An Iowa lawmaker has proposed a bill aimed at requiring Iowa’s public universities and community colleges to let permitted individuals bring weapons on campus.
Right now, Iowa law doesn’t bar weapons from public university and college campuses but rather lets their governing boards decide. The Board of Regents in 2005 changed its personal conduct rules to allow the universities to establish their own policies and authorize the use of firearms and weapons if they deem necessary.
But all three regent institutions — University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa — prohibit weapons on campus, save for a few exceptions, like law enforcement and military uses.
Iowa’s community colleges also ban weapons on campus, with similar narrow exceptions.
The bill, introduced this week by Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, would block the Board of Regents, its institutions, and community colleges from adopting or enforcing policies prohibiting permit holders from “carrying, transporting or possessing a dangerous weapon” in campus buildings or on its grounds.
It defines “dangerous weapon” as any firearm, dagger, razor, switchblade, knife with a blade more than 5 inches long or stun gun. Any board, university or college found to be in violation of the law, should it pass, would be fined between $2,500 and $5,000, according to the proposal.
Chapman told The Gazette his proposal hangs on the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms.
“We have a constitutional right to protect ourselves,” he said. “When we have public institutions that are taxpayer owned and operated, the people of Iowa should have the right to carry, to defend themselves on those public facilities.”
The issue of campus safety — specifically related to gun violence — has grown increasingly pressing in recent years, with the frequency of campus shootings on the rise. A recent study by the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City looked at 190 incidents where at least one person was shot on or near 142 college or university campuses from 2001 to 2016.
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Researchers determined 40 occurred during the first five years. The next five years saw 49 incidents and the final five years saw 101 incidents.
Twelve states saw more than five shootings on or near college campuses, including Tennessee and California with 14, Virginia and Georgia with 13 and North Carolina and Florida with 11.
Researchers reported being unable to determine how shooters got their guns but added “guns are widely accessible in these 12 states because they are home to more than 60,000 federally licensed dealers — comprising 44 percent of licensed gun dealers in the country.”
Proponents of permitting guns on college and university campuses argue for the need of self-protection and defense, should an active shooter situation unfold.
Eight states now have provisions allowing permitted individuals to carry concealed weapons on public, postsecondary campuses — Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Tennessee lets licensed faculty members carry weapons but not students or the public.
“This isn’t a new concept,” Chapman said. “It takes a good guy with a firearm to stop a bad guy with a firearm, and unfortunately that’s the reality we live in today.”
Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said the board opposes the proposed legislation “due to it infringing on the statutory control of the Board of Regents.”
Officials with the universities declined to comment on the bill or what it might mean for their institutions, should it become law.
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Justin Hoehn, a spokesman for Kirkwood Community College, said administrators believe their policy barring weapons on campus works well in conjunction with other safety measures to keep the community secure. They have concerns, he said, that allowing weapons on campus might complicate a situation and make the campus less safe.
As for the individual regent university polices, the UI’s is fairly straightforward, barring all weapons on campus even for individuals with concealed carry permits. UI police officers do carry guns — a change made in 2007 after a regents’ safety review in the wake of the Virginia Tech campus shootings.
In 2011, a group of UI students created a new campus group — Students for Concealed Carry on Campus — pushing for a change to the policy. But that group no longer is listed among student organizations on the university’s website, and its last Facebook post was in 2011.
UNI takes a similar stance as UI, and Iowa State prohibits possession or use of weapons on campus “unless authorized through the firearms and other weapons application process.”
“There may be appropriate uses of firearms and weapons in connection with university activities both on and off campus,” according to the ISU policy.
In addition to law enforcement and military science uses, community members can apply to bring weapons on campus for purposes related to sporting events, theatrical events, farming purposes, research or religious or cultural events, for example.
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