Even as this month’s three deadly university shootings fuel cries for a crackdown on firearms, gun rights advocates say the incidents actually strengthen their campaign to allow concealed carry on campus.
The circumstances surrounding the incidents in Oregon, Arizona and Texas differ — so far only the Oct. 1 massacre at Umpqua Community College clearly fits the description of an unprovoked mass shooting — but all three took place on campuses that prohibit firearms.
“Every single one of these is an example of where a law-abiding citizen’s ability to fight back has been restricted by law, and the bad guy has the upper hand,” said Michael Newbern, a spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry. “A law-abiding citizen is the only person who is hindered from using a firearm when you’re in a gun-free zone.”
That argument has drawn support in recent years among state legislators. Bills were introduced this year in 13 states to relax restrictions on concealed carry on campus.
Mr. Newbern expects that trend to pick up steam in next year’s legislative sessions.
“We’re gaining traction everywhere,” Mr. Newbern said. “It’s because of things like this and because our message has stayed the same. Every time something like this happens, which is: Show us how a ban on concealed carry made this situation better. And you can’t.”
A frustrated President Obama set the tone after the Umpqua massacre, in which the gunman killed nine people, singling out Christian believers, before taking his own life.
Mr. Obama called for tighter gun restrictions and said, “This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.”
Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus, argued that the specter of armed students without tactical training would make shootings such as last week’s more common, not less.
“The law enforcement I’ve talked to on campus, and I’ve talked to a lot of them — this is not something that they want to see on their campus,” Mr. Pelosi said. “They don’t want to arrive at a scene and have to make split-second decisions on who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy.”
Still, he agreed that the momentum in state legislatures lies with concealed-carry advocates.
“What has happened is that our opponents have moved across the country to introduce legislation, and they’ve been successful in several states,” Mr. Pelosi said.
Of the 13 states where legislation was considered, only the Texas Legislature approved a campus-carry bill, but every time a measure is introduced, “we take it as a victory,” Mr. Newbern said.
“Even if it doesn’t move forward and we don’t win, we’re that much closer,” he said.
This year’s outcome could be described as a split decision: Although the Texas Legislature approved a measure allowing concealed handguns by licensed carriers at universities, California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, this weekend signed a bill banning concealed carry on K-12 and university campuses.
California has some of the toughest firearms restrictions in the nation, but the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995 does not address concealed handguns carried by licensed permit-holders, which state Sen. Lois Wolk, a Democrat, described as a loophole.
Ms. Wolk, who sponsored the bill, thanked Mr. Brown on Twitter for “signing bill to improve safety at our schools and colleges.”
Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, said in statement that the organization plans to file a lawsuit against the newly signed measure.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, in June signed the campus-carry bill, which gives campus officials some discretion on where firearms may be carried and how they must be stored in dormitories. The law doesn’t take effect until August 2016, but the backlash has already begun.
Opponents at the University of Texas-Austin are planning a campus protest for Aug. 26, the first day of classes after the law takes effect, by calling on students to carry sex toys, as advertised on the Facebook page “Campus (DILDO) Carry.”
A University of Texas economics professor announced last week that he would resign over the law, citing the danger from students.
“With a huge group of students my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law,” Daniel S. Hamermesh said in his Oct. 4 letter to the university.
In Texas, as in most other states, an applicant must be at least 21 to obtain a concealed-carry license, which rules out most undergraduates at many universities, Mr. Newbern said.
A week after the Umpqua incident, an 18-year-old was charged with murder in the Thursday shooting at Northern Arizona University that left one dead and three injured.
The gunman in the Friday incident at Texas Southern University, which left one student dead and one injured, remains at large. The shooting took place at an apartment complex on the edge of campus that was also the site of two other shootings this semester, according to ABC13 in Houston.
Mr. Pelosi said state officials should respond by tightening access to firearms, not increasing their numbers on campuses.
“This country’s awash in weapons — over 300 million weapons. It’s unbelievable,” Mr. Pelosi said.
Campus-carry supporters argue that gun-free zones such as schools are particularly vulnerable to massacres, but Mr. Pelosi said shooters “go in with a mindset of ‘I’m probably going to die, but I’ll take whoever I can with me.’”
“And most people that have these concealed weapons do not have tactical training. I mean, they just don’t,” Mr. Pelosi said. “They don’t have the type of training that law enforcement has. And law enforcement hits their targets about 25 percent of the time.”
Some students, however, are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and know how to handle weapons. Mr. Newbern, a Navy veteran, cited the example of Chris Mintz, the 30-year-old Army veteran at Umpqua who pulled fire alarms to warn students and then rushed the shooter.
“You saw in Oregon, we had a soldier charge the shooter and was actually shot seven times before he was taken down,” Mr. Newbern said. “How would that situation have been different if that guy had equal force? If he could have fought back?”