Gun control stirs up state, campus debate

Gun control became a national hot topic after recent affairs such as the ones in Aurora, Colo., Newtown, Conn., and, most recently Bakersfield, Calif.

The university took steps to oppose firearms on campus by joining more than 355 colleges and universities in the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus. Students and officials expressed concern about what concealed carry would mean for campus safety.

Andy Pelosi, the campaign’s founder and executive director, said the group’s goal is to educate the public about the move to keep concealed handguns off college campuses.

Though universities can sign a petition to support anti-gun movements, Pelosi said they can do even more.

“We’d love for (colleges and universities) to be more involved, whether it’s contacting their state officials … getting their faculty involved, contact their elected official, getting law enforcement … to oppose guns on campus,” he said. “So (there’s) definitely more (to do) than signing a petition.”

Todd Sigler, Department of Public Safety director, said preparations and training for any potential incident remain an ongoing effort.

“We … are getting ready to conduct some training on this issue later this spring, probably in March,” he said.

Sigler said DPS is prepared to handle a campus shooting and would have the Carbondale Police department as well as state trooper support if a crisis occurs. He said there have been few firearm-related incidents on campus, and the department deals with B.B. gun-related incidents more often.

“I have always been in a position that we need to be very cautious about anything that would affect the campus environment,” Sigler said. “I don’t favor concealed carry for campuses, but I understand there may be exceptions put in place. It all really comes down to what the final legislation is going to look like.”

Evan Swiech, a sophomore from Bloomington studying cinema and photography, said he thinks DPS provides a safe environment for the campus. Swiech said he would be more concerned if a shooting happened closer to the area. He said he thinks the university is prepared for any potential event by using the emergency text alert system.

“Because there hasn’t been any (shooting) here and the (last semester) bomb threat was well handled, I feel pretty safe,” he said.

Pelosi said his organization opposes concealed carry for multiple reasons.

“(Authorized concealed carry) training does not rise to the levels of what law enforcement has, they’re not trained in tactical situations,” he said. “Plus, we also think just having guns on campus is going to foster an unsafe environment.”

Some national groups have a different opinion.

“Congress should recognize that the right to self-defense does not end at state lines,” Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in an article on the group’s website. “The NRA has been successfully advocating in favor of strong Right-to-Carry laws for the past 25 years. We take a backseat to no one when it comes to the right of law-abiding Americans to carry concealed handguns for self-defense.”

Hazel said he is not thrilled with the idea of concealed carry legalization, especially if it is on campus.

“I feel like it would make me uneasy just cause I wouldn’t know if everyone is responsible to (carry guns),” he said.

Swiech said he favors ending the concealed carry ban, but he doesn’t think guns should be allowed on campus.

“I feel like I wouldn’t exactly be safe if people were allowed to use guns on campus,” he said. “It still is a school setting and if that were to be allowed it would be pretty scary thing for some of the people as it would be in any school setting.”

Though the university hasn’t had a shooting incident, Chancellor Rita Cheng showed support in a Dec. 20 email to students and staff.

“The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has shocked and saddened all of us,” she said in the email. “Our hearts go out to the families as they endure the pain of putting their loved ones to rest.”

Cheng also asked for a moment of silence the next day at 8:30 a.m., when the Pulliam Hall clock tower rang 26 times to honor the lives taken.

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