Allowing students, faculty and staff to carry guns on campus would make Oklahoma’s colleges and universities safer, say lawmakers who are pushing for the change.
Officials at Oklahoma’s two largest campuses couldn’t disagree more.
“Placing guns on campus, except in the hands of highly trained law enforcement officers and professionals, would be a serious mistake and would lead only to tragic results,” University of Oklahoma President David Boren said.
“To put our university students, faculty and staff at risk in this way makes absolutely no sense.”
Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, and Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, argue that licensed gun owners should be able to protect themselves on state campuses.
Enns said statistics show 20 percent of students will be assaulted at some point during their four years on campus.
“I hear from a lot of parents of college kids, and I hear from college kids, as well,” he said.
“For anyone to say our college campuses are safe, that’s totally not true.”
Currently, a licensed gun owner can carry a weapon on campus only with the written consent of the college president.
“The laws are not meant to protect you. They’re meant to punish the violator,” Enns said.
Shortey agrees the focus is wrong.
“If there were a predator out there whose prey is young college-aged women and he wanted to assault them, where would he go to do that? He would go to a place where they are vulnerable, where they are unarmed and where he has the highest chance of success. And that is a college campus,” Shortey said.
Campus gun policy should be built around the faculty, staff and students who are on the campus every day, he said.
Shortey said statistics show crime rates are higher on campuses than the areas surrounding them.
“I have never seen statistics that support that,” said Michael Robinson, Oklahoma State University’s chief public safety officer. “Your chances of being mugged in the city on the strip are much greater than on campus.
“It depends largely on your behavior either place,” said Robinson, who became OSU’s police chief 10 years ago after 20 years of municipal police work.
Schools are required to submit annually reports of crimes to the federal government under the Clery Act.
The most recent numbers posted for aggravated assaults on campus show OU had one each in 2010 and 2011 and none in 2012, and OSU had three in 2010 and one each in 2011 and 2012.
Reports of forcible sex offenses on campus at OU numbered two in 2010, 13 in 2011 and eight in 2012. At OSU, there were three reports in 2010, six in 2011 and eight in 2012.
Sexual assaults on campus almost always are a date-rape situation with alcohol abuse involved, Robinson said. In those cases, having a firearm wouldn’t come into play, he said.
In addition to around-the-clock police patrols, OSU offers a Safe Walk program.
Trained public service officers will accompany anyone from one campus location to another between the hours of 7 p.m. and 3 a.m.
But it is seldom used, Robinson said. “Our students feel campus is safe.”
OU has several systems in place for emergency situations, including a comprehensive emergency communication system and a highly trained SWAT team made up of officers from both OU and Norman Police Department, Boren said.
“We feel that this comprehensive program is the best way to keep our campus safe and to avoid unintended harm to others,” Boren said. “On Jan. 22, we had an opportunity to test our system because of a report of gunfire on campus, which turned out to be false. The system worked extremely well.”
“Campus is a unique population and a unique environment,” said Robinson, who describes himself as a 2nd Amendment proponent.
Students often deal with emotional situations because they are away from home and dealing with things like stress or a relationship breakup. Some suffer depression.
“I’m more concerned about an increase in suicide,” he said, noting suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people ages 15-24.
“It defies common sense to think campus would be safer because we have more weapons on campus,” Robinson said.
Sen. AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie, said lawmakers need to look at the facts, not just the fears about guns on campus.
Griffin, Enns and Shortey will conduct a joint legislative study this year on concealed carry of firearms on college campuses — an issue that has come up the past several years.
The goal will be to discover the best practices — what’s working in other states — to see if there can be a reasonable accommodation, Griffin said.
Griffin said she has heard from campus employees and students who would like to carry a gun for self-protection in open areas and parking lots.
Safety concerns on the other side most often involve residential areas, she said.
“It’s working in other places. And there is no reason to have this fear,” said Enns, who is hoping for a compromise.
“A scientific poll conducted by OU’s political science department illustrated that a strong majority of our students are opposed to opening the campus to guns,” Boren said. “The Faculty Senate has also urged that we not take such action.”
At OSU, polls show faculty, staff and students all are opposed to it, Robinson said.
AT A GLANCE
From the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education 2014 Legislative Priorities: