The Alaska Senate has approved a bill permitting Alaskans to carry weapons concealed on the campuses of the University of Alaska system.
The decision was 13-5, with two senators absent.
Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks and the lead sponsor of the measure, offered two principal arguments in its favor: It will make campuses safer and the right to carry weapons is already protected in both the Alaska and U.S. constitutions.
“When you go to the university, do you check your freedom of speech rights at the door? Freedom of religion?” He asked rhetorically.
From a technical perspective, the bill simply prohibits the University of Alaska Board of Regents from regulating “the possession, ownership, use, carrying, registration, storage, or transportation of firearms or knives.”
The effect is to eliminate restrictions on the concealed carrying of such weapons on university campuses. Possessing weapons is allowed under certain circumstances on campus.
In addition to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 19 of the Alaska Constitution states in part, “The individual right to keep and bear arms shall not be denied or infringed by the state or a political subdivision of the state.”
Kelly referred to that clause, saying, “There was an underlying constitutional issue that needed to be addressed.”
Kelly’s argument was rebutted by Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage and the Senate Minority Leader, who quoted a decision written former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
In Heller v. DC, the Supreme Court decided against some restrictions on gun ownership but also stated, “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”
“Guess what? I’m going to be opposed and voting no on this bill,” Gardner said.
Also voting no was Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, who said that while he received some emails in support, most were against the bill. Of particular note were messages from students at the University of Alaska Southeast.
Callie Conerton, student body president at UAS, was part of one of those messages, sent by the student government against the bill.
“It’s an educational space. You don’t need to have guns,” Conerton said after watching the Senate vote to pass the bill.
The Board of Regents and many university professors offered statements similar to Conerton’s during committee testimony. In light of that testimony, the bill was softened, to allow continued restrictions in places where sexual assault counseling takes place and where disciplinary actions are judged.
Despite those changes, some university employees said they would look for work elsewhere if the bill becomes law.
Kelly said there’s a simple answer to that kind of attitude. “Don’t let the screen door hit you – and you know the rest of the phrase,” he said.
SB 174 now advances to the House.