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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Fears about open carry, firearms on campuses unfounded

Senate Bill 234 was filed in December and is unrelated to the Arizona tragedy, despite recent media articles making it sound like a response. This bill would remove the restriction on individuals currently holding a valid Concealed Weapon or Firearm License (CWFL) from carrying on college campuses. It would also introduce open carry to Florida.

Your initial response may be that open carry is bad, but that response is based on emotion and not facts. In reality, it is less dramatic of an issue than you are inclined to think. As recent newspaper articles pointed out, 43 other states already have open carry, and they are not experiencing problems with it.

Most people with the choice of carrying openly or concealed choose to carry concealed, whether for privacy, the benefit of surprise in the case of an attempted crime or just to avoid the heckling of citizens who choose not to carry and who have a lot of animosity toward CWFL holders. So, open carry is not going to drastically change our state. It would provide those carrying the benefit of not causing a legal headache if their concealed weapon were to be briefly exposed, as by a shirt blowing up in the wind, and the firearm being  seen in public. So let’s set aside that issue and get to the idea of carrying on campus.

The first thing you have to consider is that carrying on campus will not involve any new people carrying firearms. We are talking about the same CWFL holders who carry everywhere else in Alachua County and Florida: They are 21 and older, have voluntarily undergone a government background check, put their fingerprints on file with the state and have been trained on the legalities of the Florida statutes and safe firearm handling. This will obviously be only a small subset of the UF population, so any ideas of masses of students carrying firearms are false.

Carrying a firearm is a great personal responsibility that CWFL holders take seriously, shown here in Florida by only .02 percent of licenses being revoked for any reason since 1988, when carry was legalized. That means that 99.98 percent of CWFL holders have proven themselves to be upstanding citizens who do not participate in the crazy scenarios that anti-gun people dream up, such as shooting with road rage, in disputes as minor as over a parking space, or in our case during a discussion of some topic in a college-type setting. CWFL holders as compared to the general population are actually 5.7 times less likely to be arrested for violent offenses and 13.5 times less likely to be arrested for nonviolent offenses. There is a huge distinction between CWFL holders who carry firearms legally and who are among the safest and most responsible citizens you’ll ever meet and criminals who don’t care about where carrying is banned in the first place.

In regard to campus carry, Colorado State University has been allowing concealed carry on its campus since 2003. Guess what: They have had zero problems to this day. Also, over the last four years, CSU’s crime has dropped by 60 percent. The University of Colorado’s crime rate, by comparison, has risen by 35 percent over the same time period, and they prohibit carry. It is ludicrous to me that some people believe that someone crossing over the boundary onto a college campus will suddenly become mentally unstable and lose all concept of personal responsibility. CSU’s case will hopefully give  everyone something to think about, because it provides an example of successful legal carry on a college campus.

Situations where criminalized carry fails our society happen all the time, as seen in the Virginia Tech tragedy. Of the 32 victims, 30 were killed after police responded, and any possibility of a licensed individual having any chance of defending him- or herself or classmates had been taken away by politicians who think that guns are bad. Notice how the gunmen behind these tragedies never care about following the law; gun-free zones should instead be called defense-free or easy-victim zones.

I understand that many doubts about carry on campus are based on the concept that some of you believe that guns are scary. In reality, they are just tools and very safe ones. Also, they’re positive for society: The FBI tells us that every year, people in the U.S. use firearms to defend themselves against criminals an estimated 2.5 million times — that’s more than 6,500 times a day, or once every 13 seconds. According that data, firearms are used 65 times more often to prevent a crime than to commit one.

Finally, please consider that UF is currently a defense-free “bubble” — it is legal for CWFL holders, of which there were about 754,000 in the state of Florida as of August 2010, to carry around much of Gainesville and Alachua County.

SB 234 would recognize that licensed individuals who are already carrying are not engaging in inappropriate behavior everywhere around campus while carrying. There is no rational basis to the fear that they will suddenly become irresponsible solely depending on happening to be on campus. The “culture of fear” argument holds similarly little water: With a majority of CWFL holders continuing to choose to carry in a concealed manner, campus will be no more a fearful place to be than any off-campus Walmart, grocery store or movie theater is.

Noah Beckman is a UF student.

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