Representatives from higher education and law enforcement expressed concerns Monday about a bill that would allow guns on college campuses in a special meeting of the Campus Life and Safety and Security (CLASS) Task Force at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
House Bill 2513, authored by state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, would prohibit universities from having rules against allowing students, faculty and employees who have a concealed carry license, have been honorably discharged from the military or are active military members, to carry a concealed handgun on campus property, according to the task force's resolution draft.
Gov. Brad Henry created the CLASS Task Force shortly after the Virginia Tech tragedy to make recommendations on improving campus safety and security in Oklahoma colleges and universities. The task force calls for all necessary actions to be taken to prevent the bill from becoming law, the draft stated.
OU President David L. Boren addressed the issue at the meeting and said it would be a threat to campus safety.
"I do not think I have seen a single piece of legislation that would bring more negative consequences than this," Boren said. "All of the major politicians in the state have warned about this bill. I'm a supporter of the Second Amendment rights, but that's not the issue."
Boren said the issue is the safety of students and faculty on campus.
"We have the individual responsibility to keep [students and faculty] safe," he said. "As we go out to recruit faculty, to have to tell them there will be armed people in the classroom, there will be tragic impacts. I hope members of the Legislature will listen to the faculties."
Mike Robinson, Oklahoma State University director of public safety, said those who would be most affected by the bill are opposed to it.
"Students don't want it. Faculty doesn't want it. Administration doesn't want it," Robinson said. "Campuses are one of the safest places you can be. I am certain that campuses will be less safe if we allow guns."
Robinson said the bill would complicate law enforcement procedures because, in the event of a shooting, officers would have no way of distinguishing a shooter from armed students.
"I can't imagine, as a law enforcement officer, responding to an active shooter and having armed people in civilian clothes and having no way to identify them," Robinson said.
Dru Dear, political science senior at Northeastern State University, said many of the students at her university oppose the bill.
"The students have spoken and we do not support guns on campuses," said Dear, president of the Oklahoma Student Government Association.
Roger Webb, University Of Central Oklahoma president, said although the bill would require proficiency of use of a handgun, that is not necessarily enough.
"The assumption is if people are carrying a handgun, they are carrying it in order to use it," Webb, CLASS Task Force member, said. "Guns in classrooms are just not a good fit. Colleges and universities are a common sense exception [to the Second Amendment]."
Murphey, on the other hand, said the bill is designed to make campuses safer by offering students, faculty and staff a chance to defend themselves.
"I think [the bill] would make it less likely that [a school shooting] would happen here," Murphey told The Daily last month. "People would feel safer, and people that might have a personal reason for why they need to defend themselves would be able to."
Burns Hargis, Oklahoma State University president, said as a former active military member, there is more to gun use than meets the eye.
"I learned that when you're not trained for a highly tense situation, its remarkable how often you miss," he said. "It's just not realistic."
Hargis said stipulation that honorably discharged or active military members can carry guns on campuses still may make campuses unsafe.
"After all, Timothy McVeigh was honorably discharged," Hargis said. "We just can't do enough to make our campuses safe. More guns on campus is not the answer."
Hargis said the solution is to follow the task force's recommendations for campus safety and security.
"It costs money, but it's very cheap when you consider who we're protecting," Hargis said.
The task force's recommendations include installation of emergency notification systems, reviewing response plans with local law enforcement and conducting "live shooter" exercises. The implementation process is under way for these procedures, according to the draft.
OU already has implemented a text message alert system to notify students of potential danger, which keeps people in constant contact, Boren said.
"There's a time to put politics aside," Boren said. "There's not a college president in this room that doesn't think constantly about the safety of our students. Please put the safety of our students first."
© 2008 Oklahoma Daily via U-WIRE