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In the United States, citizens have the constitutional right to armed defense. However, the limits of that right vary greatly from state to state, city to city and even campus to campus.
Some sexual assault victims have been outspoken in recent years about the fact that if they had been allowed to carry a weapon at their college or university, they might have been able to prevent their attacks. In the decade since it happened, some survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 have argued that if students or faculty were allowed to carry firearms they could have stopped the shooter and saved lives.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in the decade since the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, a number of states have passed legislation allowing carry-conceal on campus. “Because of recent state legislation and court rulings, 10 states now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses,” notes NCSL.org. “These states are Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.”
Activist Ethan Pritchard of Students For Liberty wants to add the University of Maryland to that growing list. The SFL chapter president doesn’t understand why his university penalizes students for possessing means of self-defense, including not just firearms but weapons like knives and pepper spray.
“Owning a Taser, owning a can of mace, these are all victimless crimes,” said Pritchard in an interview last year. “Using it, especially if you’re the aggressor, that’s not okay. We try to divorce the idea that just because something is legal means that it’s moral to use.”
“I just remember learning a lot that day,” Pritchard told Rare. “Any time we had an outing where we would talk to random people about their views, we would come out of it with a completely new perspective.”
“Some people were surprised that Mace wasn’t allowed because they were carrying it on them at the time. One even said that all four (guns, knives, mace and Tasers) should not be allowed on campus, even though she had a knife and Mace on her. Most of the positive feedback came from girls; one quote I remember being, “My mom taught me that a gun is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter how big you are, if you have a gun, it levels the playing field.”
Pritchard and SFL along with Young Americans for Liberty have created an increased libertarian presence at their university, and the push to allow students to defend themselves has appealed to a broad cross section of students beyond liberty or pro-Second Amendment circles.
But it’s also an uphill battle.
Though more states and schools than ever are allowing this practice, Newsweek reported in April, “Even as Republican lawmakers in Washington and across the country attempt to lift gun restrictions, a new study has found that two-thirds of Americans, including many gun owners and veterans, support restrictions on the public places where legal owners can carry their firearms.”
“Researchers who conducted the web-based study, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, found that fewer than one in three respondents supported allowing guns to be carried on college campuses, in government buildings and at schools, bars, places of worship and other specified public places,” Newsweek noted.
A majority of campus leaders at various levels also oppose allowing to students to carry firearms on school grounds.
This is what makes education on this issue, like that promoted by Pritchard and Students For Liberty, so important. Back in 2015, a Gallup poll showed that a majority of Americans believed that allowing carry-conceal would make the country safer.
So just two years prior, more Americans were more comfortable with this policy than they are today. That means someone is winning the messaging war, and let’s face it, the anti-gun forces in media, leadership positions and certainly on campus far outweigh those who would like to see a broader interpretation of the Second Amendment by which students could better defend themselves.
Pritchard and other Students For Liberty continue to wage this battle on America’s campuses in what can often be a hostile environment, but that’s nothing compared to what student assault victims will have to go through if left defenseless by harmful school policies.