A measure in House Bill 937 could allow concealed weapon permit holders to store firearms in locked compartments of their vehicles on college campuses and schools.Leaders at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College oppose the bill. They say it has more potential to cause harm than to make campuses safer.The bill passed the N.C. House 78-42 in May and, after being amended, passed the N.C. Senate 31-16 in June. The bill now has to go back to the House, where members will decide how to respond to the Senate’s changes. If the House ratifies the changes, the bill then goes to the governor to sign it into law. Scott Ralls, head of the N.C. Community College System, said the safety of students, faculty and staff is a top priority. “Therefore, changing our campuses from allowing no firearms to allowing even limited firearms presents concerns,” he said. “Our preference is that our community colleges not be included in this legislation.”Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus, said the campus has a long record of being a safe campus and workplace. “We continuously evaluate our policies and procedures to provide for the safety of our students, faculty and staff in accordance with current law,” she said. “We do hope that legislators will consider amendments to the currently proposed legislation that would require that weapons be stored in a concealed compartment from public view, limit the amount of ammunition and the number of weapons that can be carried, and reinforce the current state law that makes it a felony to possess firearms on a campus.”Student Government Association President Leslie Brown considers RCCC a very safe place and said loaded, concealed guns don’t belong on college campuses.Local representatives Carl Ford, Linda Johnson and Larry Pittman each voted for the bill, but only Pittman could be reached for comment via email. Pittman, who represents residents of Cabarrus County’s N.C. House District 82, said he supported the bill because it was improved by the Senate. “It was originally a rather mediocre bill and still does not go as far as I would like, but it is a much stronger bill than it was originally,” he said. “… It moves us closer to the demand of our founding fathers that ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ ”Pittman said similar bills he drafted would have allowed college students, faculty and staff members with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms throughout campuses. “Such a policy could have prevented, or at least reduced, the death toll in the massacre at Virginia Tech,” Pittman said. “Unfortunately, this bill will not allow them that level of self-defense, but at least they might have some chance of getting to the gun in their car and putting a stop to any event similar to the Virginia Tech massacre.“Criminals don’t obey gun laws, anyway, so we should set our law-abiding citizens free of government interference. …”Good guys vs. bad guysTim Bost, director of public safety and security at RCCC, retired in 2009 from a 34-year law enforcement career with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. His preference would be to maintain the current state law, which makes it a felony to possess a firearm on a college or school campus. If the proposed bill becomes law, Bost said, he hopes the language dictates that firearms can’t be visible.“If not, you can imagine the chaos that would cause on any college campus or school if someone walked by a parked car and saw a weapon in plain view,” he said. “But the ultimate question for campus security, or responding law enforcement officers, is ‘When the guns come out, will officers know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are?’ ” No matter how well-intended concealed weapons permit holders are, Bost said, students and staff should never intervene in an active shooter situation, as it puts law enforcement and themselves at risk.“Officers will likely hesitate, knowing other people may be there with weapons – and they’re not going to know who the shooter is,” Bost said. “Do not attempt to go to your car and try to retrieve a weapon. And certainly do not return to a college building with a weapon, because then you place yourself in great jeopardy from responding officers.”A gray areaBost, an avid supporter of gun rights, has no problem with the state’s current concealed carry law.“I’m actually one of those who believes people have the fundamental right to carry a means to protect themselves,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with people carrying concealed weapons. I just think the school setting is a sacred place. “Even under the … environment that we have experienced recently, with active shooters on college campuses, the campus should be free of firearms. If gun owners’ intentions will be to grab their firearm and go back to the classroom, we’ll have a real problem.”If the General Assembly wants to enhance security at schools and college campuses, he said, they should provide funding for electronic surveillance and campus access, more emergency response equipment, communication infrastructure and more security officers.RCCC serves 22,000 students annually. Its south campus off N.C. 73 in Concord serves roughly half that total. Larceny and theft – the majority involving vehicle break-ins – made up roughly 42 percent of crimes in 2012 on RCCC’s Cabarrus County campuses. Harassment and stalking, hit-and-run with a motor vehicle, vandalism, simple assault and disorderly conduct were the next most frequent crimes.Bost said potential thieves, who could overhear talk of a gun in a car, also could be more likely to break into cars if the bill becomes law.“People who own firearms are very proud of their weapons – and I’m one of them – and they like to show them off,” he said. “It’s inevitable that’s going to occur in a college parking lot, and when that occurs and someone sees that, it’s going to trigger a 911 response. “You’re going to roll basically everything you have into an emergency response. You’re going to lock a college down. You’re going to cancel classes. And you have to ask yourself, ‘Is it really worth all that to allow someone to carry a weapon on campus, locked in their car?’ ”
Friday, Jun. 28, 2013
N.C. bill may allow guns on campuses
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