New bills may affect gun policy on college campuses across New Hampshire
When crossing the Granite State’s lines, it now may be safer to assume that everyone in New Hampshire is carrying a firearm, after the state house passed HB 330 on Tues., March 15, permitting most citizens to carry a concealed weapon without a license in the state. But despite persistent efforts by New Hampshire lawmakers to liberalize current gun laws and create new legislation that could overrule standing New Hampshire collegiate regulations, which prohibit firearms on campus, 87 percent of students and faculty at Keene State College are still in opposition to these pro-gun initiatives, according to a random survey.
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Over a decade after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, it seems gun violence in the school setting has become less of a hypothetical in American educational venues. In the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech and recent Tucson, Ariz., shootings in January, guns on campus has become a pressing public safety concern and a hot-button political topic.
Although public outcry for more adequate protection against such tragedies is universal, the path toward solution has become conflicted with bipartisanism. While Democrats call for a shorter leash on gun control, Republicans seek further deregulation in response to the recent spike in gun violence on campuses.
While the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) said they will first and foremost abide by federal and state laws as they continue to preside over the four New Hampshire state schools (University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College, and Granite State College), they are crossing their fingers the state house will think twice before passing another bill which would take away the private institution’s right to decide that approach, HB 334.
The bill would mandate that the state’s action over matters concerning the carrying or prohibition of firearms “shall be by statute only.” According to the current USNH Online Policy Manual, USNH currently delegates, to each institution, the responsibility and authority “to maintain a reasonably safe environment for its students, faculty and other academic appointees, staff, and visitors.”
Under this law, New Hampshire higher education institutions would lose the right to create campus policy as they see fit for their individual institution; gun policies for college campus’ would come from one presiding entity. If signed into law, HB 334 would open the door for an established committee to create a statewide policy permitting firearms on the college campus. USNH has taken an opposing stance on Bill 334 and provided testimony against it during the bill’s Feb. 24 hearing.
Associate Vice Chancellor of USNH Kathleen Salisbury initially questioned the legislation because there have been no instances of gun violence on a New Hampshire college campus in the last ten years, indicating current delegation as operating soundly. “Ninety-three percent of violence against college-aged students occurs off campus,” Salisbury said. “This leads us to believe that our policies are working.”
Among those in support of Bill 334 is the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Gun Owners of New Hampshire (GO-NH).
Although both organizations chose not to comment on the issue, NRA Deputy General Counsel Stefan B. Tahmassebi argued inaction has been the culprit in recent gun violence on campus. “It should be noted that all of these campus shootings have involved schools where the gun prohibitionists have had their way,” Tehmassebi wrote in a Macon Telegraph editorial.
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Tahmassebi wrote that passing legislation extending carrying rights to college students on campuses would even the playing field in life-threatening situations. “Refusing to allow guns on campus makes those who might otherwise be able to defend themselves easy prey for criminals,” Tahmassebi wrote.
KSC Director of Campus Safety Amanda Warman disagreed and said, besides the 2,700 students that call the KSC campus home, the campus also acts as host to a large number of small children at the day care facility, and Keene High School students who are ineligible for such protection. “I think institutions should be making the policy decision that is best suited for their environment,” Warman said. “I don’t think it creates an environment that best enhances student learning and activity.”
Survey results showed only 13 percent of KSC students or faculty would feel comfortable with their peers carrying a concealed weapon on campus. While the survey only reflects the views of largely New England student body and faculty, support for guns on campus has accelerated in other regions of the country. According to concealedcampus.org “Utah is the only state to allow concealed carry at all public colleges/universities, by prohibiting public colleges/universities from creating their own restrictions.” Not far behind, Texas, Idaho, Indiana, North Dakota, Arizona, and Wyoming, have drafted bills in pursuit of the same right.
Looking forward, Warman said if HB 334 is passed by the House and New Hampshire is added to the list above, she is prepared to seriously consider adding her staff to the list of individuals armed on campus. Warman said allowing students and faculty to carry guns on campus would introduce variables that would essentially make the campus a more dangerous place to regulate. “If this bill passes, it’s my job to make sure my staff have the resources to protect themselves,” Warman said. “They couldn’t effectively do their job without it.”
Besides the controversy pinning second amendment rights against public safety, there is also the fear that having guns on campus will incur financial costs the college is unready to pay. If arming Campus Safety officers is required, Warman said she anticipates needing substantial funds to buy the firearms themselves and the extensive training upgrades the officers and department will need to operate under the changed circumstances.
As three more bills pertaining to New Hampshire gun rights remain in committee along with Bill 334, KSC students remain weary of the consequences of increasing the number of firearms in a state with some of the most lenient guns laws in the country. While some view a loaded holster as the ultimate equalizer in perilous situations, others worry if citizens with guns will comply with the mere written policies and regulations drafted by an entity at all. Despite the fervor with which New Hampshire state legislators protect and pursue gun rights, the vast majority of KSC students are left scratching their heads at an initiative they don’t wish to proliferate.
Sean O’Donnell, news editor for The Equinox, contributed editorially to this content and can be contacted at
Tara Nathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org