On the same day that a gunman killed seven students at a small California Christian university, hundreds of college students across the nation went to class wearing empty holsters on their hips.
The message was part of Students for Concealed Carry’s weeklong Empty Holster Protest, an event designed to encourage universities to allow students, faculty and administrators to carry concealed weapons on campus.
That the demonstration began on the same day as Monday’s shootings was “a poignant and ironic example of the very thing we’re protesting,” group spokesman David Burnett said.
“Colleges invite these shootings by guaranteeing criminals their victims will be disarmed,” Mr. Burnett said. “It takes more than signs to fend off killers.”
Police said Tuesday that the gunman, One L. Goh, 43, is a former nursing student at Oikos University who was upset about being expelled recently. The school, which has about 100 students, was founded to help Korean immigrants learn English and find careers in nursing and ministry.
Mr. Burnett said that since 2001, at least 20 such college shootings have occurred on campuses that prohibit firearms, even for students who hold concealed-carry permits. While most universities have gun bans in effect, more than 200 campuses in six states allow students to carry handguns to class “without experiencing any such rampages,” Mr. Burnett said.
The Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence opposes concealed carry on campus, arguing that allowing handguns would increase the likelihood of shootings.
“Introducing guns into a volatile environment where binge drinking and drug use are all too prevalent would dramatically increase the risks of suicide, gun thefts, and the number of gun violence victims,” said a statement on the Brady Campaign website.
California has some of the nation’s tightest restrictions on concealed-carry weapons permits. It is a so-called “may issue” state, meaning that sheriffs’ and police departments have discretion in whether to issue concealed-carry permits to applicants.
Thirty-eight states are “shall issue” states, which grant concealed-carry permits to any applicant who meets the legal criteria. Illinois and the District are the only two “no issue” jurisdictions, in which private citizens may not carry concealed firearms.
In practice, however, some California jurisdictions rarely grant concealed-carry permits. That includes Alameda County, where Oikos University is located, said Preston Guillory, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who runs the California Concealed Carry website.
“When people tell me they’re trying to get [a permit] in Alameda County, I tell them, ‘Good luck,’ ” Mr. Guillory said. “Los Angeles County is almost impossible. In San Francisco, my understanding is that there are no [permits] out. Marin County is also very strict. Basically, everything in the Bay Area is very restrictive.”
He estimated that there are about 40,000 concealed-carry permits now valid in California, the nation’s most populous state. By comparison, Florida had 843,463 licensed permit holders as of July 31, according to the 2011 Florida Concealed Weapon/Firearm Summary Report.
The result is that gunmen such as the one at Oikos know that nobody will be able to shoot back, Mr. Burnett said.
“This is a gun-free zone in a gun-free state,” he said. “And the result is that instead of being safer, you have the worst school shooting since Virginia Tech.”
While Mr. Guillory said he supports concealed carry, he said he had doubts about the policy’s effectiveness in deterring campus gunmen, mainly because most students are unfamiliar with firearms. California law requires permit-holders to undergo 16 hours of training, which isn’t enough to give them the experience they would need in a school-shooting emergency, he said.
Instead, he suggested that universities install panic buttons or containers of pepper spray behind glass, such as they do now with fire extinguishers.
“I’d be comfortable with an administrator or someone with more than the state-required 16 hours of training, yes,” said Mr. Guillory. “Someone carrying a gun out of fear of victimization, no Universities are a target-rich environment, but there are alternative means of dealing with this.”