Guns in the campus workplace

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More states are joining the rush to bring weapons to public institutions of higher education. Concealed carry legislation in Texas prompted a recent cavalcade of dissent that featured students carrying sex toys and the resignation of a prominent faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin, Daniel Hamermesh, a well-known labor market economist.

{mosads}According to Inside Higher Ed, Hamermesh said that the concealed carry law was particularly dangerous in a large class: “With a huge group of students my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law.” Other faculty at the institution expressed their strong opposition to the law, as well as resistance from students. They succeeded in amending the Texas statute to allow exceptions to the concealed carry rule, much to the chagrin of the gun lobby, which promised to eliminate all restrictions in the next legislative session.

In Wisconsin, two Republican legislators introduced a bill to allow concealed carry permit holders to bring guns onto public campuses in their state. The reasoning, one legislator explained on Wisconsin Public Radio, is that “If there’s a shooting on the campus, I think you want more guns on the campus — because you want more bullets flying to actually stop whoever it is that has started that shooting.” That theory is the backbone of the National Rifle Association’s marketing strategy, and it has served the organization’s interests very well.

The National Conference of State Legislatures noted that in October 2015, 19 states banned guns on campuses of public institutions, 23 states allowed institutions to implement gun policies and eight states allow concealed carry on campus. The New York Times reported that “similar measures are being debated in Florida, Michigan, and Ohio,” and gun advocates will undoubtedly continue to agitate for changes in the law, either through legislation or litigation.

In 2003, Colorado adopted laws safeguarding the possession of weapons. A group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus filed suit against the University of Colorado’s strict prohibition of guns and won their case in the Colorado Supreme Court. As a result, students, faculty and employees at Colorado’s public colleges and universities now work in an environment where somebody could be packing heat. Gun enthusiasts point out that no one has yet been killed with a gun on campus yet, but one might argue that it is only a matter of time.

The demand for protection of Second Amendment rights is countered by arguments for protection of First Amendment rights. Opponents of gun zones point out that the threat of gun violence is likely to chill open and vigorous debate about controversial subjects such as abortion, class and gender inequities, religious beliefs, and many other subjects of legitimate academic inquiry.

But there is a straightforward way of solving the conflict between gun rights and security rights in the public education workplace.

Administrators in colleges and universities with concealed carry could determine who has a concealed carry permit by requiring all incoming and current students and employees to state on an employment or application form whether or not the individual has a concealed carry permit. That information would be compiled in a database accessible to students, faculty and administrators. Anyone found carrying a gun without a permit or failing to register the permit would be immediately terminated or expelled.

A faculty member concerned about weapons in the classroom could consult the database to find out whether any student had a permit. If so, the faculty member might demand an armed security guard to be present for all class sessions in case a gunfight broke out. The guard would be armed with an appropriate weapon, say an assault rifle, and equipped with body armor. Likewise, if a faculty member wanted to avoid attack from a “bad guy with a gun” in a class where there was no “good guy with a gun,” she could ask for armed security.

The database would enable faculty to avoid close encounters with an armed student. If a concealed carry holder wanted an appointment for office hours, the faculty member could arrange a meeting in a no-gun area, such as the campus police station or administration building. A similar principle could apply to work areas. If an employee discovered someone in the same work group had a carry permit, the employee could request a transfer to another area. Anyone who wanted to work in the presence of guns could ask to be placed in a gun unit.

If public institutions fail to safeguard students, then students can always go to a private institution where guns can be absolutely and unequivocally prohibited. The Second Amendment does not apply where there is no state action, and parents consequently have a choice about the educational environment for their children. Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association buys and sells politicians like cheap suits, so the gun zealots will persist in having their way on public campuses.

Hogler is professor of labor law, labor relations and human resource management at Colorado State University.

Tags Colorado Concealed carry first amendment Guns Second Amendment Texas University of Colorado University of Texas at Austin
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