“Thank goodness,” UNC senior Thomas Rees said. “But it’s there for protection.”
Rees keeps a small Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistol and a large Mossberg 88 shotgun in his off-campus apartment in Chapel Hill. On Tuesday afternoon, before bringing his firearms outside, Rees went into a back room and — with a click that accompanies guns being cocked — removed the ammunition from the guns’ chambers.
Sensible people with concealed carry permits should be able to take their guns on campus, he said.
“The bad guys would catch on and realize they can’t just rape or mug or murder whoever they want,” he said. “They’d know a lot of people have firearms, and they’re going to fight back.”
A North Carolina law passed in 2013 allowing concealed carry permit owners to bring guns on public college campuses — as long as they were stored in closed compartments in locked cars. Nationwide, there has been a push to allow guns more liberally on campuses.
And now there’s a new argument; they’ll help curb sexual violence.
Students for Concealed Carry, a national organization advocating for concealed handgun license owners to have their firearms all over campuses, is one of the primary groups supporting the new effort.
Michael Newbern, a national director for Students for Concealed Carry, said the group has always made connections between stopping any kind of violent crime and allowing permit holders to carry their guns everywhere.
“When a victim has the opportunity to fight back, we know an attacker will always choose a weaker victim,” Newbern said.
Rees said legally carried guns would make college campuses safer.
“They are dangerous but so are knives and cars and a lot of other things we experience a lot more,” Rees said. “Education is a big thing — learning how to handle these things properly.”
During the past two years, 33 states have considered loosening gun restrictions on public university campuses and allowing some form of concealed carry.
But the renewed advocacy isn’t without its critics — including some UNC students.
Opponents contend that most sexual assault victims know their attackers, making it less likely that a gun would be a deterrent.
“While I understand the argument that it wold help in instances when it’s random, and they don’t know their attacker, it’s not the rule — it’s the exception,” said fourth-year UNC School of Medicine student Brandon Linz, who owns a gun.
UNC senior Bennett Sasser doesn’t think she could ever carry a gun.
“I would take self-defense classes or other avenues to protect myself,” Sasser said.
Linz, who has held a concealed carry permit for five years, said guns shouldn’t be openly allowed on campus at all.
“If feeling unsafe on the college campus requires you to carry a gun on campus, those issues should be addressed first,” Linz said.
College parties are often cited as danger zones for sexual violence. But critics argue that adding guns into the mix of alcohol and drunk students could lead to accidental deaths.
“Students for Concealed Carry doesn’t want to change the standards of who can carry firearms,” Newbern said. “They know in most states it’s a felony to consume alcohol in possession of a hand gun.”
When gun restrictions have been loosened on campuses in various states, he added, the concerns of gun control lobbyists have not come to fruition.
“All these predictions of flooding the streets at frat parties shooting each other up is not coming true — and lawmakers are seeing that,” Newbern said.
UNC Young Democrats President Tony Liu said the University has campus security and local law enforcement for a reason.
“Concealed carry laws can create environments which are not conducive towards promoting feelings and environments of safety on campus,” Liu said.
But Frank Pray, president of UNC College Republicans, said concealed carry permit holders go through a rigorous process to receive their permits.
“Students would be subjected to the same laws and regulations as the general public, and therefore, the safety of campus would not be reduced at all,” Pray said.
Rees said the concept of actually using a firearm on someone isn’t the purpose of carrying one.
“Just the satisfaction of having it and knowing that if things do go bad, you can at least fight,” Rees said.
When Dylan Zanikos, a UNC junior, thinks about guns on campus, he considers his future daughter.
“If I have a daughter and she’s old enough and would feel safer walking home at night, then yes,” Zanikos said. “Concealed carry can alleviate that anxiety or fear.”