Photo by Max Catalano
Universities in Ohio were recently given the opportunity to choose whether to allow concealed carry weapons on their campuses. Although colleges have handled the issue in a number of ways, Ohio University students and staff had the chance to participate in the decision-making process.
Part of the Student Senate Constitution passed through last year’s senate allows for a referendum that polls the student body. The first issue Ohio students voiced their opinions on through the referendum was the proposition of new concealed carry laws on campus, passed through Senate Bill 199 in late December to be put into effect on March 19.
Senate Bill 199 has several elements related to concealed carry, but two specific provisions that pertain to college campuses. The bill gives the boards of trustees at public institutions the right to recognize concealed carry if they so choose. If the board chooses not to, then concealed carry licenses will continue to not be recognized on campus. The board of trustees could make a policy saying concealed carry licenses would be recognized, whether they want to approve the licenses on a case-by-case basis, or have a blanket approval for those eligible.
The second provision minimizes the extent of punishment for those found with a concealed carry weapon. Previously, if someone was caught using a concealed carry on campus, it would have been a felony, but it is now a misdemeanor. The board of trustees does not have to approve that provision.
Although students do not have a say in whether that happens, they do have a say in whether the board of trustees addresses the bill. The results of the referendum were translated into votes within the senate body which resulted in a resolution sent to the board of trustees.
“We saw this as a really big issue that would potentially impact every student on this campus- not even students but everyone,” Student Senate President Hannah Clouser says. “Our constituency group is specifically students, so we wanted to reach out to them.”
After Student Senate held an open discussion during one of their meetings in January, Clouser thought it seemed as though positions for and against were split evenly.
“Different concerns were expressed for different constituency groups but it seemed to be at that meetings split,” Clouser says.“We heard good arguments and good points made from both sides, often being essentially rooted in the safety and freedom of individuals. Depending on what side is depending on what you saw as safe and what you saw as free.”
After David Parkhill, president of the Ohio University College Republicans, attended the discussion, he felt his group had been overshadowed by those opposed to concealed carry.
“A lot of this was, from what I saw, gun owners versus people who had never been around guns,” Parkhill says. “…Even as we try to navigate that debate,any more in our generation people are just so one-track minded and even if there are hundreds of statistics that prove why it works, they’ll find one statistic that makes sense as to why they shouldn’t, they’re going to hold onto that for dear life.”
The referendum gathered responses from 6,940 students from both Athens and regional campuses — three times more than the number of people that voted in last year’s Student Senate elections. Sixty-five percent of students who participated urged the Ohio Unibersity Board of Trustees to take no action, and not recognize concealed carry policies on campus. Those votes were combined with the Student Senate vote results, which resulted in a total vote count of 23 against and 65 in favor of the status quo.
Although the referendum had the largest voting turnout of all other Student Senate elections, less than 25 percent of the student population voted on the issue. The resolution may have passed, but concealed carry remains a divisive issue among students and faculty.
Almost 95 percent of the referendum vote came from Athens students. Clouser says although Student Senate made an effort to reach out to regional campus students via email, they were not able to canvas the way they did on the Athens campus.
In addition to the lack of response from regional campuses, the results from those campuses were all in favor of the new concealed carry policies. Sam Miller, president of Ohio University College Democrats, says although it’s important to recognize the results from regional campuses, main campus students’ opinions should be more weighted.
“It’s really hard to understand the situation as a whole when you’re maybe on your campus just for your one class and then you go home or go to work,” Miller says. “As for us, we are on constantly walking around on campus. We live here.”
Although regional campuses may have voted differently than Athens, different universities in Ohio generally had the same consensus: do nothing.
The Ohio State Lantern reported Ohio State University’s Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution stating its opposition to concealed carry on campus. That decision aligns with that of OSU President Michael Drake, who said during an interview on WOSU’s “All Sides with Ann Fisher” that he opposed concealed carry on campus before the new legislation was passed and after a knife attack that occurred on campus in November.
More than two-thirds of the University of Cincinnati’s Student Senate voted in opposition of concealed carry on campus. Mitchell Phelps, UC undergraduate student body president, told the Cincinnati Enquirer it was “a packed meeting with many students who attended to speak out on behalf of both sides of the argument.” The UC Faculty Senate passed a resolution opposing guns on campus in February 2016, and reaffirmed that opinion in December.
Notre Dame College spokesman Brian Johnston said in an email to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the Board of Trustees would discuss the issue during their upcoming meetings.
“Prior to that, College administrators and our chief of police will meet to discuss the matter and consider recommendations for Board discussion,” he wrote.
Miami University had a similar outlook on the new concealed carry policies. However, it addressed the issue early on in the decision-making process. In early December, before the bill was signed by Gov. Kasich, Miami sent out a news release saying the school “does not permit the carrying of concealed weapons on campus and no changes are being considered.”
Other universities such as Kent State, Xavier, Bowling Green and community colleges across Ohio also decided to take no action regarding the new state law. Many schools released statements shortly after the legislation was passed announcing their plans to maintain their existing bans on concealed weapons.
Many different constituency groups at Ohio University voiced their opinions on the matter, including the graduate and faculty senates, Second Amendment Club, international students and resident assistants.
Parker Smith, an R A in Brown Hall and a sophomore studying political science, says after observing the lack of responsibility drunk college students sometimes have, he would not feel safe with those students having a concealed carry weapon.
“Honestly, people lose their keys and their wallets and their phones all the time and pass out in the bathroom or outside their door and can’t get in,” Smith says. “…We’re in a setting where there’s just a ton of young teenagers living together and they are very irresponsible and there’s lots of alcohol around all the time. If people can’t handle their own keys or phone, I definitely don’t feel safe knowing that they might have weapons. It just seems like an unnecessary thing to add into the environment.”
Parkhill did not see alcohol being an issue for those who carried a concealed weapon. He says as an Eagle Scout and someone who knew people who grew up with guns, people generally don’t get drunk and then decide to play with their guns.
“It’s just not something that happens,” Parkhill says. “You don’t break out the booze and break out the guns. That’s just a mixture for horrible decisions.”
Although the issue of concealed carry weapons in residence halls was frequently addressed, many proponents of concealed carry on campus noted that to obtain a concealed carry permit, the applicant must be 21 years old.
In addition to that rule, applicants must pass eight hours of concealed carry classes, pay $67, pass a criminal background and mental competency check, and have their fingerprints electronically scanned.
The Ohio University Board of Trustees has not discussed whether or not to allow concealed carry on campus. Despite the student population’s differing views, all five senates at Ohio told the board they should not take action on the proposed changes.
“In my opinion, if a mass shooting occurs here, the Board of Trustees is the only one liable. The government is no longer liable,” Parkhill says. “You can’t sue the state for not allowing you to carry. Now you can sue Ohio University for not allowing you to carry. … We’ve presented our facts; the students have spoken.”