Since the 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, which left 33 people dead, gun-rights advocates have made the right to carry concealed weapons on public college and university campuses a major issue, most recently in Colorado.
While guns remain banned from most state colleges, a prominent controversy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, resulted in a court decision last year that required the university to permit concealed weapons.
Groups like Students for Concealed Carry, which won the landmark victory, believe the ability to carry a concealed weapon can give criminals second thoughts and a chance for potential victims on campuses to protect themselves.
The organization’s members, however, are concerned that recent incidents, such as the Aurora and Newtown shooting rampages, will cause a roll-back in the progress made in the ability of students to defend themselves.
For example, while the United States Student Association reports that one in five college women are sexually assaulted each year, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh police department posts “Tips for Preventing Sexual Assault” on its website. The “tips” include “passive resistance” strategies when faced with an attacker, like making yourself vomit or urinate, or faking an epileptic seizure.
What the campus police discourage students from doing, however, is carrying a weapon. The website cautions that “an assailant can easily turn a weapon against you.” The university police warn, “Many weapons are illegal if carried by anyone other than law enforcement officers in the State of Wisconsin.”
The university police add that “common, legally carried weapons are your keys, placed sideways between the fingers, and used in a downward thrust.” In addition, “pepper spray” is recommended for self-defense, but with the caveat that, “You must remember that pepper spray may not be effective if it is windy, your assailant is intoxicated, or you miss his eyes.”
David Burnett, a spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry, and a nursing student at the University of Kentucky, said, “If you had asked students the morning of the Virginia Tech shooting if they feel safe, I’m almost positive all of them would have said yes, but just a couple of hours later, those students found out that feeling safe is not the same as being safe.”
Burnett’s organization, which has members on 130 campuses nationwide, and has no connection to the NRA, sued his university in 2010. The State Supreme Court ruled that employees and students may leave guns in cars parked on campus, a decision he considers to be a smaller victory in a larger effort.