This March, colleges were talking about more than shooting hoops, as state governments reviewed students’ right to have guns on school property.
Following several on-campus shooting incidents like the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that resulted in 32 casualties, as well as recent claims that having access to guns would reduce on-campus crimes like sexual assault, state governments have been looking closer at whether gun-owners should be able to conceal and carry their weapons on college and university campuses the same way they do in other locations.
This sort of legislation isn’t new: 19 states introduced pro-conceal and carry bills for college campuses in 2013, and 14 other states introduced similar bills the following year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In fact, most states have at least some policy regarding conceal and carry on college campuses.
So, do guns have a place on college campuses?
Activists on both sides of the debate remain passionate about their stance.
Groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the student-led Students For Concealed Carry have been consistently pushing for these bills, arguing that licensed weapons in the care of responsible owners will only make the campus safer from “every violent crime found in the rest of society, from assault to rape to murder.”
“Recent high-profile shootings and armed abductions on college campuses clearly demonstrate that 'gun free zones' serve to disarm only those law-abiding citizens who might otherwise be able to protect themselves,” Students For Concealed Carry wrote on their website.
But Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention group, says that an overwhelming majority of the people on college campuses — 95 percent of college presidents, 78 percent of students and 89 percent of police chiefs — aren’t fans of these policies.
"Nearly 80% of college students are against the idea," Jason Rzepka, director of cultural engagement at Everytown told MTV News. "And there’s reason to believe that if these laws pass, they’ll invite more gun violence on to American campuses — which are statistically some of the safest places in the country."
Activists at Everytown are using a sports-style bracket to document the “NRA Madness,” tracking the states facing this kind of legislation and rallying their supporters---young people who have "rejected this vision for campus life," urging them reach out to their representatives.
"This is a moment when young people are in a unique position to directly effect the outcome of the national guns on campus debate," Rzepka said. "Old people are always telling young people what’s best for them; in this instance, the gun lobby is telling college students their campuses will be safer if their classmates are carrying loaded, concealed weapons."
This year, at least 12 states (including big college states like Florida, Nevada, Michigan and Texas) will see 'conceal and carry on campus' legislation hit their state senates. Rzepka says that it's important for college students to engage with this issue and make their voices heard, as these bills will either be passed or rejected before the end of the spring semester.
Rzepka says that students in and Wyoming, Virginia, West Virginia and South Dakota "have already defeated similar legislation this year" and urges students in the 12 other states with pending bills to fill out postcards to their local elected officials that Everytown will happily deliver.
"Students can also rally their friends, parents, university administrators and alumni to deliver a loud message to those with the power to stop this dangerous legislation: not on our campuses."
[Editor's Note: Jason Rzepka was formerly the V.P. of Public Affairs at MTV.]