on campus would stifle debate and discussion of controversial topics.

"In academics, there's supposed to be freedom of expression," Duran-Cerda said. "Will students be allowed to speak the way they want to, and give their opinion freely without someone shooting them? It just doesn't seem appropriate in the classroom."

JC Mutchler, a UA South associate professor of history, and the secretary of the UA Faculty Senate—as well as a gun-owner—said that the standards for concealed-weapons training under current law don't require the experience necessary for gun-owners to maintain the accuracy needed in high-stress, emergency situations.

UA Police Chief Anthony Daykin agreed.

"The reality is that training has been diluted to the point where it's essentially nonexistent," he said, referring to training courses that allow people to obtain a concealed-weapon permit by taking a single, one-hour class.

Daykin said students have told him that if faced with a dangerous situation, they were likely to shoot at the first opportunity. "That disturbs me," he said. "If you ask a police officer what they'd do in that situation ... they'd evaluate it in a safe manner and take caution in case it's not what it necessarily appears to be. ... It's not about being gun or anti-gun. It's a matter of reason."

However, Coty McKenzie, the Arizona director of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, says such concerns are unfounded.

"We've gotten (concealed-carry) allowed on over 200 campuses nationwide without one negative incident," he said. "It just gives you the right to walk to campus, protect yourself on campus, and walk home safely."

James Allen, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, said a survey of students conducted by his group showed an overwhelming majority of respondents opposed the bill.

Students "would feel unsafe" if the bill were to become law, Allen said. "The majority, the super-majority in this case, is the one that should be listened to."

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