Republicans renew effort to allow concealed firearms on college campuses

A Republican bill that would allow individuals with concealed carry weapon permits to bring their firearms onto college campuses passed an initial hurdle, though it’s all but certain the proposal won’t become law. 

Arizona law prohibits firearms on school grounds, including the campuses of universities, colleges and community colleges. Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Republican from Flagstaff, wants to change that.

But an identical bill approved by GOP lawmakers last year was vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat.

“This is a rerun, it is important, it is seminal and it speaks to us being able to protect ourselves in an increasingly dangerous environment — especially college campuses,” Rogers told the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. 

Senate Bill 1198 would disallow a governing board of any university, college or community college from enacting a rule that prohibits the possession of a concealed weapon by any person who possesses a concealed carry permit. 

Rogers and other Republicans have attempted to run similar legislation for years, including attempts to allow concealed weapon carriers to bring their firearms into government buildings. Rogers said Thursday that she intends to introduce the bill until it becomes law. 

The legislation is opposed by gun control advocates and universities, who say that more guns does not always equal a safer environment. 

“The CCW regulations as they are do not ensure that the individual is competent and safe,” Ashley Chambers, a citizen who testified against the bill, told the committee.

Although Arizona has a concealed carry permitting program, the state is also one of a few that allows permitless carry. Researchers found that violent crime rose after lawmakers made that change in 2010. 

Chambers told senators she was concerned that those getting the permits may not be getting adequate training, as the Arizona Department of Safety no longer has authority over the classes put on by CCW instructors. Chambers said she’d support a measure that would give staff and faculty and higher education institutions training on recognizing active shooters and allowing them to carry firearms. 

Activists with the gun control group Moms Demand Action also spoke up against the bill. 

Anne Thompson, a volunteer with the group, said that college-aged adults are not emotionally mature to handle firearms in the college environment, where she said drinking and “heated arguments” can occur. 

Lawmakers took umbrage with Thompson and others who said that college-aged adults are not mature enough to handle firearms in a responsible manner. Rogers and Sen. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, both said their children got CCWs as soon as they were able and said they would trust their children with firearms. 

Lawmakers also butted heads with Mike Bielecki of the Maricopa County Community College Faculty Association, who said the organization is opposed to the bill. Bielecki noted a study which determined that trained police officers can have a high miss rate, though the study is from 2008

“The assumption that somebody can take (a class), particularly a civilian, and be a component shooter in a combat situation is misplaced,” Bielecki said to the committee. 

Bolick asked Bielecki what safety protocols are used by community colleges and universities, but he said he didn’t know. 

“You’re not even prepared to speak on this bill,” Committee Chairman Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, told Bielecki, before telling his colleagues that he was carrying a firearm as he presided over the hearing. “I can tell you if somebody came in here shooting, they’d be my first target.” 

The bill also had its defenders, chief among them Michael Infanzon of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun group. 

“This is not a ‘good guy with a gun’ bill. This is the ability to defend yourself, which is our constitutional right in Arizona,” Infanzon said, adding that he was “extremely offended” by speakers who said that college-age students are not mature enough to handle firearms responsibly. 

Since 1966, there have been nine mass shootings in or around American colleges or universities, according to The Violence Project database. A mass shooting is defined in the data as a shooting in which four or more people are killed in one incident. 

ASU’s chief of police, Michael Thompson, told senators the law change was a bad idea. He said that incidents of self-harm, accidental discharge and misidentification of suspects would increase if firearms were permitted on campuses. 

In committee, Democratic lawmakers brought up court rulings that stated the 2nd Amendment is allowed to have reasonable regulations on it in order to maintain public safety. Democratic lawmakers also urged that mental health plays a role in gun violence, and said increasing access to universities would endanger more people. 

“We cannot use the mental illness card for everything,” Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, said. “We write laws for the many, not the few.”

Republicans argued that the measure is needed due to our now “violent society,” with Kern claiming that, “If you shoot up 30 people you are out in two years.” The Arizona Mirror was unable to find any evidence that this has occurred in the United States. 

“We are now a violent society. Violence is promoted in our media, and if you want to be famous nowadays, you go on a school campus and shoot up everyone,” Kern said, adding that schools are “sitting ducks.” 

The measure passed out of committee along party lines and will head to the full Senate next.

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