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What others say: A convincing argument has yet to be made for allowing firearms on campus

Posted: March 26, 2014 - 8:05pm

It’s Friday night in the dorms at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It’s 40 below outside, and the atmosphere inside is considerably warmer. Students are letting loose with a couple of beers.

It’s not a place for a gun to be.

But that’s one of the many places that Senate Bill 176 would allow a gun to be on University of Alaska campuses if approved in its original form. The bill, by Republican Sen. John Coghill, of North Pole, would overturn many University of Alaska restrictions on the possession of firearms on campus. People would be allowed to have them in dorms, classrooms, offices and numerous other places.

A subsequent revision in the bill to only prevent the university from barring the legal concealed carry of a firearm — while allowing some limitation on concealed carry in a dorm — still presents problems for the university.

And if we are to allow guns on university campuses, even concealed carry, what’s next? Do we consider expanding that to high schools?

Let’s put it this way: What problem is SB 176 trying to solve?

Crime statistics show that University of Alaska campuses are safe places. The average annual crime rate per total state population during the last 10 years for murder, rape, aggravated assault and burglary is 1.1 percent; for the university population it is .07 percent.

The bill is an unnecessary effort that stems from an admirable intention — standing up for the Second Amendment, a vital component of our democracy. Constitutional rights do need to be defended vigorously against erosion. As a communications company, for example, the Daily News-Miner must pay particular attention to attacks on the First Amendment.

But with those rights comes responsibility. And that is why society and the courts have allowed limits to be placed on some rights, including those of the Second Amendment. The majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the oft-cited handgun case of District of Columbia v. Heller from 2008 says as much. The opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the court’s most conservative members, includes the following:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

“For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.

“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.”

SB 176, both the original and the latest version, would present new safety concerns for the university, among them the security of young children who visit the UA campuses by the thousands each year. University President Pat Gamble said bluntly that he would not be able to ensure the safety of those children should university policy be repealed by SB 176.

“I will sit here right now and tell you right now that I cannot protect the campus if the K-12 kids are on there,” Mr. Gamble, a retired Air Force general, told senators hearing the original bill earlier this month.

Such a statement cannot be ignored.

Society accepts reasonable restrictions on various aspects of life, including on the use and possession of firearms. A line has to be drawn somewhere. If the line is to be moved, we must ask “What’s the rationale for moving it?”

With Senate Bill 176, that question has not been adequately answered.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

March 23

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