While many constitutional freedoms typically wax and wane in the public spotlight, the Second Amendment has been a perpetual area of state legislative action for a number of years. Due to a strong pro-gun lobby and greater visibility and media attention paid to incidents of gun violence, legislation designed both to restrict the availability of guns and to remove restrictions appears nearly every year in statehouses across the country. While groups on both sides of the debate claim victories, the sheer volume of legislation considered each year and the wide variety of actions sought can be overwhelming. Using NASPA’s January 2016 report with the Education Commission of the States as background, this post provides an overview of the legislation specifically related to the ability or prohibition of carrying a firearm onto campus, commonly called campus carry.
The ten-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech University shooting, 2017 saw a new campus carry law pass in Georgia, expansion of campus carry in Arkansas, where previously only faculty and staff were permitted to carry firearms, and a revision to an existing law in Kansas. Notably, Georgia House Bill 280 allows weapons in tailgating areas, while Kansas, where permits are not required for concealed carry, allows students to bring weapons into their dorm rooms, both of which raise new concerns among campus leaders.
To date, these actions bring the number of states that allow concealed weapons on some or all campuses to 10, with an additional 23 states leaving the decision to individual campuses. Fourteen other states considered campus carry legislation in 2017, but it did not pass their legislatures. The National Conference of State Legislatures monitors campus carry legislation and maintains a useful summary of the current state laws in all states that allow firearms on college campuses.
After legislation that would have allowed campus carry reaching Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s desk only to be vetoed last year, Georgia House Bill 280 (GA HB 280) became effective July 1, 2017. The bill allows anyone with a concealed carry license to carry firearms on campus, but prohibits them from residence halls, Greek life residences, buildings used for athletic events, on-campus child care centers, or areas where high school students attend college courses. The exemptions included in this year’s bill addressed concerns raised by Governor Deal during his veto of similar legislation last year. While GA HB 280 prohibits weapons from sports stadiums, it does not include a prohibition on carrying firearms into areas commonly used for tailgating prior to football games. There is concern that fervor and passion of collegiate athletic fans, combined with the frequent alcohol consumption at tailgating events, will create too volatile an environment for the potential inclusion of firearms. .
Arkansas House Bill 1249 (AR HB 1249) was signed into law on March 22, 2017 despite concerns around provisions of the bill that would allow firearms to be carried into college athletic events. The law, which will go into effect January 1, 2018, allows those with concealed carry permits who complete eight hours of active-shooter training and who are 21 years of age or older, to carry weapons onto state college campuses. While the National Rifle Association lobbied heavily against promised amendments to the law, Senate Bill 724 (AR SB 724) quickly passed, amending AR HB 1249 to exempt collegiate athletic events, along with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
While concealed carry was enacted for all public buildings in Kansas, including campus residence halls, four years ago, college campuses were given until July 1, 2017 to comply with the law. Complicating matters, two years ago, Kansas lawmakers removed requirements for obtaining a permit to carry a concealed handgun, sometimes referred to as “constitutional carry,” joining at least 11 other states with similar provisions. As the deadline for the law taking effect on campus approached, lawmakers introduced legislation to exempt college campuses, but it was not passed. Faculty have expressed concerns that the presence of concealed weapons in the classroom will create a chilling effect; suppressing speech on potentially controversial topics, limiting students’ willingness to engage, and s limiting recruitment of top faculty. Such concerns have led at least two faculty members to resign publicly.
In addition to legislative activity around campus carry, at least two court cases are worth noting. The first is a court case filed by three faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin in response to legislation passed there last year. The case was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas for lack of standing because the professors could not provide concrete evidence substantiating their fears that allowing weapons on campus would impact campus speech. While there is ample evidence addressing the myth that concealed carry would reduce mass shootings on college campuses, there is a noticeable dearth of evidence on the purported chilling effect it may have in the classroom. Similarly, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) continued its reticence to enter into the gun rights conversation when it declined to hear a case concerning whether local sheriffs are allowed to require petitioners to demonstrate a need for concealed-carry permits. The decision by SCOTUS leaves standing the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled that a policy requiring those applying for concealed carry licenses to demonstrate special need was constitutional.
Student affairs professionals will undoubtedly take center stage in helping to prepare their campuses for changes in gun laws as well as in responding to incidents that may occur on campus, such as accidental reveals of concealed weapons. We invite you to join us next Tuesday, July 18, 2017 at 3 p.m. EDT for a free live briefing during which we will review student and faculty perception of campus carry, document evidence of the impact of campus carry provisions on campus safety, and share campus responses and resources to new and evolving campus carry legislation.
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