State Politics

Bill would allow concealed carry guns on UNC, community college campuses

A customer checks out a conceal carry pistol at the Bullet Stop. (June 4, 2013)
A customer checks out a conceal carry pistol at the Bullet Stop. (June 4, 2013) The Wichita Eagle

Legislation filed Thursday would allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their handguns on UNC system and North Carolina community college campuses.

Rep. Kyle Hall, a Republican from King just north of Winston-Salem, said House Bill 251 would make campuses safer by allowing trained firearms holders to carry their weapons. But the legislation is likely to draw complaints from gun control groups and from higher education officials.

“This is just another safeguard to make sure our campuses are safe,” said Hall, a 2012 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and one of four bill sponsors. “Our students and faculty should feel safe when they go on campus.”

But Becky Ceartas, executive director of the Durham-based North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, called the legislation “very dangerous.” She said law enforcement personnel are the only ones who should be armed on campuses.

“Campuses need to be a place for learning,” Ceartas said. “Not a place where students have to fear being shot.”

Hall said he introduced the bill after a constituent who is a concealed-carry permit holder questioned why he couldn’t carry his gun while attending classes at Appalachian State University in Boone.

Hall said that people who’ve gone through the permit process, including paying the fee, attending classes and getting firearm safety training, have shown themselves to be law-abiding “good guys.” He said permit holders should be able to legally protect themselves on campus.

Hall cited the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech where a student killed 32 people before taking his own life. The legislator said things might have ended differently if the shooter had encountered an armed student with a concealed-carry permit.

“It’s our job as lawmakers to be proactive rather than reactive waiting for an incident like Virginia Tech to happen,” Hall said.

The bill’s other sponsors, also all Republicans, are Reps. Justin Burr of Albemarle, Michele Presnell of Burnsville and Destin Hall of Lenoir.

State lawmakers have over the years relaxed some of the rules governing firearms on college campuses.

In 2013, House Bill 937 was passed making it legal for individuals with concealed-carry permits to keep a firearm locked in a car’s glove box while parked on a public campus. The UNC system’s stance at the time was that it didn’t need to have more weapons on campus.

A UNC official restated the system’s concerns at a January meeting of the legislature’s Joint Emergency Management Oversight Committee. Brent Herron, the UNC system’s associate vice president of campus safety and emergency operations, said that in an active-shooter situation, responding officers might have a difficult time distinguishing between the shooter and lawful gun owners.

“If they’re encountered by our police officers, and they don’t obey the police officer’s commands, then we’re worried that somebody innocent could be harmed,” Herron said at the meeting.

Earlier this session, House Bill 69 was filed that would let handgun owners carry their weapons concealed without a permit. The “Concealed Carry Act” has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui