A new House Bill proposal is generating buzz on local college campuses. Legislation filed last week would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry their handguns on to University of North Carolina system college campuses and community colleges across the state. Some say the measure will allow students and faculty to protect themselves in the event of a shooting, while others fear it will cause more violence and chaos.
“I don’t want to be in fear of my life from not just one person, but everyone at the school because everybody wants to have a gun.”
Ainaya Sparrow is a student at Craven Community College.
“You can put a gun in the hands of the wrong person and they can get mad and do whatever they want to do.”
Mass shootings on college campuses appear to be increasing, according to a study by the Citizen Crime Commission of New York City. In 2007, a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people before turning the gun on himself. More recently, nine people were killed and nine others injured during a 2015 attack at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. That same year, a shooting took place at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro. Kenneth Morgan Stancil III, armed with a 12 gauge pump shotgun fired a single shot, killing 44 year old Ron Lane who ran the college’s print shop.
In the wake of these tragedies, some are asking what can be done to prevent violence on school campuses and what safeguards can be put into place to allow students and faculty to defend themselves. The primary sponsor of House Bill 251 is Republican Representative Kyle Hall. He said in a written statement to Public Radio East that he was contacted by a student from Appalachian State who was disappointed he was prohibited from protecting himself on campus even after completing extensive training and background check. He goes on to say he “believes law abiding citizens who go through our state’s very thorough process should be allowed to protect themselves, even while on our college campuses.” Rep. Hall declined our request for interview. Other primary bill sponsors including Republican Representative Michele Presnell and Republican Representative Destin Hall didn’t return our requests for comment.
I also reached out to six community colleges in eastern North Carolina this week for comment on House Bill 251, some of which hadn’t heard of the legislation. Of those that returned our calls, Craven Community College, Coastal Carolina Community College and Wayne Community College didn’t want to comment at this time. Perhaps it’s a collective attempt to not draw attention to the bill. East Carolina University in Greenville provided a written statement from the associate vice chancellor for environmental health and campus safety Bill Koch. He said “concealed carry permit holder training involves limited use of the weapon and little or no tactical training.” If there was an incident, he said he would “much prefer highly trained law enforcement officers responding to an active shooter on campus without the added confusion of distinguishing between the shooter and lawful gun owners.”
However, proponents of the legislation say gun holders would be able to respond to a situation quicker than law enforcement.
“We’re not in a big city area where they’re going to be here very quickly, I think it would take them some time to get here.”
That’s an instructor at an eastern North Carolina community college – who spoke to us on condition of anonymity.
“And look at our campus the way it’s spread out, identifying where the shooter actually, truly is, I think it would be helpful.”
Currently, it is legal for those with concealed carry permits to store a firearm locked in their vehicle’s glove box when parked on college campuses. But she believes that would not be enough in an emergency situation.
“We should have the opportunity to be armed and be able to provide safety for our students and for ourselves. I think it would not be a bad thing. I’m sure there are a lot of fears about that, but when you’re able to defend yourself, I think you have a better chance of survival than if not.”
While some believe guns would make college campuses safer, others like ECU student Deandre Johnson say the law change is not the answer.
“Tempers can’t control a lot of different actions that people may have in the heat of the moment type situations. So if someone were to accidently upset somebody else and then if they just got mad and forgot about all the rules that are supposed to be in place for them, they decide to pull out the gun, and kill me and half the campus, there’s nothing I can do to stop that.”
Supporters of H.B. 251 feel that mass shootings at college campuses could have a different outcome if an armed student or faculty member with a concealed carry permit were able to intervene. Craven Community College student William Dawson doubts that the legislation will even pass given recent shootings. Even though he doesn’t have a concealed carry permit himself, he says it would make him feel a little safer knowing others do.
“In a small town like New Bern, NC and like the Bible Belt, the southern area, yeah probably, because people here are educated with guns and they have the training.”
House Bill 251 isn’t the only legislation up for consideration concerning guns in public places. House Bill 69, also known as the “Constitutional Carry Act,” would make it lawful to carry a concealed handgun in North Carolina without a concealed handgun permit. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.