Campus guns bill is unfortunately necessary

Thursday, April 14, 2016 - 11:54
  • Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, talks about his bill to allow concealed weapons on University of Alaska campuses on Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Juneau, Alaska. The bill passed through the Senate and will now be taken up by the state House. AP Photo: Rashah McChesney)

 

It's unfortunate that legislation like Senate Bill 174 even needs to be debated. In a perfect world, there would be no threat of violence at institutions of higher learning. But the times we live in require unorthodox solutions to curb the trend of mass shootings on university campuses.

SB 174, which would allow for the concealed carry of firearms and knives on University of Alaska campuses, isn't a perfect solution, but it's a better solution than doing nothing.

Nothing is essentially what the federal and state governments have done to address the rash of fatal shootings on college campuses. They have not sufficiently increased funding for mental health services or improved screening to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms.

Because of this failure, our universities have become targets.

The idea behind a gun-free zone is to prevent accidents and ensure safety. Universities have taken up this idealistic notion. Now, through the actions of others, that safety has been compromised.

Our circumstances have changed. Our society has reached a point where we have two unfavorable options: allow responsible students to arm themselves and risk an accidental weapons discharge, or don't and risk dozens of lives if a campus shooting were to occur.

It's impossible to say how probable a mass shooting at an Alaska university might be. Some may say it's near impossible. Students and faculty at Seattle Pacific University (three injured, one dead) and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon (nine injured, nine dead), likely never imagined they would have been targeted.

We understand many students and faculty are against this bill and have concerns over their safety. We agree, but the language of the Alaska and federal constitutions are clear: If a student does not believe law enforcement or campus police can adequately protect them, they have the right to protect themselves.

Article I, Section 19, of the Alaska Constitution specifically states, "The individual right to keep and bear arms shall not be denied or infringed by the state or a political subdivision of the state."

While well-intentioned, we believe the University's actions to date have unduly infringed upon this section.

SB 174 still allows universities to prohibit concealed weapons in restricted areas, dormitories and during disciplinary review proceedings, among others.

What the Alaska Legislature is considering is the best solution presented so far to deter the kind of attack that Virginia Tech experienced in 2006, and many other universities since. It might not be a good solution, but it's the best one we've seen that follows the rules laid out in our constitution.

What we do know with certainty is doing nothing, or doing what has already been tried and failed, isn't a valid solution when lives are at stake.

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