While recent school shootings have triggered a national debate about guns on college campuses, a bill pending in the Louisiana Legislature that could allow guns in Louisiana schools brings that debate close to home.
Rep. Ernest Wooton's House Bill 199 would extend the rights of licensed concealed weapon carriers to college campuses, which previously were statutorily designated as gun-free zones. The bill would affect all Louisiana colleges and universities, including private institutions.
The all-encompassing nature of the bill poses a major concern for Loyola University a private, Catholic institution amid strong opinions for and against integrating guns into campus life. The Rev. Kevin J. Wildes, Loyola president, opposes the Wooton bill. If passed, the bill would undermine the authority of every Louisiana college or university chief executive.
"We will fight the bill. I think it is dangerous to open the door to an armed campus," Wildes said in an email. "If one thinks about the life of a campus with an undergraduate population, one has to think about all kinds of things like parties and alcohol that do not mix well with guns. Also, I am sure if we did [have guns on campus] we would face significant insurance increases, and the state has shown no interest in picking up those costs."
Recently elected Loyola Student Government Association President Cade Cypriano, a junior, also has spoken out against the Wooton bill, saying such a law would make it "difficult for law enforcement to discern between violent attackers and peaceful, gun-carrying students" in the event of a school shooting.
Although several influential figures at Loyola oppose the bill, a vocal campus population hopes to educate others on the pro-gun position.
Students for Concealed Carry on Campus a national organization promoting gun carriers' rights on college campuses has more than 30,000 members nationwide, and some Loyola students hope to be included in that number. A local SCCC chapter is in its formative stages at Loyola, and the group hopes to be chartered as an official campus organization in the fall.
"We support [licensed weapon carriers] to match the rights they have outside campus, inside campus in order to defend themselves if something terrible happens," says Christopher Fleming, a Loyola junior who is a member of the nascent organization.
That "something terrible" is very much a reality for students directly affected by the recent shootings at schools such as Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech and Baton Rouge's Louisiana Technical College. Still, it raises difficult questions about the role that guns would play on an "armed" campus: Would they escalate campus violence, minimize campus violence, or prevent it altogether?
Cypriano and other opponents of guns on campus argue that firearms might confuse law enforcement. Fleming answers that extending concealed-carry permits to college campuses would allow students to take matters into their own hands if a shooting occurs.
"A lot of people say it is the job of campus police [to stop a shooting]. But at Virginia Tech, the guy had killed a couple of people before they got there," he says. "The people who could have stopped it immediately were students."
Other supporters of guns at college say being unarmed makes students sitting ducks for violent attackers. "Many fewer students would be killed," says Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola. Without guns, he says, "All they can do is hide behind a desk. We're happy that [campus police] are here, but there are only so many of them. We can't have police everywhere."
Block was a natural choice for faculty adviser of Loyola's nascent SCCC chapter. He was carjacked on campus earlier this year, but his fiercely pro-Second Amendment stance goes back a long way. A staunch libertarian, Block has been a licensed concealed weapon carrier since the 1980s and wishes those rights would extend to college campuses.
"My expectation is that 99 to 1, the insurance would go down, there'd be greater safety on campus and it'd be very rare that anyone would have an accident an accidental shooting. It occurs, but very rarely," Block says, addressing Wildes' claims about higher insurance rates. "And it would be overwhelmingly the other side that it would be a much safer place. ... Criminals wouldn't come here in the first place."
Both Block and Fleming say the prospect of accidental shootings should raise little concern. Fleming says licensed weapon carriers are trained in gun safety and therefore rarely have accidents. Even if accidents do occur, Fleming says, that possibility should not outweigh the need for greater campus safety.
He addresses the liability and insurance issue head-on: "[A college administration] would rather have 35 people killed by a deranged person and not be liable than have one person killed because of an accident and be liable? If that's true then that's a shame."
It may be a polarizing issue, lending itself to conservative-versus-liberal battle lines, but the pro-gun movement claims to be apolitical. Nationally, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus considers itself a bi-partisan organization.
"It's for liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans it's whoever thinks it's right," Fleming says. "That's the way it should be."
Although the movement appeals to many ideologies, Block says that one group has been noticeably absent from the gun debate.
"Where the hell are the feminists?" he asks. "They're always taking about, you know, women are exploited and they aren't equal and this and that and the other. Well, the gun's a great equalizer. Men are taller than women, men weigh more than women, men have more testosterone than women, men are more likely to fight and rape than women. That's what [feminists] would affirm, that women are powerless they need to seize power. Well how better to seize power than to seize a gun? That's a very powerful implement."
Besides defending students in school shootings, Block also believes that guns could decrease instances of rape on campus. But Marcus Kondkar, a Loyola sociology professor who recently conducted a study on sexual violence and coercion on campus, cites statistics that challenge Block's claims.
"Without getting into the debate on gun control, Block's argument indicates a lack of knowledge about the conditions associated with rape in general, and rape among college students especially," Kondkar said in an email.
In his study, he concluded that only 9 percent of sexual assaults involving Loyola students involved strangers a finding consistent with national studies of sexual assault on college campuses. He found that the vast majority of rapes among college students occur among friends, acquaintances and people in dating relationships at parties and social gatherings or in the victim or perpetrator's residence. Additionally, only 14 percent of these sexual assaults occurred on Loyola's campus.
Ironically, an instance of sexual assault at Loyola is what fuels Chris Fleming's beliefs. He said that when his older sister was attending Loyola, she was in a bathroom in a building on campus when a man entered and tried to rape her. This caused her to advocate for guns on campus, leading her and eventually her brother to Block.
Wooton's House Bill 199 cleared the House Criminal Justice Committee and at presstime was awaiting action on the House floor. If passed, it must win approval in the Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Meanwhile, Cypriano, the new student body president, worries that the bill could jeopardize some of Loyola's funding. "For example, right now, it's a federal law for campuses to be gun-free zones," he says. "Loyola doesn't have to follow this, but if we didn't, we wouldn't get any federal money."
For its part, SCCC will pursue the process of getting chartered and possibly lead an "empty holster" protest, one that has gained popularity among campus gun advocates nationally. Block says he hopes Loyola will commit to campus safety even if it doesn't support the Wooton bill. "If the administration had any decency and they don't want any guns, what they should do is get substitutes for guns," he says. "More police with guns, more cameras, more lighting."
Block adds that allowing gun owners to bring their weapons onto campus and perhaps into campus athletics would be the ammunition Loyola needs to prevent crime. He also advocates forming rifle-shooting teams to publicize the fact that Loyola is a campus with trained marksmen and women to deter potential criminals.
"It's an interesting idea, but I don't know if the university will go for it," Fleming says.
"I think it is dangerous to open the door to an armed campus. If one thinks about the life of a campus with an undergraduate population, one has to think about all kinds of things like parties and alcohol that do not mix well with guns."
The Rev. Kevin J. Wildes, president of Loyola