The leaders of Wisconsin’s public universities and technical colleges Tuesday lined up against a bill that would allow anyone with a concealed carry license to bring guns into campus buildings, classrooms, dormitories and stadiums.
UW-Madison administrators and the campus’ police department strongly opposed the proposed change to the state’s 2011 concealed carry law, under which colleges and universities may prohibit weapons inside buildings.
“The evidence does not support the idea that our campus would be safer if concealed firearms are allowed in our buildings,” UW police spokesman Marc Lovicott said in a statement on behalf of the university. “We urge our legislators not to change the existing law. Doing so would put the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and guests at risk.”
University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross and the system’s chancellors issued a joint statement opposing the bill as well, saying they had “serious concerns” about the proposal two Republican legislators introduced Monday.
“We are, however, actively engaged in a dialogue with the legislative authors, Regents, and campus police professionals to ensure our concerns are addressed,” the statement said.
A spokesman for the Wisconsin Technical College System said officials with that agency also want to keep the exemption for college buildings in place.
And more than a dozen students, faculty and staff interviewed by the State Journal on the UW-Madison campus Tuesday also opposed the bill.
UW-Madison junior Holly Howe said allowing guns inside campus buildings “wouldn’t make us any safer from campus shootings.”
Graduate student David O’Brien said he would feel less safe on campus if the bill became law.
“The way that we most effectively protect students and staff is to institute more effective gun control and gun prohibition laws,” O’Brien said.
A handful of students, however, said allowing people to be armed at the university could keep people safe in the event of a shooting.
“If you were an armed individual, you could maybe not prevent, but at least stop and mitigate, the risk of an active shooter threat,” said sophomore Andrew Hanson.
A concealed carry license holder and Marine Corps veteran, Hanson said he likely would take his firearm with him to campus if the bill passes.
“I work a lot of early mornings and late nights,” he said. “It would be kind of nice to have that peace of mind.”
Permit holders can already carry concealed weapons on the grounds of UW schools and state technical colleges, but many — including UW-Madison — ban them inside buildings and venues such as Camp Randall Stadium.
Walker stance unclear
Gov. Scott Walker would not say Tuesday whether he supports the bill.
“Certainly we’ll look at that legislation,” Walker told reporters. “The bottom line is the greatest fear I have about firearms are people who are not legal to have them in the first place — those are the criminals. Certainly we’ll worry about that.”
The proposal introduced Monday by Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, and state Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, repeals the exemption in state law that allows public universities and colleges to keep concealed weapons out of buildings.
The bill comes less than two weeks after a gunman killed nine people at an Oregon community college, though its authors say it is not meant as a response to that shooting.
“The reason we’re doing it is we think it’s right to protect the Second Amendment rights of college students,” LeMahieu said.
Kremer said Monday the purpose of the bill is to prevent “disarming” permit-holders on and around campuses, citing violent crime occurring around UW-Milwaukee.
LeMahieu said the proposal has “the potential to make campuses safer.”
“If you provide a gun-free zone, they’re soft targets for homicidal maniacs,” he said of college campuses.
When pressed by reporters on the issue, and asked if the measure would make campuses safer, Walker remained non-committal.
“I’d certainly have to look at the way the legislation is drafted but to me the real threat are not law-abiding citizens — it’s people who are possessing firearms illegally and are falling through the cracks when it comes to social services,” Walker said. “Someone who has gone through and been certified and been able to carry is not someone I’m concerned with in any circumstances.”
UW-Madison pointed to statistics showing crime rates are lower on campus than they are in Wisconsin as a whole. Allowing people to take weapons inside venues such as Camp Randall, Lovicott said, would create “a major security issue.”
LeMahieu said he was willing to work with the university on its concerns and was open to barring weapons at sports venues.
Conor Smyth, a spokesman for the state’s technical colleges, said campus buildings and classrooms can often be the setting for emotionally charged discourse between faculty and students.
“Allowing armed participants in this type of discussion has the potential to lead to serious negative consequences,” Smyth said.
Several people at UW-Madison said in interviews they were concerned campus drinking culture could lead to students using firearms irresponsibly, or that the presence of firearms could escalate disputes.
LeMahieu countered that other states have similar concealed carry laws and have not seen “Wild West shootouts” as a result.
But Becky Ryan, an academic adviser at the university, said she has seen students get “really upset for one reason or another,” and wouldn’t feel safe if people could bring guns into her workplace.
“It’s just another option for a bad decision to be made,” Ryan said.
The Associated Press and State Journal reporters Molly Beck and Mark Sommerhauser contributed to this report.