Guns on Campus: Let’s Aim for the Right Target

Pat Gamble/ Guest Opinion

April 8, 2014

Recently chided by a well-meaning citizen for not arguing against SB176 (I had, in fact, declared clearly to the Senate Judiciary Committee that, as written then and now, the University of Alaska Board of Regents would not support the bill, but no matter), I asked myself:  “Argue against what?”

I am a gun user. I believe in the Constitution’s Second Amendment rights. I respect the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. And I am duty-bound to insure the university complies with state law. Therein lies the real issue.

UA’s objection to preempting current board policy regarding guns on campus is both legal and legislative. The Supreme Court ruled on the Second Amendment in a 2008 case that also affirmed states could legislate restrictions on firearms in sensitive places that warranted extra concern for the common good. In adopting the 1994 amendment to Alaska’s constitutional right to bear arms, Alaskans were assured that restrictions like the following would not be affected:

 

  • Concealed carry for people under 21;
  • Concealed carry in residences, without the express permission of an adult resident;
  • Loaded firearms in places where intoxicating liquor is served;
  • Possession in childcare facilities;
  • Possession in court system facilities;
  • Possession in domestic violence/sexual assault shelters;
  • Possession in schools from pre-school through secondary school.

Legislatures since 1994 have consistently reaffirmed their intent to provide that extra measure of both security and safety. They remain the law in Alaska.

University campuses are complex communities and share the same risk sensitivities. Campus living space is limited and shared. Last fall, 29 percent of students enrolled in for-credit courses were under 21 years of age. Liquor may be served in campus pubs and is legally present in dormitories. Both UAA and UAF have childcare facilities. Most importantly, K-12 students regularly attend our 16 campuses in large numbers, sometimes in extended residential, enrichment and college prep programs, often daily after school. Universities are both schools and workplaces where responsible, irresponsible, healthy and troubled students and employees live and work side by side.  Disciplinary and academic tensions are adjudicated on a daily basis. Campuses maintain laboratories containing explosive and hazardous materials. To remain consistent with state law, the UA Board of Regents holds that the aforementioned firearm restrictions should therefore apply. If not, why not? If the law indicates that common sensitive areas be offered special protection off campus, why would UA campuses be different?

Alaska state laws place a clear burden of responsibility on the board to maintain what’s called a legal standard of care. That standard includes policies aimed at ensuring basic safety. We are currently (and would still be under SB176) financially liable for incidents involving firearms. Adding many more firearms throughout UA and expecting that the legal standard of care will remain the same, or as some argue, improve, is faulty logic. That conclusion is further validated by the higher premium estimates of companies that carry our liability insurance, whose business it is to assess risk, and who also take exception to the SB176 solution.

SB176 does not address the ambiguities created by the application of the law to UA.  Besides liability it would, for example, deny the board any meaningful authority to regulate armed individuals on UA premises. The bill significantly impacts UA’s ability to manage firearm risk proactively. Continuing an escalating gun debate that fails to clarify the legal issues and thus continues indefinitely serves no purpose other than to cast a chilly pall over the thriving UA academic environment we work to maintain for current and potential faculty, staff and students.

So let’s do this. Decide once and for all whether UA campuses legally fit the select firearm restrictions already approved by the voters and make the results clear in the legislation. If conditions on UA campuses are determined to be similar to existing legal restrictions, then let’s accept the wisdom of regents past who had to deal with this same issue, accept that they did it in accordance within the laws of the state, and that they got it right.

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Pat Gamble is president of the 16-campus University of Alaska System. He served in many positions within the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a four-star general as commander of the Pacific Air Forces. As a fighter pilot, he flew 394 combat missions in Vietnam and is the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and other military honors.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Texas A & M University and a Master of Business Administration from Auburn University.

 

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