Allowing concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on Idahoâ€™s college campuses will make learning environments less safe is the common line of reasoning in objecting to a bill now before the Idaho Legislature allowing concealed weapons on campus.
However, law enforcement officials on campuses across Utah, where permit holders are legally allowed to carry, say thatâ€™s just not the case.
Officials at several universities, including the University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Dixie State College and Utah State University told IdahoReporter.com that though carrying guns on campus has been legal for nearly a decade, they havenâ€™t seen evidence that their schools are less safe.
â€śWe havenâ€™t had much problem with it,â€ť said Steven Mecham, head of the Utah State University Department of Public Safety. â€śItâ€™s just not been an issue.â€ť
Reached via email, University of Utah spokeswoman Maria Oâ€™Mara told IdahoReporter.com, â€śWe have had no incidents on campus regarding this law.â€ť
Mecham said his agency only receives calls when a carrierâ€™s shirt pulls up and other students or faculty see the weapon and call the authorities. When that happens, the police official said, officers will check the carrierâ€™s permit to ensure the holder is carrying legally.
With guns close at hand, though, has Utah State University, the stateâ€™s second-largest school with about 20,000 students, experienced college kids threatening faculty or other learners with weapons?
â€śWe havenâ€™t had any of that,â€ť Mecham said.
Not so fast, said Ron Isaacson, assistant director of public safety at Dixie State College in St. George. Isaacson, a five-year veteran of the office, said that while he hasnâ€™t seen any shootings on his campus due to concealed carriers, his agency handles â€śa fewâ€ť reports annually of students threatening or intimating gun violence.
Isaacson also said that heâ€™s fielded reports of students accidentally dropping their firearms and one incident of a gun falling out of a school bag onto a library chair. Another library patron, he said, sat on the gun and started playing with it, not realizing that it was, in fact, a real weapon.
â€śIâ€™m surprised she didnâ€™t start shooting that thing, thinking it was a fake,â€ť Isaacson said.
Still, Dixie State College hasnâ€™t had any accidental shootings or discharges, he confirmed.
Across the country, 21 states ban concealed carry on campus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 23 allow campuses themselves to have the final say.
Six states allow concealed carry on public college or university campuses.
Idaho could become No. 7, as Idaho lawmakers continue to debate Sen. Curt McKenzieâ€™s legislation that would allow the practice in most campus areas, with the exception of dorms, arenas and theater halls that seat more than 1,000 people.
The Idaho Senate passed the bill on a 25-10 vote earlier this month, with only Democrats and a few Republicans opposed. The House State Affairs Committee will hear the bill Friday morning.
McKenzie said he believes the self-protection that comes with carrying a weapon is a constitutional right. Gov. Butch Otter hasnâ€™t taken a position on the issue.
Though the law has been in effect of nearly a decade in Utah, Isaacson and Mecham remain torn on the issue.
Isaacson said that while he recognizes that a concealed weapons permit holder might be able to stop a shooting in progress, he believes allowing students to carry makes his campus less safe. â€śI would prefer students not carry on campus,â€ť he said.
Mecham said both sides of the debate are defensible. Like Isaacson, he believes that concealed carry could save lives, but he also acknowledged that a permit holder trying to stop an active shooter on campus could confuse responding officers, leading to slower response times and unnecessary injuries.
â€śHow do we know whoâ€™s the good guy and whoâ€™s the bad guy?â€ť Mecham asked.
Boise State University announced earlier this month that passing the guns on campus bill would force the school to spend nearly $2 million on new security measures, including training and moving to an armed police force, a change from the unarmed security officers roaming the campus now.
Mecham said thatâ€™s the right direction to go anyway, saying that â€śin this day and age,â€ť all campus security officers should be armed, regardless if students and faculty can legally carry weapons.