Louisiana Bill Could Allow Guns On Campus

This story was written by Emily Holden, The Daily Reveille
A bill filed with the Louisiana legislature touches on a topic sensitive to University students concerned about their safety.

House Bill 199, introduced by Rep. Ernest Wooton, of Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Charles parishes, would authorize concealed handgun permit holders to carry guns on college campuses.

The bill has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice Committee. It aims to limit a college's authority to prohibit permit-holders from exercising their licenses on campus. It allows universities to establish rules about storing firearms in dorms.

The bill would also allow permit-holders to carry weapons on elementary, middle and high school campuses.

"I think that it would be a huge mistake for that bill to be passed because there are certain places that a gun would not be recommended," said LSUPD spokesman Maj. Lawrence Rabalais.

Rabalais said allowing more guns on campus would increase the number of accidental shootings. He said it would cause confusion for LSUPD responders trying to discriminate between suspects and bystanders with guns.

"It's not a constitutional issue for us. It's a safety issue," he said.

JP Gwaltney, head of the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus LSU chapter and mechanical engineering junior, said students do not realize that in everyday life there are people carrying guns around them.

"I feel since [the campus] is where I spend most of my time, it doesn't make any sense not to allow me to carry [a gun] there," Gwaltney said.

Gwaltney said he wants to carry a gun for self-defense.

"The same reason that I wear my seat belt in the car - in case I get in an accident," Gwaltney said.

Gwaltney said in previous school shootings, the police were not able to arrive at the scene before the shooting was over. He said concealed carry licensing is a strenuous process, and it is not easy to obtain a permit.

"It would be a deterrent if someone knew there could be someone in a class that could fight back," Gwaltney said.

Everett Baudean, LSU Firearm Rights Coalition president, said there are examples of students using personal firearms to thwart school shootings. He said the Appalachian School of Law shooting in 2002 was ended when two students retrieved guns from their cars and subdued the shooter. Neither fired shots, he said.

Rabalais said LSUPD response time is less than one minute.

Rabalais said the training for a concealed carry permit is not as extensive as the training for a police officer to carry a weapon.

LSUPD repeats firearm training twice a year, and the officers participate in seminars about how to keep control of their gun during a confrontation, he said.

Baudean said "every permit holder he knows personally practices their shooting much more than is required of law enforcement officers."

Baudean said firearm-free zones have never stopped a school shooting.

"If, for instance, a person is planning to commit a mass murder/suicide, would that person be deterred by the criminal penalties of bringing a gun into a firearm-free zone?" Baudean said.

House Rep. Rick Gallot, of Bienville, Claiborne and Lincoln parishes, introduced a bill this past year that would have closed a state legislation loophole allowing students to have licensed guns in dorm rooms or automobiles. Gallot said he discovered the loophole when he was consulted by the former Grambling State University police chief and the Lincoln Parish district attorney.

Gallot said allowing more guns on campus would provide additional challenges for police.

"Certainly, we've seen the result of what can happen when the wrong student has a gun on campus, and I don't know that expanding the current ability to have weapons will aid and prevet anything bad from happening," Gallot said.

He said having a concealed carry license does not necessarily prepare someone to react to violence.

"It's one thing to go to the range and be qualified to have a permit, but a whole 'nother ball game when you're facing the barrel of a gun and trying to react," Gallot said. "At the range, targets don't shoot back."

With memories of school shootings at Louisiana Technical College and Virginia Tech fresh in their minds, most students are skeptical about the bill.

Colleen Allerton, dietetics junior, said allowing licensed carriers to bring guns on campus would increase premeditated and spontaneous acts of violence.

"I think it's a horrible idea," Allerton said.

Allerton said she is worried people with guns will not be able to control themselves.

"This should just be a place for learning - not guns," Allerton said.

Ankoma Hardy, industrial engineering junior, said allowing guns on campus would "make it feel more like a war zone than a learning environment."

Baudean said those with permits are "peaceful, responsible citizens who abhor violent crime, and this is why they choose to arm themselves."

Baudean said fear of the prospect of a fellow classmate being armed is out of ignorance and naivete about firearms.

Hardy said his main concern is he cannot know the mental state of the person sitting next to him in class.

Jim McClain, president of Jim's Firearms on Siegen Lane, said the concealed carry permit process includes pistol or revolver training, a state police background check, a mental health check by a doctor and finger printing. An applicant must be at least 21.

"It's a lengthy process, and you have to have a clean background," McClain said.

He said it is extremely unlikely that someone intending to harm students would slip through the process.

Aaron Yglesias, industrial engineering junior, said he is not sure students are responsible enough to know how to use guns.

"I'd rather leave it to the authorities," Yglesias said.

Baudean did not agree.

"While the efforts of law enforcement are always heroic and admirable in instances of school shootings, it is beyond the ability and scope of law enforcement to prevent such crimes, only to respond to them," he said.
© 2008 The Daily Reveille via U-WIRE