Surveys reveal opinions on campus gun policy

Andrea Williams, Shailiegh Piepmeier, Keith Crittenden, Cameron Humerickhouse and Mary Bartell signify their opinion on the campus concealed carry policies. A thumbs up meant that they believed no change is required, thumbs in the middle meant some changes should be made, and a thumbs down meant no firearms should be allowed on campus.

Faith Hadley

The Kansas Legislature in 2013 passed a law allowing the concealment and carry of firearms on university campuses across the state. To give the schools time to prepare, they were given an exemption from the law until July 1, 2017.

On that date, if schools have taken initiative and put in “adequate security measures,” conceal and carry will be allowed in all campus buildings. Examples of sufficient security measures would be metal detectors, proper storage and possibly a requirement to register in order to conceal and carry handguns on campus. Currently conceal and carry is allowed in parking lots and the outdoors.

The Kansas Board of Regents met recently about this, deciding to comply with the laws in place.

Student government presidents from the seven Regents universities collaborated and decided it was important to know student opinion on this topic. That way they could act in the best interests of the groups they represent. They approached the Docking Institute of Public Affairs about conducting a survey.

Docking is a part of Fort Hays State University whose purpose is “to facilitate effective public policy decision making among governmental and non-profit entities” according to their section of the FHSU website. Docking was happy to conduct the survey of the students free of charge to measure opinion about the campus gun policies.

Gary Brinker, director of the Docking Institute of Public Affairs. He stated that the numbers prove a high level of interest in this topic. Typically, the best participation percentage expected for online surveys is about 20 percent. The response rate for this study was at about 50 percent of all students at the Regents institutions.

When faculty caught wind of the student survey, they thought one for the staff would be pertinent. The Docking Institute also conducted this survey.

The response rate was also high among faculty at 54 percent from those at six of the Regents universities.

The study was sent out in early December and completed within the first week of January. That time is a busy one with finals, wrapping up the semester, and then the holidays.

“Faculty and staff were very passionate about the topic,” said Lorie Benjamin-Cook, a professor at FHSU and the faculty senate president at the time the survey was arranged.

President of the Washburn Student Government Association Blake Porter was involved with the surveys taken here at Washburn by students. One thousand Washburn students and 800 at Washburn Tech were invited to participate. Of those there was a 14 percent response rate. Armed with that information, and the results of the study of other Regents university students, Porter was able to say, “It seems that a majority of students don’t want guns allowed on campus.”

Teachers and students seem to agree as a majority on this topic. Fifty-five percent of students think conceal and carry should not be allowed on campus, and 70 percent of faculty do as well. This difference may be due to the length of time faculty members are on campus. Students are on the property for classes and then leave to either a residence hall or apartment. Many faculty and staff spend much of their lives on campus for work, events and meetings with students. It becomes “almost like a second home to them,” Cook-Benjamin said.

A campus faculty group called Cancel Campus Carry has met, researched and discussed different causes of concern. Kerry Wynn, a history professor at Washburn University, participates in the working group. She shared some findings of Cancel Campus Carry and her own reasons for disquiet.

These include the tendency of weapons to create hostile or tense environments, faculty and students leaving for gun-free universities, increased risk of violence, the financial burden of supervising concealed carry and the increased danger of suicide.

Current requirements for acquiring a conceal carry license in Kansas involves a background check, completion of safety training, registering with the attorney general and a $132.50 fee. Renewal of the license costs $25, and is required every four years.

The background check required for licensure removes possible dangerous persons from eligibility. For example, convicted felons, drug users, individuals with restraining orders, mentally handicapped, and the dishonorably discharged have their applications denied.

In 2015, Kansas legislature ruled that a license would not be required to conceal carry in the state of Kansas, although individuals still have the option to acquire a license if they wish.

“That’s, I think, the root of a lot of the concern,” Brinker said.

In the study, 90 percent of faculty agreed that a permit should be required for concealed carrying on university property.

On Jan. 21, Senate Bill 248 was proposed by Senators Hawk, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Holland and Pettey. If passed, this bill would exempt all post-secondary institutions, making it illegal to conceal and carry firearms on college grounds.

Brinker’s hope is that students will take advantage of this “unique opportunity to spark political participation.”

Students are nearly all of voting age, and 18-24 year olds make up nearly a tenth of Kansas population. If enough students worked together, voting choices could make huge differences in the upcoming elections.

Wynn believes the future is in the hands of students. Her final message was: “No matter what your point of view on the issue is, you should speak, because your voices are important.”

For more information on this topic, see the following links

Proposed bill SB-248

Faculty Survey Results