College presidents and university officials on Monday rejected the idea of arming students and faculty on college campuses, saying the best solution to combat gun violence is to enact President Obama’s plans to ban some weapons and ammunition magazines and conduct background checks on all gun buyers.
The shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December have brought renewed attention to gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association and gun-control groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but college presidents made clear that they want to be part of the conversation as well, on the side of gun control.
“We have presidents from more than 40 states: red states and blue states, urban states and rural states,” Lawrence Schall, president of Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, said at a news conference in Washington organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “We have presidents who have never owned a gun and we have presidents who have led our armed forces into war.”
More than 350 college presidents from across the country have signed a letter opposing the idea of adding more guns to school campuses as a way to reduce gun violence.
“We are parents. We are Republicans, Democrats and independents,” the letter reads. “As a group, we do not oppose gun ownership. But, in many of our states, legislation has been introduced or passed that would allow gun possession on college campuses. We oppose such laws.”
Concealed-carry laws on college campuses vary by state. Twenty-three states leave the decision to the schools, while 21 have outright campus bans of concealed weapons. State colleges and universities in Utah cannot institute such bans under state law.
In 2011, 18 states introduced bills to allow concealed carry weapons on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but Wisconsin and Mississippi were the only two states to enact such laws. In Mississippi, an exception allows people who have taken a voluntary safety course to carry on campus. In Wisconsin, concealed carry is allowed, but schools can bar guns from campus buildings if there are signs at every entrance explicitly saying so.
Mr. Obama didn’t specifically address the issue of guns on college campuses during a speech in Minneapolis on Monday, but he did try to channel a bipartisan sentiment similar to the presidents’.
“We don’t have to agree on everything to agree it’s time to do something,” he said. “The vast majority of Americans — including a majority of gun owners — support requiring criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun.”
But David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, said universal background checks will never be effective because the laws would be ignored.
“While it sounds good, it doesn’t work,” he said. “Michigan, for example, has universal checks right now and they’re widely ignored … when neighbors buy guns from neighbors and things of that sort.”
Some gun rights groups, including the NRA, have called for increased armed security at schools to try to prevent mass shootings. Even Mr. Obama has called for increased funding for school resource officers, though localities would be able to use the money instead for security officers or school counselors. On Monday, he reiterated his support to make it easier for young people to get mental health treatment.
Mr. Obama also continued his push for the more politically tenuous bans on military-style, semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. Regardless of the specific proposals, though, the administration clearly wants swift action as the Newtown incident drifts further into the past.
“If we refuse to act now, I don’t know if we will ever act,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said at the news conference with college presidents. “Sometimes the time picks you; sometimes you pick the time. The time has picked us.”