JAWS undoubtedly dropped on college campuses across Oklahoma when Gov. Mary Fallin proposed a nearly $50 million cut in the higher education budget for the coming fiscal year. But money isn’t the only concern of college officials this year.
Like other functions of state government, higher ed isn’t immune to legislators’ knack for getting distracted by bills that don’t serve the state and its people all that well.
For years, higher ed has been fighting legislation to allow guns on campuses. This year’s no different. Last week, the state House passed a bill that could allow licensed handgun owners to carry weapons on campus without prior written consent. Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, said the bill also would give school authorities freedom to ban weapons from campus.
Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, warned that the bill was a bad idea. A former college dean, McPeak described a time he successfully disarmed a drunk college student who was carrying a shotgun. “My students normally made good decisions until they consumed alcohol. Then their decisions weren’t so good anymore,” he said.
While that’s far from the best defense we’ve heard for a ban of guns on campus except under special circumstances with the written permission of administrators, McPeak’s concerns aren’t without merit. In fact, protecting college campuses is one of higher ed’s chief legislative agenda items.
“There is no scenario in which allowing guns on campuses will do anything other than create a more dangerous environment for our students, faculty and visitors,” according to the legislative agenda posted on the state regents’ website. “In the past six legislative sessions, bills have either been introduced or discussed that would allow guns on campus. Each attempt has been successfully defeated ... ensuring similar legislation does not become law will continue to be a state system priority.”
The Oklahoma’s Promise college scholarship program for low- to middle-income families also seems a perennial target of perhaps well-meaning but misguided lawmakers. This year, at least one bill would have the effect of further restricting access to the program to students who may need it the most.