Wednesday (April 16) marks the one-year anniversary of the worst school shooting in U.S. history: the Virginia Tech tragedy, which took the lives of 27 students, five faculty members and the shooter. While schools across the country have instituted a variety of new security measures to help prevent future attacks — from wireless campuswide alert systems and modified high-tech door locks to low-tech fixes, such as loudspeakers and sirens on rooftops — more and more students are fighting for the right to carry concealed weapons on campus.
Led by the national advocacy group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, whose membership has swelled to more than 25,000 in recent months, these students are convinced that one of the best ways to stop another campus shooter is to allow students to arm themselves. The group formed in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, and it now has nearly 300 chapters in 43 states.
"We just want to protect ourselves," said Stephen Feltoon, 22, the Midwest regional director for the organization and a recent University of Miami (Ohio) graduate in in psychology, who has had a concealed-carry permit for more than a year. "That's why the majority of people get concealed-carry licenses, not so they can play hero or act like a police officer and kick in a door and get the bad guys and get their face on the news. It doesn't make sense to us. Why is it OK to walk around the streets of, say, Cincinnati, with a concealed gun in your waist, or to walk into a 300-person movie theater with one, but not into a 300-person lecture hall?"
Feltoon said the push for concealed-carry permits isn't just about campus shootings, but also about other crimes that often occur on campus, from rapes to armed robbery and assault.
Nine states are considering legislation to allow guns on campus — including Ohio — while six have recently tried and failed to pass similar legislation. Right now, only Utah allows weapons on the campuses of all public universities, though Colorado allows students to carry weapons, except at the main university campus in Boulder, according to CNN.
One of the leading organizations lobbying against the expansion of concealed carry on campuses is the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Associate Director Christopher Blake said that his organization believes not only that concealed carry does not make campuses safer, but that there is no evidence to suggest that allowing students to carry concealed weapons reduces violence at all. "We are concerned that it would increase violence," said Blake, whose organization has 1,200 college and university members, as well as 2,000 individual members. "Our real concern is that a campus police officer responding to a situation might not be able to distinguish between the shooter and other people with firearms."
In addition, Blake said his organization fears that more guns on campus could result in a host of other problems, from accidental discharges to misuse of firearms, adding weapons into the mix at parties where large numbers of students are gathered in the presence of drugs and alcohol.
Feltoon countered that police officers are trained to know the difference between armed individuals and good Samaritans and that a licensed gun owner would immediately comply with an officer's commands during a shootout. His organization has come up against resistance from anti-gun activists, and he said he can understand their concerns. But "this is a personal safety issue," he argued. "Who is anyone to tell me that my choice to protect myself is a bad one? I hope I carry [my gun] every day and never use it. But I'd rather have it and not use it than not have it when I have to use it."
In addition to their Facebook page, Students for Concealed Carry has planned a protest for next week, during which students who support the cause are being encouraged to wear empty holsters to classes. So far, Feltoon said 3,000 people have pledged to participate.
As the debate over concealed carry on campus heats up, the threat of school violence is still present. On Monday, three colleges and four other schools were forced to shut their doors due to threatening graffiti that appeared before the Virginia Tech anniversary. According to The Associated Press, St. Xavier University on the Southside of Chicago emptied its campus on Monday after the message "Be prepared to die on 4/14" was scrawled on the college's campus. The same message was found at two adjoining high schools and a pair of nearby elementary schools. The city's Malcolm X College evacuated students and canceled daytime classes Monday after a similar threat was found in a bathroom on the campus. Oakland University in Michigan also closed its doors Monday because of threatening graffiti mentioning April 14.