Guest Column: Montana campus gun bill is untried, untested, unsafe

Any 18-year-old who has passed hunter safety and has avoided a criminal record could be eligible to carry a concealed handgun anywhere on campus under a proposal before the Montana Legislature.  Senate Bill 143 would make Montana the first and only state in America to give all students, staff, and members of the public the option of carrying handguns anywhere on campus without having taken some type of enhanced concealed-carry handgun training.

The Montana Senate has approved the bill.  At the time of this writing (March 17), the bill is in the Montana House of Representatives.  The Montana University System opposes Senate Bill 143 because of its untried, untested concept and the lack of evidence that campuses would be made safer through the introduction of concealed handgun carry.

The Montana University System right now welcomes students who own handguns and rifles.  While concealed carry is prohibited, students who live in dormitories can store their firearms and ammunition on campus in the designated lock safe facility.  There was a time when it was permissible to store firearms in dorm rooms.  After the tragic gun deaths of two students 25 years ago in a Montana State University dorm room, the university system changed the policy to require guns to be stored safely.  The policy works well, and we have not had a shooting on campus in the last quarter century.  Having students, staff, and members of the public carry concealed handguns all over campus would veer sharply away from a proven policy of safety.

Concealed carry is an unnecessary idea in the view of 43 of 50 states in America.  Seven states, however, have experimented with limited handgun carry on campuses.  Of those seven states, most have effectively kept guns out of dormitories by prohibiting concealed-carry privileges for anyone under the age of 21.  In Idaho, an 18-year-old may be permitted to carry a firearm after obtaining an enhanced concealed-carry permit, although guns are expressly prohibited in Idaho dorms, university-owned apartments, sporting and entertainment facilities, student union buildings and on university field trips.

In Utah, the public safety office at a state university reports numerous student complaints about gun carriers intimating violence or otherwise intimidating students with the presence of handguns.  These reports at the state university there also include instances of guns falling out of students’ backpacks onto desks and floors, students accidentally leaving guns at places around campus, and students picking up guns they found and playing with them as if they were not loaded.

The fact is the campuses of the Montana University System are tremendously safe places that would not become safer if everyone could carry guns all over campus.  Crime statistics show that campuses in Montana and across America are safer than off-campus communities at large.  When students set foot on a campus, they are entering a place that is safer than wherever they came from, according to credible data.  We don’t need concealed guns everywhere to keep Montana campuses safe places to live, work, and learn.

  • Kevin McRae

Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education

kmcrae@montana.edu