Lawmakers support for ‘concealed carry’ draws fire on campus
Erin McGroarty / Sun Star
House lawmakers are considering a state Senate proposal to allow the concealed carry of weapons on UA campuses despite opposition from the Board of Regents and many in the campus community.
In a statement emailed to students and faculty on April 6, the Board of Regents expressed its opposition to the bill unless it included of a number of restrictive provisions.
“Realizing the inevitability of the bill, we proposed six amendments to enable the regents to manage this issue reasonably,” UA President Jim Johnsen said.
“As a body, the Regents see having weapons on campus as problematic,” Regent John Davies said. “And the specifics of why we see it as a problem are spelled out in those six amendments.”
The amendments drafted by the regents included limits on weapons:
- when a student’s or employee’s behavior indicates a risk of harm to self or others
- in student dormitories or other shared student living quarters
- in health and counseling discrimination, harassment, and Title IX offices
- during adjudication of staff or student disputes or disciplinary issues
- in K-12 programs
- requiring a concealed carry permit to carry concealed weapons on campus
Johnsen pointed out that the requested amendments mirrored already existing legally-sanctioned limits taken from the constitutional right to bear arms.
Examples of these can be found, he said, in the publicly recognized limits on carrying concealed weapons into K-12 environments, as well as the ability of a resident to refuse permission to someone who wants to carry concealed weapons into their house or living quarters.
This bill, as originally proposed by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-North Pole, would allow for the open carry of knives on all UA campuses as well as the concealed carry of firearms.
Kelly said he feels gun-free zones on campuses make them easier targets for killers.
“I don’t want the students and the faculty at the University of Alaska to be a soft target as the dial seems to be ratcheted up over the last few years,” he said in an interview with Alaska Dispatch News.
Others are concerned about the direction the bill is going.
“I don’t like the concept of this bill,” Nina Sikes, a 21-year-old photography Bachelor of Fine Arts student, said. “UAF is a school just like any other school and I don’t think guns should be allowed here.”
One of UAF Police Chief Keith Mallard’s biggest problem with this bill is how it was pushed through without regard for the clear opposition coming from campus officials.
“What concerns me the most isn’t the ability for people to carry concealed,” Mallard said. “It has more to do with the way our legislature decided to put it through in spite of almost everybody who was connected to the university that testified in those hearings, saying they were against it. The legislature still decided to do their own thing.”
President Johnsen expressed worry about concealed carry’s effects on campus police operation.
“Are they going to know who’s armed and who’s not armed? No,” Johnsen said. “That’s a huge risk to take with our students.”
As of Monday, April 11, the House Education Committee also passed the bill without the university’s requested changes. The vote was 4-3. The bill now sits in House finance, but has not yet been scheduled for hearing.
The latest Senate version did not include most of the amendments drafted by the Regents, thus discontinuing their previous jurisdiction to designate weapon-free zones on campus. This means that, if the bill goes through, guns could be carried into classrooms as well as dormitories.
It does, however, give the university the power to restrict the carry of firearms in areas where disciplinary actions or sexual harassment and domestic crimes are handled.
The version of the bill passed by the Senate also allows for the university to track students who keep weapons in dormitories to accommodate those who want to avoid rooming with other students who possess firearms.
“We told Senator Pete Kelly that if he adopted those six amendments we would remove our objection to the bill,” Davies said. “But the bill as drafted originally and as it is now doesn’t have those provisions in it, so we continue to object to the bill.”
“I’m very concerned about the bill,” Johnsen said. “I think that one of the biggest challenges for us at the university is that the bill really takes away from the Board of Regents the ability to manage guns on campus in a common sense way. We think that it’s critically important to be able to manage this issue and the bill as it is written today does not enable us to do that.”