SB 174, a bill that would allow students, faculty and others on campus to conceal carry firearms and knives on school grounds without license is currently making its way through the Alaska state legislature. The University of Alaska system initially opposed the bill introduced by State Senator Pete Kelly of Fairbanks, who concerned with recent school shootings, believes the bill could stop such attacks by giving students and faculty the ability to protect themselves through their constitutional right to bear arms.
“I do think it’s important to legalize concealed carry on campus, mainly because in each school shooting within the last few years, each campus has been a gun free one and it draws the idea of what could have happened, what lives could have been spared had even one person with a license to carry been within range of the shooter,” Kally Greene-Gudmundson, a marketing student at UAA, said. “I know several students who already carry concealed weapons on their person or in their vehicles, not to increase violence or rebel against gun control, but because they feel it’s their civil right to protect themselves especially if they have the license to do so, and within reason, I’d have to agree.”
In the unfortunate case of a school shooting, opinions diverge of whether or not having more weapons on campus would help or hinder.
“I think it’s important to create a safe space on campus, and I’m not convinced allowing concealed weapons on campus helps that,” said Devin Frey, a theater major. “UAA has never had a shooting on campus, and if concealed carry is legalized I think we’re much more likely to see someone snap in a moment of pressure and hurt either themselves or others.”
Universities are typically deemed as places with particular sensitivity to firearms. Similar to grade schools, hospitals and government buildings; universities are generally gun-free zones.
“A university should be a gun-free environment because it’s impossible to teach and to learn at the point of a gun, even if it’s hidden. Complete safety is impossible and complete freedom destructive. I think we should seek a higher ethical mandate than for everyone to be armed at all times and in all situations,” said Daniel Kline, department chairman and English professor.
Allowing campus concealed carry is a growing trend. Eight states, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin and Utah have laws addressing the same issue as SB 174. Kansas’s bill will be implemented by July 2017 and Texas’s bills by Aug. 2016. In addition, a similar bill will be voted on by the State of Georgia on March 24.
“I think it will be passed. In fact, I don’t think it would’ve been introduced unless the majority felt they would be able to pass SB 174. I hope that the governor would veto the bill if it were to pass, but even then it would likely be overturned. This is a systematic effort across the country,” said Kline.
In a time of failing oil prices and a state budget crisis it’s important to consider the cost of putting bills, such as SB 174, into effect. With the University of Alaska estimating an initial cost of $1.3 million in the first year for implementing SB 174, continual implementation will cost the university an additional $800,000 per year to maintain.
“When the university system is down 15 percent over the last three years and is looking at another 15 percent cut this year alone [about $50 million this year alone]. I think this is a colossal waste of money and evidence of highly misplaced priorities,” said Kline. “You can think about it this way, $1.3 million approximately equals 13 full-time tenure track faculty members [salary and benefits].”
With legislature and university officials debating the logistics of SB 174, students seem divided amongst the controversial issue of guns on campus.
“I feel that UAA’s primary obligation is to provide a safe learning environment to all students. In my opinion, if SB 174 is legalized, it will create a safety hazard and significantly more distractions and general incidents that detract from UAA’s credibility as an institution,” said Johanna Richter, economics major.
Many students weigh heavily on the importance of proper usage of weapons and the benefits of such weapons as a tool of protection.
“I’m not against guns but I am against people who don’t know how to use them properly carrying them. Anyone who is qualified – key word – should be able to carry. I have a right to protect myself if I come on campus,” said Jenelle Bennett, a radiologic technology student at UAA.
SB 174 will affect the feeling of safety among students and faculty dramatically, for better or worse. A controversial issue, important among university officials and the state of Alaska, is closest to the hearts of those who attend the university and those who work alongside these students. Whether these people are coming to work or to school it is important for them to feel safe. A student and faculty body divided by what exactly that entails can come to the agreement that their opinions should be heard before action takes place.
“Ultimately I think this is a discussion that UAA students, faculty, and administrators should discuss, not the legislature,” said Matthew Newkrik, a student at UAA studying logistics.
The bill has passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee and currently resides in the state’s Senate Financial Committee.