ORONO, Maine — Higher education and public safety officials across the state say a bill aimed at making campuses safer by allowing people to carry concealed handguns on school grounds would have the opposite effect.
“Based on my 40 years in law enforcement, I know that when there are more guns allowed, there is more risk and less safety,” said Roland LaCroix, chief of campus police at the University of Maine in Orono.
The bill, LD 1370, would require Maine’s universities, community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy to allow people to carry concealed handguns on campus. The Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs held a public hearing on the bill this week, where it met widespread resistance from higher education and public safety officials.
“Policies making areas ‘gun free’ provide a sense of safety to those who engage in magical thinking, but in practice, of course, killers aren’t stopped by gun-free zones,” said Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, the bill’s sponsor, in his testimony to the committee. “As always, it’s the honest people, the very ones you want to be armed who tend to obey the law.”
The National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of Maine and the governor’s office were among the few groups who support the bill.
“Having more people with guns drawn when police arrive will not make our colleges safer,” said Derek Langhauser, president of the Maine Community College System, which has seven campuses scattered across the state.
As this debate rages, some are pointing to Texas, where two on-campus attacks are raising questions of whether having armed students or faculty might have stemmed the violence.
A man stabbed multiple students at random Monday at the University of Texas, killing one and injuring three. Two days later at North Lake College in suburban Dallas, a man killed a woman on campus before going to another building and committing suicide.
In the wake of the University of Texas attack, widespread rumors circulated on social media claiming that a gun-wielding student intervened to stop the attack, but police and campus officials have since said that never happened, according to the American-Statesman.
Even if those rumors had been true, LaCroix said Thursday that his views wouldn’t change. “The facts just don’t support it,” he said. Instances of armed intervention by an average citizen stopping an attack are “extremely rare,” and law enforcement are best equipped and prepared to respond.
A study published by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that of the 85 instances of shootings or “undesirable discharges of firearms” on U.S. college campuses from 2013 to 2015, only two involved a shooter on a rampage. Most of the shootings involved disputes between people that escalated, premeditated attacks on individuals or suicides.
“Campus police much more commonly respond to a variety of violent and non-violent incidents than to rampage shootings,” the study states. “If those campus officers must assume that any given student is armed, this may compromise their ability to effectively respond to, and de-escalate, these incidents.”
In the event of a report of shots fired or another type of an attack on campus, LaCroix said campus and other area police departments would be ready to respond quickly, but that having multiple people on campus armed with guns could cause more confusion and put the safety of people who are trying to intervene at risk.
Several higher ed officials and professors who submitted testimony opposing the bill said that high stress, failing grades and conflicts with teachers or classmates could lead to dangerous situations if students had a gun at their hip.
“Our campuses consist mostly of younger people who are often learning for the first time how to manage their own independence,” said Langhauser. “They have widely varying degrees of personal maturity, individual stress, social responsibility and emotional stability.”
Maine Maritime Academy officials also expressed concerns that the bill would create more of a danger on campus.
Current state law gives public campus trustees the authority to decide whether to allow concealed firearms on campus. To this point, they universally have decided not to.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.