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May 28, 2009

Opinion: Guns on Campus “Wrong for Louisiana”

Even as higher education is forced to consider stringent budget reduction measures for the 2009-2010 academic year, our attention has simultaneously been diverted to HB 27, the concealed handgun bill which would allow college students 21 years and older, to carry a gun on campus if they have a concealed weapon permit.

I can’t think of anything more dangerous.

As an unfunded mandate, this bill would cost higher education across our state hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement, and in all probability will raise the likelihood that injury will occur if students are armed on campus. State and federal courts today hold the university responsible for student injuries occurring on and off-campus and many have consistently ruled that colleges and universities have a legal duty to protect and warn the campus community.

The Foreseeability Doctrine – which states that higher education officials must anticipate those situations that could potentially result in injury to others – reminds us that due diligence must be exercised at all times. House Bill 27 will produce such a foreseeable danger.

Our campuses are some of the safest places to live, work and study, but that safety is now in jeopardy. The liability HB 27 would impose on Louisiana tax payers could be astronomical if innocent students, faculty, staff, or visitors are injured or killed on campus when students with guns impose their own form of self-protection. How would university police tell who the perpetrator is if everyone at the scene has a gun drawn?

University police officers are the first responders when issues of safety arise on campus. These men and women are post-certified, highly-trained officers who respond to calls twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Following the tragedy at Virginia Tech University, university police, State Police, and area law enforcement agencies are now active-shooter trained, which means they now must kill the shooter, while putting their own lives on the line. Active shooter training has changed the way university police respond in such an emergency and this training clearly can save lives.

If House Bill 27 becomes law, it most certainly will contradict the safety measures that are already in place and alter how university police and area law enforcement agencies respond to a crisis situation. Out of all the debate, much attention has been focused on the Second Amendment and the rights of individuals to bear arms even though this is not a second amendment issue – it’s an issue of campus safety and security.

Perhaps little is known about the landmark legal case, District of Columbia v. Heller, decided June 2008, in which the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to own a firearm.

However, even the most conservative of all the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in a 5-4 majority, declared emphatically that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibition on the possession of firearms or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings or laws imposing conditions on the commercial sale of arms.”

Clearly, Justice Scalia recognizes that guns in schools and government buildings, including the Supreme Court, should continue to be regulated not by the Second Amendment, but by a practical common sense approach, which is sorely needed in this continuing debate over allowing guns to be concealed and carried on college and university campuses.

House Bill 27 is simply wrong for higher education and wrong for Louisiana.

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