It’s 2021, and with new state legislative sessions underway, several states are renewing discussions of guns on college campuses.
In Montana, H.B. 102 would, in part, “[prohibit] the Montana University System and Board of Regents from infringing on constitutional rights… .” Basically, it would legalize campus carry for those of legal age who have permits. The bill saw broad support from a majority-Republican legislature. It quickly cruised through the House and Senate, and is expected to be signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte (R). Local news outlets reported that the Montana Board of Regents is expected to challenge the law.
“I do expect it to get challenged legally,” Rep. Seth Bergelee (R), the bill’s author, told local talk radio. “But I feel pretty strongly that we have a good case.” Bergelee pointed out that the landmark pro-gun case D.C. v. Heller (2008) protects the right of firearms in the home. He said, “[I]f you’re a student living in a dorm; that might be the only home you have.”
In Kentucky, H.B. 337 would remove college gun bans. In Iowa, H.F. 343 would limit the authority of college administrators to ban carry, transportation, or possession of firearms on campus, and issue civil fines for noncompliance. In Florida, S.B. 6001 has been reintroduced to overturn the state’s prohibition on campus carry. In South Carolina, H.B. 3503 seeks to remove colleges from prohibited carry zones. (Conversely, S.B. 23 in the state seeks to expand the zone criminalizing possession of a firearm on a college campus to a thousand feet.)
In New York, Rep. Robert Ortt (R) has introduced S.B. S3651 to decriminalize firearms on college campuses. “[The gun restriction] does nothing to actually protect students with the ongoing spate of shootings at colleges and universities,” the bill’s justification text states. “Rather it attempts to use this issue as another way to infringe upon and limit an individual’s second amendment right.”
Meanwhile, a fresh Missouri Court of Appeals ruling is opening the door to allow state employees’ firearms to be in locked cars on campus. The suit was originally filed in 2015 by a University of Missouri law professor to overturn college rules against firearms stored in cars. Ultimately, the professor left the case, and the state carried it forward. On Feb. 2, the court ruled that, in the event a car is locked and the gun is out of sight, the college’s rule forbidding guns in cars for employees is void.
At least 11 states have decriminalized campus carry, according to Students for Concealed Carry. That’s up from just two states a decade ago, partly due to the group successfully lobbying for laws and lawsuits after a shooting at Virginia Tech awakened students to campus vulnerabilities.
Meanwhile, some critics of the possible change in Montana complained that campus carry would impose security costs on colleges—apparently because they’re more concerned about excluding armed citizens than criminals or psychopaths. Campus carry would be “a tinder box near an open flame,” an anti-gun lobbyist told the Associated Press. An English professor argued the policy endangers professors by enabling violence from mentally ill or “deranged conservative” students. College administrators in Florida recycled apocalyptic claims that learning will be stifled and colleges will be less safe with “everyone having guns.” (Research into resultant harm from campus-carry laws have disproven those dire, dystopian predictions.)
One Bozeman newspaper editorial called campus carry “a solution in search of a problem.” It bizarrely claimed no threats exist to college students. According to the National Center For Education Statistics, in 2016, there were 15 murders, 8,900 forcible sex offenses, 5,824 rapes, and so on, reported on college campuses nationwide.
It’s been a few years since the last major college mass murder proved that campus gun bans are ineffective, but, if experience is anything to go by, the specter that it may happen again will continue to loom large over our nation’s college campuses.
Students, faculty, and staff who have satisfied the state’s permit process to carry a firearm for self-defense shouldn’t have that protection stripped away by the whims of unelected college bureaucrats.