Legislatures re-examine concealed carry laws

This year, Missouri is considering lowering the licensing age.
Bengal's Bar and Grill owner Katie Rader fires a pistol while Columbia resident Louis Linzie watches Thursday afternoon at TargetMasters. Missouri is looking into a bill that would lower the age requirement for concealed weapons permits from 23 to 21.

With the three-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings approaching, the public was again reminded of the issue of campus firearm restrictions after the Feb. 12 shootings at University of Alabama-Huntsville, where Amy Bishop opened fire during a faculty meeting, killing three and injuring two others.

Cases of school violence in the past decade have caused lawmakers in statehouses throughout the country to propose legislation concerning campus firearm restrictions. Last year, about 15 states, including Missouri, debated legislation that would allow students to carry concealed weapons onto campus. Missouri's bill died in a Senate committee after passing the House.

But this year, Missouri is focusing more on lowering the age to receive a license. Nationally, only four states have had concealed carry on campus legislation proposed.

State Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, is sponsoring one of a number of bills that would lower the age requirement to obtain a concealed weapons permit from 23 to 21.

"I have spoken with quite a few sheriffs, police chiefs and deputies, and they say the people who are carrying the firearms legally are not the ones they are worried about," Gatschenberger said. "I want to allow more people the right to carry their weapons."

If the bill passed, more college students could potentially receive concealed carry licenses, regardless of whether they were allowed to bring weapons on campus. There were 2,309 concealed carry endorsements in Boone County as of Dec. 16., Missouri Department of Revenue spokesman Ted Farnen said.

Gatschenberger said his bill is not directly targeted for or against college students and he would likely pull the bill if an amendment were added to allow concealed carry on campus.

"I am not specifically for or against concealed carry on campus, but that would change the entire philosophy behind the bill," Gatschenberger said.

David Burnett, spokesman for the national Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said though a problem still exists, people have stopped searching for solutions.

"In another sense, we're still seeing signs of enthusiastic involvement from students across the U.S. who are tired of being discriminated against for being law-abiding armed citizens," he said in an e-mail.

Junior Jonathan Ratliff, the Missouri director of Students for Concealed Carry, said he is optimistic the concealed carry on campus issue would make a returning appearance in the Missouri legislature.

"There are many legislators that are in support of this issue and will help push this through, I have no worries about that," Ratliff said. "I have faith in the Missouri General Assembly because I'd like to think that my senators and representatives have common sense on the matter and will support the rights of students to protect themselves."

He said concealed carry on campus, though still of high importance, hasn't appeared in a bill yet because of dedication to other issues.

"We are lobbying and speaking with representatives as always, but the Missouri legislature is currently pursuing more pressing issues, such as the economy and jobs, that need to be dealt with first," Ratliff said.

Conversely, at Colorado State University, measures are being taken to limit the presence of concealed weapons on campus. The university's Board of Governors will review feedback on the issue at its meeting Tuesday.

Colorado State is one of the 11 colleges and universities that allow concealed weapons permit holders to bring weapons onto campus, along with Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia and all nine public universities in Utah. There haven't been any cases of gun-related violence at those schools since allowing concealed carry.

Alyson Boyce, president of the Virginia Tech chapter of Students for Concealed Carry, said many students were interested in allowing concealed carry on campus before the killings but the massacre was the last straw.

"I used to not be very involved in the issue until I had a friend who was killed on April 16," Boyce said. "It became much more real that we needed the right to protect ourselves."

Although the issue was largely student-led, a number of students spoke against the proposal. According to a Missouri Students Association poll conducted last spring, 76 percent of the 7,000 students who responded were against allowing concealed weapons on campus.

Both UM system President Gary Forsee and MU Police Department Chief Jack Watring oppose concealed weapons on campus. Watring has spoken with many professors at the university, and a large majority are uncomfortable allowing guns in the classroom.

"Allowing concealed weapons on campus does not guarantee that a shooting, such as one seen at Virginia Tech, would not happen," Watring said. "Parents expect a safe environment for their kids when they send them here, and I think overall allowing more guns on campus is not a good thing."

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, spoke out against the bill last year and said combining guns and college students could result in suicides and murder.

"I do not think it is good combination that works well," Still said. "Young people on a campus with all the stress of campus life, and also with the instability of some students during that time period in their life, would not make for a very good safety measure."

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