The nation is facing an alarming increase in gun deaths on campuses. Governors, state legislators and university leaders across the U.S. are grappling with how to design policies that best protect their students from gun violence while navigating through state laws that make a tough task that much more complex. In some cases, states currently prohibit persons other than law enforcement from carrying concealed firearms on college campuses. And recently, a few states have voted on proposed bills. 

Oklahoma and South Dakota recently approved bills to cut down red-tape on the concealed carry of firearms, with reasonable exceptions. Other states, like West Virginia and Idaho, recently voted down laws that would have allowed concealed carry permit holders to possess their firearms on campuses.

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And not too long ago, Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla. where I serve as president, faced the same challenge.

We must protect the safety of our students, faculty, staff and guests. University and state leaders across our nation can work together to develop programs that allow a limited number of appointed personnel to carry concealed weapons.

In Polk County, Fla. where Southeastern University is located, the Sherriff’s Office offers the Sentinel Program to stem potential shootings. It is accessible to all schools and universities within the county.

SEU was the first school or university to partner with the Sherriff’s office under the voluntary program. It allows authorized and properly trained employees of the university to carry concealed firearms on campus for the purpose of rapidly responding to an active assailant on campus. These sentinels are appointed Polk County special deputy sheriffs. This gives them the capacity to act only to thwart a deadly threat in the event of an active shooter. Otherwise, in the state of Florida, it is illegal to conceal or open carry on college campuses.

Each sentinel underwent extensive vetting, a series of psychological exams, drug tests and background checks. They trained for more than 130 hours, covering firearm safety, proficiency, shoot/don’t shoot discretionary training and, as a last resort, the use of deadly force.

Other Florida universities have joined the Sentinel Program and North Carolina is considering an approach that would increase pay for teachers who volunteer for similar training and certification. It is my hope that North Carolina, along with every other state capitol and college campus, will craft a solution that fits their needs while providing the utmost security to their students.

Whatever the answer may be for each state and institution, inaction is no longer an option. We have a responsibility to protect the young women and men who come to our institutions seeking to better themselves and to prepare them to lead the next generation.

Their safety is our greatest responsibility.

Dr. Kent Ingle is president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., and author of Framework Leadership.