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Books and computers. But guns? Leaders debate presence of firearms on Indiana campuses

A state proposal to allow guns on public college campuses in Indiana is generating mixed response.
Posted on Jan. 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Books, computers, backpacks — those belong on a college campus.

Guns, though? No way, thinks Ricki Wilkinson, a senior at Indiana University South Bend.

“I think there would be a lot of people that would have the fear,” said the biology student, taking a break from studying in a common area at IUSB’s Elkhart Center here.

Beyond unease caused by the presence of weapons, she maintains that allowing firearms in yet more places just isn’t the way to go in dealing with the thorny gun issue. “I don’t think that more guns would be the answer because that’s the problem,” she said.

That’s hardly the only view, and a proposal under consideration by the Indiana legislature would forbid rules prohibiting possession of firearms on a state supported college or university, including Ivy Tech Community College and IUSB Elkhart here in Elkhart County. In other words, if you have a permit to carry a gun, you’d be able to bring your weapon onto the campus of a public college.

The measure, Senate Bill 97, faces an uncertain future, having been assigned to the Senate’s Rules Committee, not generally too receptive to new proposals. That said, it’s got its proponents, notably among members of a group called Students for Concealed Carry, or SCC, which calls for change allowing guns on college campuses.

Crayle Vanest, an Indiana University-Bloomington sophomore who serves as SCC’s state director, thinks those who have jumped through the bureaucratic hoops to get a permit to carry a gun are trustworthy enough that guns in their hands wouldn’t pose a danger. On the contrary, allowing properly permitted guns would serve as a deterrent to those bent on doing bad things and actually augment safety.

Gun-free zones — like campuses in the IU and Ivy Tech systems — create a false sense of security, as she sees it, because ne’er-do-wells don’t pay attention to weapons prohibitions. Indeed, they know they’ll face less resistance in such environments.

“It creates what some people call a target-rich environment,” said Vanest, who’s pushing for passage of S.B. 97. “I don’t really feel comfortable in an environment like that.”

NOT A GOOD PLACE FOR GUNS

Indiana Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, authored S.B. 97, but it’s not linked to the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. The measure has come before lawmakers in prior sessions, failing to gain traction, and Banks said in a press release that he submitted the bill on behalf of SCC reps.

He looks forward “to continued discussion on this issue,” Banks said.

At any rate, the proposal comes amid heightened interest in the gun issue brought on by the Newtown shootings, which left 20 6- and 7-year-olds dead. And it’s generating plenty of response.

The IU system, which includes IUSB and IUSB’s Elkhart Center, has come out against S.B. 97. Campus police officers may carry guns, per existing policy, but students, faculty and others are prohibited from toting firearms.

“The more guns you have on campus, the more likely the guns are going to fall into the wrong hands,” said Ken Baierl, spokesman for IUSB. “It’s just not a good place to introduce more firearms.”

Ivy Tech officials are more ambivalent. Current policy mirrors the IU system’s, allowing only law enforcement officials to carry guns.

“This is difficult issue that needs study,” Tracie Davis, spokeswoman for Ivy Tech’s North Central Region, which includes Elkhart County, said in a press release. “Ivy Tech plans to work with sponsors and leadership to do what is in the best interest and highest security of our students.”

WON’T GIVE UP

Goshen College, which allows only law enforcement officials to carry guns on campus, wouldn’t be impacted by S.B. 97 since it’s a private institution. Leaders there aren’t quiet on the issue, though.

School President James Brenneman, along with around 300 other college heads from around the nation, inked an open letter in response to the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn., shootings expressing opposition to measures like S.B. 97. The letter also calls for an end to the so-called gun show loophole, allowing for person-to-person gun sales without a background check, and reinstatement of the federal ban on semi-automatic weapons.

“We hereby request that our nation’s policy leaders take thoughtful and urgent action to ensure that current and future generations may live and learn in a country free from the threat of gun violence,” says the letter.

Likewise, IUSB freshman Sarah Shafer, back at IUSB’s Elkhart Center, is uncomfortable permitting guns on campus. “I don’t like it because I don’t think you should have guns at school,” she said, pausing from her math studies. “It’s not safe.”

Nonetheless, proponents like Vanest and others in SCC, which has five chapters around the state but none in northern Indiana, plan to maintain their efforts.

In the event a mass shooter goes haywire on a college campus, someone carrying a gun would potentially be able to offer quicker resistance than law enforcement officials, reducing bloodshed. “This resistance, in the end, would reduce the time shots are being fired,” Ayrton Ingle, president of Students for Concealed Carry at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, said in an e-mail.

Success or no this legislative session, Vanest said SCC will up its efforts. “We’re going to keep on keeping on,” she said.




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