Welch: Campus carry isn’t about nervous cops or local control

If you’re new to the Lone Star State, you might be surprised to learn that the debate over Texas gun laws wasn’t always quite so — shall we say — theatrical.

Before activists began staging armed photo ops at restaurants, grocery shopping with AK-47s, and manufacturing gun parts on the Capitol steps, the debate centered on serious policy discussions about when and where trained, licensed adults should be allowed to carry concealed handguns for personal protection. Theatrics notwithstanding, those discussions will continue this spring when Texas lawmakers once again attempt to repeal the state’s unnecessary and unenforceable prohibition against concealed carry on college campuses.

Since the earliest days of the “campus carry” movement, opponents have made terrifying predictions about alcohol-fueled college parties turning into shootouts. The mental image of an inebriate frat boy toting a pistol at a kegger is undeniably unnerving but also completely unrelated to the issue at hand.

Legalizing licensed concealed carry on college campuses would not change the laws at fraternity houses, bars, tailgating events or off-campus parties — the places where students are most likely to drink. The places where laws would change — such as lecture halls, university libraries and campus cafeterias — are not fundamentally different from the places where concealed carry is already allowed: churches, municipal libraries and restaurants.

Although opponents are quick to claim that campus carry is opposed by law enforcement professionals, what they really mean is that campus carry — like any controversial law — is opposed by some law enforcement professionals and supported by others. Most officers who deal with concealed handgun license holders on a daily basis know that, statistically, concealed handgun license holders are far more law-abiding than the general public. That’s one reason organizations such as the Houston Police Officers’ Union and the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association have endorsed campus carry legislation.

Because campus police often have little experience interacting with armed concealed handgun license holders and may be wary of any change to operating procedures, it’s no surprise that many of them oppose campus carry.

However, that opposition is far from unanimous. During a 2011 panel discussion, University of Texas Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom, who retired 2013, noted that his officers were divided on the issue. Former New Mexico State University Chief of Police Jaime Chavez, who served between 2005 and 2012, openly endorsed campus carry legislation during his tenure with the university. Last June, Sgt. Justin Sprague, an officer and spokesperson for the Utah Valley University Police Department, told Boise State Public Radio that he supports Utah’s campus carry law because campus police “can’t be everywhere.” These trained law enforcement professionals understand that there is only so much they can do to ensure public safety on a large, open campus where a backpack can just as easily be filled with guns as with books.

Opponents’ newest talking point, “local control,” is a red herring; Texas hasn’t allowed local control of firearms since 1985. To suggest that public colleges deserve a higher degree of self-governance than do cities or counties is patently absurd. Some critics have gone so far as to question the ethicality of legislation that would require public colleges to allow concealed carry but let private colleges prohibit it.

Far from being unethical, this ability to operate free of certain government restrictions is intrinsic to the mission of many private colleges. For example, a private college can require adherence to religious principles or enforce morality codes; whereas, a public college cannot. There is nothing unethical or even unusual about requiring a state-funded college to recognize a state-issued license.

Despite opponents’ rhetoric about “immature college kids,” legalizing campus carry would not change who can carry a gun. The same trained, licensed, carefully screened adults — age 21 and above — who aren’t causing problems at Texas’s movie theaters, shopping malls, banks or Capitol won’t cause problems on Texas’s college campuses.

We know this because more than 150 U.S. college campuses currently allow licensed concealed carry and have done so for a combined total of almost 1,500 fall and spring semesters — without a single resulting act of violence. The trial period is over, and the results are in: Texans have no reason to fear the repeal of an honor-system-based law that stacks the odds in favor of any criminal or psychopath willing to ignore it.

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