The legislators behind a proposal to allow guns at Arizona universities argue it will make students safer. But the bill has many who live, study, and work on campus feeling fearful.
Since state Representative Sonny Borrelli (R-Bullhead City) filed House Bill 2072, which would permit anyone who obtains a “certificate of firearms proficiency” from the Arizona Department of Public Safety to carry a concealed weapon on public college and university property, the Arizona Board of Regents and several student leadership organizations have drafted resolutions publicly decrying it.
The undergraduate student government for Arizona State University’s Tempe campus voted 15-2, with three abstentions, to formally oppose the bill. ASU’s Residence Hall Association, a student-run organization that seeks to represent the interests of on-campus residents in university and community affairs, voted 28-4 to stand against it.
Isaac Miller, president of USG at Tempe, said student leaders don’t regularly comment on state legislative affairs but wanted to “be proactive” and “speak out” because HB 2072 directly affects them and their constituents.
He and his colleagues aimed to advocate for the student body — not just themselves — so before passing the resolution, they conducted a survey of students online and dispatched representatives to collect comments on campus, he said. They also conferred with other student leadership organizations, including the Programming and Activities Board, which hosts social events for students that are attended by tens of thousands annually.
The survey asked: “Do you agree or disagree with the proposed policy in HB 2072?”
More than 650 people voted. Close to 70 percent disapproved.
“We just wanted to express to the Legislature what it seems like the majority of our students think,” said Miller, 21, a senior studying philosophy.
Currently, Arizona law places the responsibility to determine whether to permit guns on campus on schools. ASU, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona all say no — with some exceptions. Individuals may keep a firearm in a locked vehicle or carry a gun with special permission.
The most common concern voiced about changing that policy, he said, was safety. Some students said they feared permitting guns on campus might increase the likelihood of a mass shooting. Some worried about gun owners being young and untrained (particularly when intoxicated) and the potential effects on suicide rates.
Jacob Pritchett, director of outreach for the ASU activist group Students for Self-Defense, the most vocal student group supporting HB 2072, argued, however, that prohibition doesn’t prevent criminals from bringing firearms on campus — it just leaves law-abiding students vulnerable. Despite firearm bans at Northern Arizona University, for example, a drunk student in October opened fire outside a fraternity party, killing one and wounding three others.
Pritchett challenged the USG survey’s thoroughness, pointing out that just a fraction of ASU’s more than 83,000 students participated.
Over the past four months, Students for Self Defense has collected close to 1,700 signatures for a petition calling for the legalization of guns on campus in Arizona.
“I think that there are a lot of students who aren’t having their will or their thoughts accurately represented,” he said.
In response to the RHA and USG resolutions, he and his group recently launched another informal survey.
At a booth outside the student center on the Tempe campus, they posted a sign asking: “How would you defend yourself on campus?” They asked passing students to write their thoughts on sticky notes and place them in columns labeled Taser, knife, handgun, and pepper spray.
By far, the most popular response collected from a couple hundred students, he said, was handgun, followed closely by pepper spray, which ASU students also are not allowed to carry on campus.
“A gun is more effective than pepper spray and louder than a rape whistle,” Pritchett said. “It’s a great equalizer, too. The best thing you can do if you don’t have a physical advantage over a would-be attacker is carry a gun.”
Read the full text of H.B. 2072:
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