The Campus Carry Movement Stutter-Steps Across America

This year alone an astonishing 20 states have seen "guns on campus" bills introduced. Seven have failed.

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Last October, an email popped into my inbox from Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of gun rights networking hub OpenCarry.org, which boasts the motto, "A right un-exercised is a right lost." He was responding to a question I had about the possible re-tabling of a bill in the Texas legislature which would, if passed, allow students to carry handguns with them to college.

At the time, only Utah allowed the carrying of concealed weapons into the classrooms of public universities, while Colorado left it up to the colleges themselves to decide. Stollenwerk wrote: "My bet is that there are a fair number of college students and faculty members across America who, after the Virginia Tech murders, have decided to regularly carry loaded concealed handguns to class even when it violates college administrative rules ... I hope campus carry is legalized in Texas soon."  

But faculty members weren't as keen on their students packing heat during their lessons as Stollenwerk thought they might be. Last month, just as state senators were ready to send a bill to allow handguns on campus to a final vote, University of Texas (UT) Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa wrote a public letter to legislators saying the gun bill was a bad idea. And he had the public support of both the UT Faculty Counsel and Texas A&M University Faculty Senate. The result: the bill stalled in the Texas senate, lacking the two-thirds of votes needed to get it on to the floor.

But Sen. Jeff Wentworth, the Texas Republican who authored the bill, was persistent, and yesterday he managed to get it tacked on to a piece of education finance reform legislation which passed the state senate.

If the bill in Texas becomes law, some professors there have said they plan to include a clause in syllabi stipulating that students are not be permitted to carry guns into their classroom -- and then simply refuse to teach classes where students don't assent.  

Campus-carry legislation was also on the move this spring in Arizona. Three weeks ago, the state's conservative governor Jan Brewer vetoed a gun rights bill that had already made its way successfully through both houses, saying it was "poorly written" and that allowing guns to be carried in 'public rights of way' could have included K-12 schools -- something prohibited under state and federal law.  

 But the hiccup in Arizona hasn't stopped the movement to allow guns on campus gather momentum elsewhere. This year alone an astonishing 20 states have seen 'guns on campus' bills introduced (so far seven have failed).

The non-profit Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence points out that since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, campus-carry legislation has been stymied 51 times in 27 states. But they shouldn't sit back and breathe a sigh of relief just yet. In Arizona, Brewer has signaled that she'd consider future campus-carry legislation if it addressed her concerns.

The gun rights lobby is powerful -- and persistent. And here's a peculiar anomaly: that movement seems emboldened by the perception that President Obama is a "committed anti-gunner," as the Gun Owners of America organization said during his initial run for president. This perceptions persists despite the fact that the Brady Campaign issued a report card last year failing him on all of the issues it considered important -- including closing gun show loopholes and curbing trafficking.

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Alex Hannaford is a writer based in the U.K. His work has appeared in The Guardian, GQ, and The Texas Observer.

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