Staff, students oppose legislation allowing guns on university campuses - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Staff, students oppose legislation allowing guns on university campuses

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Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2012 5:11 pm | Updated: 12:00 pm, Fri Feb 17, 2012.

Arizona's faculty associations, student associations, chiefs of campus police, administration and governing board remain united in their opposition to legislation that would allow concealed weapons on college and university campuses.

"We put a lot of people in small places. You add youth, age, alcohol and that's a terrible mix for handguns or any kind of guns," said G.T. Fowler, Northern Arizona University chief of police. "None of us are against guns. In fact, two of us are former NRA firearm instructors. We just know that it's not a good equation when you have a lot of extra people carrying weapons."

SB 1474 would allow people who obtain a concealed weapon permit to carry on college and university campuses in Arizona.

In a letter dated Feb. 3, the three police chiefs of the state universities addressed the state Legislature stating their opposition to SB 1474.

"In an active shooter situation, the primary objective of law enforcement is to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible," the letter reads. "Currently, officers working at our universities know that when they respond to an active shooter situation, most likely the person with a weapon will be an adversary. They also know that there will be noise, confusion, carnage and chaos ... Additional people with weapons will delay law enforcement from reaching the active shooter and increase the potential of more victims."

Obtaining a permit involves relatively little training, according to the letter. Acceptable training can be completed by taking hunter education or a safety class, or an honorable discharge from the military, in conjunction with a field day that involves shooting either a pellet rifle or a 22-caliber rifle.

"Neither of these training ensures that the permit holder has ever fired a handgun or demonstrated any proficiency with the weapon they intend to carry concealed," the letter states.

Schools could still prohibit weapons in buildings, but would also have to provide secure gun lockers at the entrance of those buildings that are gun-free.

Currently, state law allows governing boards to self-determine if they will allow or prohibit weapons.

"We stand united with students across the state in opposition to this legislation," said J.C. Muchler, a representative from the University of Arizona faculty association, addressing the Arizona Board of Regents during the meeting Thursday at Arizona State University in Tempe. "And we stand united in our opposition of distant lawmakers ..." who aren't among those affected by the legislation.

The ASU Police Department, one of 53 college police departments in the country to be accredited, employs nearly 150 employees, Chief John Pickens told the Regents board during a campus safety update. Response time is an average of three minutes.

"Having everyone armed isn't the answer," said Anthony Daykin, the UA chief of police. "If everyone were fully trained, with continuous training and had to be retrained, like police officers do, that might be one answer. But the more guns, there is more likelihood for accidents."

And even with training, it may not be enough to respond to an incident appropriately.

"We are trained and we train continuously," Pickens said. "We don't always know how we're going to respond. We just hope that the training kicks in and we respond appropriately. We don't always hit our targets either."

And even those who do have training can have accidental discharges.

Daykin described an incident of an accidental shooting during his time in the Marine Corp. while cleaning a firearm. He cited an incident that happened last week out of state.

In one hypothetical example, Pickens described an armed robbery where someone wants to defend him or herself.

"So everyone has a gun," he said. "Someone walks by and sees a gun, so shots are fired. And you see how that multiplies."

"We are in an environment that is part teaching, learning and debate," Pickens said. "The problem with weapons is there is no cooling-off period."

If the legislation is passed, and the universities choose to make buildings gun-free, the cost of providing gun lockers could be in the millions of dollars to each of the universities, Daykin said.

And while the exact numbers haven't been determined, each university has hundreds of buildings, Daykin said.

"It's basically an unfunded mandate," said Pickens.

One of the most prevalent crimes occurring at all three universities is theft and crimes of opportunity, according to the police chiefs.

With such high rates of theft, having weapons left unattended in backpacks or purses could become an issue, Pickens said.

Much of the discussion at the Legislature has included the fact that only students, faculty and staff who are older than 21 are eligible to buy a gun.

"In my six years as an elected official, not one of my constituents has come to me asking me to advocate for firearms on campus," said Kelley Stewart, the president of the graduate and professional student government.

At least 90 percent of the students in ASU's graduate program are older than 21 and would be able to purchase firearms under Arizona state law, said Rhian Stotts, the vice president for external affairs of ASU's graduate and professional students association. At ASU alone, there are nearly 14,000 graduate students.

"Not one legislator has asked us how we feel (about guns on campus)," Stewart said. "We weren't even a part of the discussion; we've inserted ourselves into the discussion."

The legislation would not just affect those who work, live and study on campus, but also thousands of people who visit campuses every day, including K-12 students, prospective students and their parents, said ASU President Michael Crow.

It could also affect the recruitment and retention of faculty at the universities, said Allen Reich, NAU faculty senate president.

Some faculty will teach online rather than face-to-face, retire early or take employment elsewhere and it will be harder to recruit new staff, Reich said.

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