Guns on Campus

CQ Researcher

Would concealed handguns make colleges safer?

As students and faculty walked across the Ohio State University campus in Columbus on Nov. 28, third-year student Abdul Razak Ali Artan suddenly plowed his car onto a busy sidewalk, got out and lunged at bystanders with a butcher knife. In less than two minutes he had wounded 11 people before a university police officer arrived and fatally shot him.

The incident sparked a campus alert message to “Run Hide Fight” and a 90-minute campus lockdown. It also prompted the Ohio Senate to pass a bill to allow the state’s public colleges and universities to allow licensed individuals to carry concealed handguns on campus.

“I can legally carry a firearm in my home, at the grocery store, when I take a walk through my neighborhood. Yet when I am at Ohio State, I cannot keep myself safe,” law student Jonathan Beshears, who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, told a prescheduled Senate hearing the day after the attack. “If someone attacks me with a butcher knife or an AK-47, I’m supposed to run away, throw things at them or maybe hide under a desk and pray.”

But some students say allowing anyone other than law enforcement to carry concealed weapons on campuses could make them less safe. “A student militia — a student police force — is something I think we should be very wary of,” says Kaitlyn Hamby, a senior at Florida State University who has battled a similar measure in her state since another student opened fire in a campus library in 2014, injuring three students before campus police shot him.

In response to several high-profile shootings on college campuses in recent years, dozens of state legislatures are considering relaxing their 1990s-era “gun-free zone” designations for public college and university campuses, allowing individuals with so-called concealed-carry permits to bring their handguns onto campus. Gun-rights advocates, conservative lawmakers and some faculty and students believe no-guns-on-campus laws infringe on their Second Amendment right to bear arms and hamper their ability to stop violent criminals before police arrive. But gun-control advocates, liberal lawmakers and many campus officials, faculty and students say college campuses are inappropriate — and unsafe — environments for handguns.

“There’s a lot of alcohol binge drinking … on college campuses [that results in] a lot of spontaneous altercations,” says Daniel Webster, a professor of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Further, due to their undeveloped pre-frontal cortex, young people are “compromised in their ability to think through what they’re doing and what the consequences are,” he continues. “You add firearms to that type of environment, and you have life-changing, life-ending kinds of consequences.”

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