By Emily Younker
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
The Student Government Association of Pittsburg State University has joined Kansas’ other public universities in opposing a bill that would allow concealed weapons on college and university campuses.
More than 900 PSU students were polled on the issue before Wednesday’s vote by student senators, who decided 22-16 to formally oppose the bill that is currently under consideration by legislators, student body President Lara Ismert said.
The bill would allow individuals with a concealed-carry permit to carry concealed weapons into public buildings, which includes college and university campuses, unless those buildings have “adequate security measures” such as security guards or metal detectors, said Shawn Naccarato, director of government and community relations at PSU.
The university currently bans weapons, concealed or otherwise, in accordance with a policy from the state Board of Regents, its governing board, said Mike McCracken, director of PSU police.
The PSU group was the last student government organization of the seven public universities in the state to announce its opposition to the bill in recent weeks.
“We aren’t trying to change any policies on campus,” Ismert said of the students’ vote. “We are trying to have a more formal statement from the campus to take to Topeka.”
University officials oppose the bill on the basis that the allowance of weapons on campus should be a board choice, not a choice of lawmakers, Naccarato said.
“Our position is to support the Board of Regents’ position, which is first and foremost to maintain the authority of the board to make the decision as to whether or not concealed weapons should be allowed (on campuses),” he said.
McCracken said the police chiefs of the state’s public universities oppose the bill for safety reasons. He said their concerns include a potential difficulty in police officers being able to identify the shooter in an active-shooter scenario where multiple weapons are present, and the possibility of a concealed weapon being stolen from someone.
“We don’t feel like it would help the overall safety of the campus because it would interfere with the educational process,” he said. “Instead of making it more safe on campus, we feel like it would overall make it less safe.”
The debate will likely be a hot topic at PSU for a while, Ismert said. Before their vote, student senators polled their peers in an online, 10-question survey. Ismert said a question asking about support for lawful concealed weapons on university campuses garnered a “yes” vote from 53 percent of the 918 students who took the survey and a “no” vote from 44 percent — suggesting just how divided the student population might be.
“I think the discussion isn’t over,” she said. “A lot of people are talking about it.”
Ismert said she supports being able to carry a concealed weapon “in most instances.” Several members of her family have a concealed-carry permit, and she said she plans to get her own permit sometime this year. But she said she thinks allowing weapons at PSU wouldn’t be a good idea.
“I don’t think higher education institutions are the right environment for that,” said Ismert, a senior majoring in math and English.
Edwin Stremel, a student senator and senior majoring in automotive technology, said he supports being able to carry concealed weapons on campus. He is involved in a separate student group that has lobbied for that option for three semesters.
Stremel said he thinks individuals who have the appropriate license should have the choice to carry a weapon with them — especially if there is a shooter on campus, where their options otherwise would be to run or hide.
“It’s not about arming all the students,” he said of the bill. “It’s about giving students who have a concealed-carry permit to, when all else fails, defend themselves.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Missouri and Oklahoma are among the states that ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college or university campus.
Ken Kennedy, chief of police at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, said concealed weapons are not allowed on campus, except on police officers. Katie Dewey, spokeswoman for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, also confirmed that weapons are not allowed on that campus, not even in private vehicles.
Legislation filed this session in the Missouri House of Representatives would allow teachers or administrators to carry a concealed weapon on the campus of a higher education institution, elementary or secondary school. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, has not been assigned to a House committee and is not on any calendar.
A similar bill that would have allowed concealed weapons on Kansas college and university campuses failed last year to make it through the Legislature, according to Shawn Naccarato, director of government and community relations at Pittsburg State University.