Lawmaker, some students say yes, but S&T police oppose bill
Should students, faculty and staff be allowed to carry guns on Missouri college campuses?
Missouri Sen. Bob Dixon, a Republican lawmaker from Springfield, says yes, but the Missouri University of Science and Technology Police Department says no.
In December of 2015, Dixon pre-filed legislation (SB 589) to be debated in this year's legislative session. If it passes, the bill would remove the current prohibition on carrying concealed weapons on Missouri college campuses.
A hearing on the bill took place Jan. 27 in the Senate’s Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee.
Currently, state law allows governing boards of public higher education institutions to determine whether or not to allow concealed weapons on the campus.
Missouri S&T is part of the University of Missouri System, which also includes the University of Missouri flagship campus in Columbia, University of Missouri-Kansas City and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Concealed weapons are not allowed on UM system campuses other than those for safety officers.
Supporters of Dixon's legislation argue that campuses are targets for those who want to carry out mass shootings because they assume there are few weapons on the premises and that concealed carry increases the chances that someone can end a mass shooting before police may arrive.
Dixon says he introduced this bill to increase safety on college campuses and as an effort to make state law more fair. He noted that the bill was spurred in part from the October 2015 Umpqua (Oregon) Community College shooting, where an assistant professor and eight students in a classroom were killed.
Lt. Raymond Bogart, Missouri S&T's interim police chief, has a different opinion.
"If we have an active shooter here at S&T, and the (campus) police arrive on the scene and spot a person with a gun, we aren't going to spend time sorting out if the gunman is the shooter or a student who is defending him or herself,” he said.
Bogart also said with guns on campus, there are bound to be gun-related accidents.
Andrew Careaga, executive director of marketing and communications at Missouri S&T, added that allowing firearms on campus would probably increase the rate of suicide at colleges and universities.
Careaga said an article by Daniel L. Kaplan in the Dec. 30, 2015, edition of the Tallahassee Democrat titled, "Evidence says guns on campus will make students less safe" states that "Up to seven in 1,000 college students die by suicide every year. One in 10 college students have made a plan for suicide."
"Suicide is the leading cause of death among college students," Careaga explained. "So if a student has been drinking or feeling depressed and has a greater access to a firearm, that could be very dangerous."
Missouri S&T is not alone in its position on this issue. In 2008, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), of which Missouri S&T's police department is a member, stated, "Concealed carry initiatives do not make campuses safer. There is no credible evidence to suggest that the students carrying concealed weapons would reduce violence on our college campuses."
However, university students in Rolla overwhelmingly stated otherwise. A recent survey conducted by the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM) which consists of all students (around 77,000) in the UM System were polled on whether or not concealed weapons should be allowed on campuses.
According to Adam McMikle, Missouri S&T Student Council president, 1,000 students from S&T responded to the survey and 75 percent of those who responded were in favor of allowing concealed weapons on campus.
Interestingly he noted that the other three UM System campuses were staunchly against the policy when surveyed.
In an informal Facebook survey posted by The Rolla Daily News, St. James Leader-Journal and Waynesville Daily Guide about this issue, the majority of respondents were for allowing concealed weapons on campus.
Jeffery Spencer, a Missouri S&T employee, said that he would welcome the ability to carry a gun at work.
“I'd feel safer knowing that there may be others who could stop a lunatic trying to murder as many people as possible,” he said.
Craig Heimericks said that he didn't see a problem with faculty and staff carrying a weapon on campus but would have some serious doubts about younger students having a gun.
He said, “Remember, we say they aren't responsible enough to drink under the age of 21, yet we'd grant them a license to bring a gun with them everywhere?”
Mike Border added, “A responsible individual with a firearm is a benefit to all around them, in the event that a firearm is needed.”
Safety first and foremost
The only time S&T has had an active shooter incident on campus was in May 2011.
Careaga recalled that the incident began at Fort Leonard Wood when an individual tried to get on post with a firearm.
"There was a chase from the fort to Rolla and he drove onto the campus here and crashed into McNutt Hall and entered the building,” Careaga said.
No shots were fired on campus and no injuries to faculty or staff were reported. The subject was later apprehended in Edgar Springs after stealing a car in Rolla. His gun was later found near McNutt Hall.
Careaga said that the university's mass notification system worked well in that tense incident.
"We sent out an alert by text, phone and email that stated that here was an armed gunman approaching campus," he said. "A second alert went out that said he was on campus, and the campus was on lockdown, meaning students should stay in place.
“What we learned is that our system worked well despite the confusion of that morning on what was really going on,” Careaga said.
Not on our campus
With every incident of a school shooting, such as Columbine in 1998 or Virginia Tech in 2007, not only has the S&T administration learned a lot but the campus police have as well.
Bogart said that he and his staff of 11 officers and six security guards routinely have active-shooter training.
"We'll set up speakers of screaming and sound effects of gunfire and train on how to respond," Bogart said.
He added that while he is pro-Second Amendment and a National Rifle Association (NRA) firearms instructor, allowing concealed weapons on campus adds an unknown variable at the university that doesn't need to be there.
"I just believe that there are some locations where concealed-carry is not appropriate. College can be a stressful time," he said. "Guns on campus is just adding an element that could make this school less safe."