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New campus carry proposal sparks debate

October 29, 2015

At this point in time, no UW System schools and technical colleges permit concealed guns in university buildings. However, a bill proposed in early October would make concealed weapons legal in all UW System schools, taking away the individual colleges’ rights to choose a stance on the matter themselves.

UW-River Falls’ campus Police Chief Karl Fleury describes the bill simply as a “change in the concealed carry requirements.”

Signs like this can be seen on buildings throughout campus. (Tori Schneider/Student Voice)
Signs like this can be seen on buildings throughout campus. (Tori Schneider/Student Voice)

The argument to allow concealed weapons in campus buildings is this: those in favor of the bill say concealed weapons in campus buildings would make them safer in the event of a school shooting or similarly hazardous situation. Those against the bill argue that adding concealed weapons to campus buildings would make them less safe, increasing the possibilities of firearm accidents and assault.

The bill, championed by state Representative Jesse Kremer and state Senator Devin LeMahieu, has been preceded by a similar one in Texas. As for the likelihood of the bill being passed in Wisconsin for UW schools, Fleury says that he doesn’t know if it will pass or not.

“Like any other bill…it has to go through the processes,” he says, but adds, “If it does pass, we have concerns for our campus systems.”

Fleury explains that, to carry a concealed weapon, you have to be at least 21 and fill out an application which he says is “not extensive.”

According to Fleury, any time a new variable–like the proposed bill–is introduced, it will “cause concerns for well-being on campus.” He says that allowing firearms inside campus buildings adds a new layer of difficulty to dealing safely with threats; responding officers don’t know if students carrying firearms are good Samaritans trying to help, or potentially harmful people, so they have to treat everyone as if he or she were an individual threat.

UW System President Ray Cross and UW System Chancellors are also not in favor of the bill. In a public statement, they explain, “We have significant concerns and questions with this proposal and cannot currently support it. We are, however, actively engaged in a dialogue with the legislative authors, regents, and campus police professionals to ensure our concerns are addressed.”

The response from the community about the bill has been predictably split. “Any time you introduce the question of firearms…you get a lot from both sides,” Fleury comments. He says that he realizes that it is an area of concern for citizens, and encourages them to search for information about the bill. He advises looking up the bill and what it actually says. “There’s not a lot to it,” he encourages.

Student Kerstin Strosahl is not against the bill’s implementation. “I would be fine with it,” she says. “Each state has their own laws about how you can get concealed carry and stuff…if you pass that test, I don’t see why not. I think a lot of people would be against it, but I think it would make us a safer community overall,” she continues.

Student Kate Engelhard has a different opinion. “I would feel slightly concerned, but not completely opposed,” she said. “Because if they have it, and if some crazy person comes into the building, they have self-defense – they have protection.”

However, Engelhard does believe in taking precautions. “Checking out who is buying weapons, making sure that there’s not extra felonies, and stuff like that,” she describes.

Whether the bill passes or not, the community, like the nation, is deeply conflicted about the issue. In response to the bill being introduced, for example, another was proposed by Democrats which would ban guns completely from college campuses. In River Falls, the debate is likely to be similarly fierce. Here on campus, Student Senate is also trying to raise awareness about the bill.

Regardless of the bill’s outcome, Chief Fleury repeats, “I know it’s an area of concern,” but continues, “I want to reassure everyone that we have a very safe campus and community.”