ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Christian universities debate allowing firearms on campus
In the wake of mass shootings nationwide, some colleges and universities associated with Churches of Christ are debating the pros and cons of allowing firearms on campus.
“There are many strong feelings on both sides of the issue, and to some degree, both sides of the debate have certain valid points,” Jimmy Ellison, police chief at 4,500-student Abilene Christian University in Texas, told The Christian Chronicle.
In June, Texas lawmakers made carrying a concealed weapon on campus legal as of August 2016, as The New York Times reported this week.
• Eight tips for making churches safer The Texas campus carry law will require colleges and universities to allow people with concealed handgun licenses to carry their weapons at school, according to The Texas Tribune. But public schools will be allowed designate some parts of their campuses as “gun free zones,” and private institutions — such as Abilene Christian and 2,000-student Lubbock Christian University — can opt out of the law entirely.
The Chronicle surveyed Christian higher education institutions across the nation after a student gunman earlier this month killed nine people and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College in rural Roseburg, Ore.
“Having a firearm anywhere on campus is not a topic to take lightly, especially when dealing with high concentrated places such as a college campus,” Lubbock Christian spokeswoman Shannon Sudduth said. “Lubbock Christian University has and will continue to have discussions on the pros and cons of allowing firearms on campus for this reason.
“For a number of years, LCU has contracted with local peace officers to work various venues on campus to provide extra protection and security to our students, faculty, staff and visitors,” Sudduth added. “We have a continued relationship with the local police and sheriff’s department who provide security for things such as chapel, big events and summer camps.”
A 2013 law passed by Arkansas lawmakers provides for faculty at the state’s colleges and universities to carry concealed weapons. However, those institutions can opt out of the law on an annual basis, and all of Arkansas’ colleges and universities have done so, according to www.armedcampuses.org.
“By policy, no one except law enforcement officers and public safety officers are allowed to possess firearms on campus,” said David Crouch, spokesman for 6,000-student Harding University in Searcy, Ark. “This is a policy adopted by all colleges and universities in Arkansas.”
At 225-student Crowley’s Ridge College — a Paragould, Ark., college associated with Churches of Christ — President Ken Hoppe said: “Yes, there has been substantial discussion among the campus community. … The Crowley’s Ridge College board by direct resolution on July 27, 2013, opted out of Arkansas Act 226 and prohibits permitted faculty and staff from carrying concealed weapons on campus. This ongoing resolution is scheduled for review this fall.”
• At 4,700-student Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., spokeswoman Kim Chaudoin said: “Yes, (the pros and cons of allowing firearms) is a topic that is discussed often on Lipscomb’s campus as it likely is on campuses across the country. It is against the law to bring firearms onto a college campus building in Tennessee. Within the last five years, we have added licensed and trained armed officers to our security force. It has been well received by parents.”
• 1,200-student Rochester College in Michigan has had “no formal discussions of allowing firearms on campus,” director of operations Mark Johnson said.
• At 400-student Ohio Valley University in Vienna, W.Va., spokesman Marty Davis said: “Although West Virginia is an ‘open carry’ state, firearms are prohibited on the Ohio Valley University campus.”
• At Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., which has 3,500 undergraduates, vice president for administration Phil E. Phillips said: “Generally, California state law prohibits any person from bringing or possessing a firearm upon the grounds of a public or private university or college campus without written permission.”
• At 1,800-student Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., spokeswoman Nancy Bennett said: “It is illegal in Tennessee for students to have guns in schools; hence, they are not permitted on the FHU campus. Students who have guns for hunting must store them off campus.”
• Some universities — including 3,500-student Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., 2,600-student Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City and 400-student York College in Nebraska — did not respond directly when asked if their institution has discussed allowing firearms on campus.
At Abilene Christian, leaders have conducted a series of meetings with the Students Association Congress as well as the Staff Senate and Faculty Senate to discuss the issue and seek opinions.
ACU Police Chief Jimmy EllisonNext, the leaders — including the police chief and the vice president for student life, Chris Riley — will report to President Phil Schubert, who will form a decision and stance for ACU, Ellison said.
“I have assured everyone that the issue is being examined objectively and thoroughly but do concede that to many people, the idea of guns on campus is very divisive,” the ACU police chief said.
“One concern that law enforcement professionals have about guns on campus is the potential for a well-intentioned CHL (concealed handgun license) holder to go racing down a hall, gun in hand in search of an active shooter, while teams of officers are rapidly entering the building in search of a vaguely described gunman,” Ellison added.
Such a scenario “has a high potential to end badly when responding officers mistake the CHL holder for the actual shooter,” the chief said.
But he added: “On the other hand, if a CHL holder ends up barricaded in a room full of students, doing all the right things like barricading the door, turning lights off, sequestering away from the shooters’ view, etc. — then, if the shooter does manage to make his/her way into the room to start actively killing people, the same well-intentioned CHL holder can defend themselves/the group, without exposing themselves to potential misidentification by a rapidly responding officer.
“More specifically, though, the majority of arguments I hear on campus against CHL campus carry is more philosophical, less safety oriented,” Ellison said.
“There are many strong feelings on both sides of the issue, and to some degree, both sides of the debate have certain valid points.” Jimmy Ellison, police chief, Abilene Christian University