Tough road ahead for guns-on-campus effort
Republican leaders in the Legislature gave business officials a reason to cheer recently with their vow to put a proposed campus carry bill on ice. Oklahoma’s college and university presidents had to love the news, too.
Higher education officials have spent the past several years combating these efforts, which are introduced almost every session. Some years have taken more work than others to convince lawmakers to reject the plan. This would appear to be one where higher ed won’t have to sweat as much.
“As long as I’m floor leader, we will not have the guns on campus bill hit the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives,” Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, told the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber last week.
The proposed legislation is Senate Bill 1567 by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow. It would let anyone with a valid handgun license carry a concealed handgun on the campus of a college, university or CareerTech. Schools would be allowed to prohibit handguns at campus events where tickets are sold, such as ball games or theater productions.
Just last year, the Legislature approved “constitutional carry,” which allows most Oklahomans 21 and older to carry guns without a license. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, told the chamber that bill faced some hurdles because of worries it would apply to college campuses.
“I envision people filing those bills to do that,” Treat said. “I do not envision that getting all the way through the process to the governor’s desk.”
As noted, SB 1567 would apply to licensed carriers, although that doesn’t make it any more palatable to college officials, who fear that such a policy would make campuses more dangerous, not less.
Oklahoma’s current policy, which allows each college president to give licensed gun owners permission to carry a weapon on campus, puts it in line with 22 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Sixteen states, including places such as Missouri, Nebraska, Louisiana and North Dakota — hardly bastions of anti-gun ban sentiment — ban carrying a concealed weapon on campus. Ten states have provisions for allowing the carry of concealed weapons on college campuses. They include neighboring Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas and Texas.
Backers of Oklahoma joining that list would point to those states and note that their policies haven’t led to a rash of incidents. It’s a reasonable argument.
On the other hand, Oklahoma’s higher education leaders can point to an argument Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis made to legislators in 2014 when this issue was on the front burner.
“If we want to experiment with this idea,” Hargis said, “I recommend that we start right here in this Capitol.” Weapons weren't allowed in that building then, and still aren't.