Bill could allow concealed weapons at universities

JUNEAU — For some, concealed weapons are a symbol of protection against the outside world. For others, they are a reminder of the danger contained within it.

A Senate Education Committee heard testimony from both sides on Tuesday as it considered legislation that could allow concealed weapons on University of Alaska campuses.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said that the ban on carrying firearms on campus set out by the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents conflicts with Alaskans’ constitutional right to bear arms. He referenced attacks at Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University and other mass shootings saying that gun-free zones attract violence.

“I’m offering it because of a disturbing increase in the United States in mass shootings,” he said. “The gun laws that exist in certain places that are, I guess we could call them gun-free zones, are making many of our public institutions soft targets for people with serious mental problems and jihadists.”

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen said the university system believed the bill would prevent the university from managing situations on campuses where it is responsible for the safety of students, faculty and staff.

“We recognize that this issue is not whether or not one is for or against guns in the broader community,” Johnsen said. But, the university has to intervene daily in conflicts and needs to be able to manage them safely.

The University of Alaska system submitted a position paper opposing the bill in its current form. It said it needs to be able to regulate concealed weapons in certain situations as it is responsible for the safety and well-being of students and employees on its property.

The university system asked for five amendments to the bill including two that would permit it to regulate concealed weapons in areas like the residence halls or in situations when students or employees could pose a risk to themselves or others.

According to the position paper, more than half of the students living in dorms are younger than 21. Allowing weapons in the dorms could result in situations where students or guests have access to guns when they shouldn’t, the paper said. The minimum legal age for a concealed carry permit is 21.

Kelly said he was willing to work with the university to compromise on the language of the bill.

According to a campus crime statistics report covering 2012-2014, students reported 3 assaults, 14 burglaries and 3 thefts of motor vehicles on campus.

Supporters of the bill said armed campuses would likely serve as a deterrent to crime and mass shootings.

Kelsi Pulczinksi said she is a full-time student at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Every time I step foot on campus, I see signs adorning doorways that declare my public school a gun-free zone,” Pulczinksi wrote in comments supporting the bill. “When I see these signs, I know that I am not as safe as I could be. Criminals do not target areas where their victims are likely to be able to defend themselves.”

Those opposed to the bill said they did not believe that allowing guns to be carried on campuses would make students feel safe.

Lily Pothier, a 21-year-old sociology major at the University of Alaska Southeast said she was not supportive concealed firearms on campus and believed that there needed to be more discussion about how concealed weapons could change the dynamics of safety on a college campus.

“There are many other types of violence that are a big problem on college campus,” Pothier said. “I think that it’s likely that there would be differentials in power that would arise from having concealed weapons on campus. This could affect relationships between student to student between staff and student, I also think that the change that happens in the atmosphere of a public space when people are aware that there are concealed weapons is not a positive change.”

At least 19 states ban concealed weapons on college campuses including California, Florida, Illinois and Louisiana; 23 states allow individual universities to decide whether to allow concealed weapons, according to a 2015 guns on campuses overview by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Utah is the only state with a statute specifically naming public colleges and universities as public entities that do not have the authority to ban concealed carry weapons, according to the report.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of July 20

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, July 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Buttons on display at a campaign event Monday, July 8, 2024, in Juneau, urge supporters to vote against Ballot Measure 2, the repeal of Alaska’s current election system. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Ranked-choice repeal measure awaits signature count after Alaska judge’s ruling

Signatures must be recounted after judge disqualifies almost 3,000 names, citing state law violations.

The offices of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development in Juneau are seen on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska demographers predict population drop, a switch from prior forecasts

For decades, state officials have forecast major population rises, but those haven’t come to pass.

Neil Steininger, former director of the state Office of Management and Budget, testifies before the House Finance Committee at the Alaska State Capitol in January of 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Neil Steininger, former budget director for Gov. Dunleavy, seeking District 1 Juneau Assembly seat

Downtown resident unopposed so far for open seat; deadline to file for local races is Monday.

A mother bear and a cub try to get into a trash can on a downtown street on July 2, 2024. Two male bears were euthanized in a different part of downtown Juneau on Wednesday because they were acting aggressively near garbage cans, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Two black bears in downtown Juneau euthanized due to aggressive behavior around people

Exposed garbage, people insistent on approaching bears contribute to situation, official says

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, July 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Cars arrive at Juneau International Airport on Thursday, July 11, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau seems to have avoided major disruptions following global technology-related outage

911 centers, hospitals, airport, and public safety and emergency management agencies are operating.

People take photos of local dignitaries during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Teal Street Center on Thursday afternoon. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Teal Street Center celebrates with ribbon-cutting a year after social agencies begin providing services

Nine organizations providing legal, disability, counseling and other help open under one roof.

Most Read