New on college campuses this October are firearms in the cars of permitted carriers. The change is part of new state laws passed by the General Assembly that expand the rights of gun-toters. But the part about allowing guns on campus, albeit only in a secured case within a locked vehicle, has university police concerned.
Within the University of North Carolina system, all 17 of the chiefs of campus police opposed the law.
“We simply didn’t want any more weapons on our campuses,” said Western Carolina University’s Police Chief Ernie Hudson.
And as students pack for the start of school Aug. 19, he urged them to leave the gun behind.
One of Hudson’s objections wasn’t that the 21-and-older, law-abiding gun owners would turn to violence on campus, but that they would try to interject if it did occur.
The 20-person university police force can arrive about anywhere on campus in a matter of minutes. But individual gun carriers might feel obligated to react if there is a situation, such as a shooter on campus, Hudson said. Then, when law enforcement arrives at the scene, there are good guys and bad guys both holding guns with no way to distinguish between them.
“This just brings another element to the table that we prefer not to have to tangle with,” Hudson said. “In an emergency like that, folks might not think all of those things through.”
Also, if laptops and cell phones are stolen regularly on campus, why couldn’t a gun fall into the wrong hands? Better to avoid the problem entirely.
“College campuses are unique places of education,” Hudson said. “We haven’t found any situation on campus where it’s important for our students to be armed.”
At Haywood Community College, President Barbara Parker said school officials are still deciding how to approach the new set of laws. The college has a meeting planned this week with campus security and administrators.
“We’ll have to figure out whether we need policy changes, which I anticipate we will, and figure out how to adhere to the law,” Parker said.
HCC has a small cadre of security guards, some armed, some not, she said. Yet, she wouldn’t offer an opinion as to whether the new law was a good or bad development for HCC.
“My personal feelings are really irrelevant,” Parker said. “The main point is safety. It is always our concern, and it will continue to be.”
The new gun laws do have their merits, though, according to Matthew Reynolds, a law enforcement instructor at Southwestern Community College’ s Public Safety Training Center in Macon County.
The old laws didn’t just prevent permitted gun carriers from bringing weapons onto campus. It infringed on their right to carry them in general, he said. Law-abiding citizens couldn’t carry a gun all day if they knew they would be stopping on a college campus at some point because once they arrived there was no way to legally store the gun.
“As soon as I roll on campus ‘uh oh, I can’t carry my gun,’” Reynolds said.
The alternative was to leave the gun at home, which wasn’t fair to people who wanted a gun for their safety while driving or running errands before and after a campus visit. The changes will give them the option of securing it in their vehicles while on campus.
Although Reynolds didn’t want to downplay the concerns of educators and university police, he said the changes in the law give gun owners more options for personal protection.
“We’re allowing the lawful conceal carry permit holder to protect themselves in transit,” he said.