Bill would allow guns at both WCU and SCC

This story was written by Haley Smith, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

If approved, new legislation would give people with concealed-carry permits the legal OK to bring handguns with them when visiting or taking classes at Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College.

The prospect isn’t sitting well with the 17 police chiefs in the UNC system, including WCU Police Chief Ernie Hudson.

“As a state, we limit firearms in courts, the legislature and other places because of the risk they pose. I think campuses are similar,” he said. “Some people think that having more guns on campus would be of benefit in a situation where we have an active shooter. The reality is that more guns on campus would hamper the ability of police to do their jobs in that situation.”

Four years ago, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed legislation that allows people with concealed-carry permits to keep firearms in a locked vehicle glove box when on public campuses. The latest legislation, according to the bill’s sponsors, would help make universities and colleges safer, possibly even preventing a repeat of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech when a student gunned down 32 people.

Hudson says not. He believes that more guns on campus could bring additional dangers.

“In an active shooter scenario, our dispatch centers will likely receive multiple reports of descriptions and locations of persons with firearms,” he said. “This could delay our response to the right location while officers are dispatched to sightings of armed members of the campus community who think they are doing the right thing by ‘joining’ the response. Imagine the potential for confusion when officers arrive on the scene to find multiple individuals with guns. How can they quickly determine who is the active shooter and who is a community member if multiple people are armed? This could lead to tragic consequences with the wrong people being injured or worse.”

Students were divided about whether to allow people to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Beth Winze, 21, a WCU senior majoring in criminal justice, agrees with Hudson, at least in part.

“I have a strong desire for people to be able to have their concealed carry permits for self defense and to exercise their second amendment rights, but when it comes to allowing college students to conceal carry on campus, things get a little too risky,” she said. “An individual’s bad day (could) become a college campus’ tragedy. I think allowing college students to conceal-carry could potentially cause more harm then good.”

Still, Winze believes faculty, though not students, should be allowed to carry legally concealed guns. Her classmate, Kelby Caballero, 22, a junior majoring in criminal justice, wants everyone included – not just faculty.

“I believe it’s our right as American citizens to carry guns and to protect ourselves,” he said. “I think, if a person has a permit, they should be able to carry on campus. I don’t really see any problems unless people make it a problem.”

Jeffery Neufeld, 23, a senior at WCU majoring in communication and concentrating in public relations, said the legislation is a bad idea.

“This is going to scare students,” he said. “Imagine walking into class on the first day and your professor has a gun. We want to try and do everything to stop mass shootings, but is adding another gun to the scenario really the solution?”