Shootings spark debate on guns

In the wake of the recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school and President Obama’s subsequent gun control proposals, the issue of gun violence has once again taken center stage in American politics and the media.

Graphic by Daniel Schwindt/Old Gold & Black

On Jan. 16 the president announced the biggest gun control crackdown in decades, proposing an all-out ban on assault weapon ownership and on the sale of armor piercing bullets, as well as universal background checks, a 10-round limit on ammunition clips, and putting more police officers on the streets.

Although the proposals were immediately met with significant opposition, Obama contended that the new laws would prevent gun violence across the country. One of the worst gun related tragedies in US history occurred on April 16, 2007 on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. The largest loss of life for a university since the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, where 35 students of Syracuse University were killed, the shooting at Virginia Tech changed the nature of safety on college campuses across the country.

The tragedy also raised the level of debate concerning student gun rights on campus. Virginia Tech, like most undergraduate universities including Wake Forest, maintains a strict ban on students possessing guns on campus. After the massacre, some suggested that the rule be eliminated so that students could defend themselves. In the end, no change was made to the university’s policy.

Similarly, the university has a strict policy against gun possession on campus in compliance with North Carolina state law. Although no such shooting has ever taken place at Wake Forest, the tragedy last December in Newtown, Connecticut sparked debate about university security. Lesia Finney, sergeant, University Police, believes that “strict” rules for all North Carolina schools has prevented gun-related instances in recent years, noting that there haven’t been any gun related incidents since the early ‘90s.

The vast majority of colleges in the United States, ranging from rural universities like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to much more urban and potentially dangerous campus settings like the University of California at Los Angeles, ban the possession of guns on campus. Currently, 21 states have imposed laws that prohibit firearms on college campuses, while the other 24 have left that decision up to the individual universities, most of which have enforced their own ban on guns. In many cases, students can be arrested for carrying any kind of weapon including a gun, a knife or even sometimes pepper spray.

Within the student body at Wake Forest, it’s clear that both conservative and liberal leaning students agree that guns should be prohibited on campus. Freshman Addison McLamb, a Republican and strong advocate of the Second Amendment, believes that “the most prudent course of action by any university would be to prohibit the possession of firearms by residential students,” greatly due to the prevalence of alcohol and potential “irresponsibility” of students. Freshman Blake Rutledge, another and registered Republican, shared a similar sentiment, asserting that students have no need for a firearm on campus, “neither protection or hunting are viable options when you’re living on campus.” Similarly, Alec DiPietro, a freshman Democrat, supports the university’s ban on student firearm possession.While there seems to be a consensus here, the national debate is much more contentious and involves more than just students.

Since the Virginia Tech shooting, special interest groups have emerged on both sides of the issue to promote their agenda. One such group, Students for Concealed Carry (SCC), is a national organization of more than 43,000 college students who support the right to carry a concealed weapon (assuming that they have the proper permit to do so).

The group, which has members of all political ideologies and members in all 50 states, backs legislation to allow students to carry concealed weapons. SCC’s website states that one of their primary goals is to “push state legislators and school administrators to grant concealed handgun license holders the same rights on college campuses that those licensees currently enjoy in most other unsecured locations.”

Another organization, with the goal of keeping guns off college campuses, has been lobbying with equal force. “The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus” has the support of 359 universities across the country in forty states, including North Carolina. Wake Forest has not joined this campaign, although the entire public university system has done so.

Despite the increasingly heated ongoing debate, it remains unlikely that any significant policy change will be made here that would permit students to keep a firearm on campus. A reversal of that ban would only be possible if state lawmakers decided to take action on the issue, which so far they have shown no sign of doing.

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