Our view: Allowing concealed carry at KY college endangers, silences students

Will Groves, Opinion Editor

Murray State has been praised by Safewise as one of the safest colleges in the United States, but a new bill presented by the Kentucky legislature jeopardizes that title.

   House Bill 542, introduced by Kentucky Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge on Feb. 22, would remove the ability of college campuses to create gun-free zones and would allow anyone over the age of 21 to have a concealed carry firearm on a college campus.

   Maddox originally wrote the bill about workforce development, but it swiftly changed when it came time for debate. An amendment made by Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville, morphed the purpose of the bill into a dangerous expansion of the Second Amendment. 

   The authors cited the Michigan State and Virginia Tech mass shootings as reasons for passing the bill.

   “I think that Virginia Tech and Michigan State both provide a perfect example of how it is that law-abiding citizens have been prevented from defending themselves,” said Maddox in an interview with Spectrum News.

   Campus police officers are already armed and trained in protecting college students. Safety should be in the hands of professionally trained campus resource officers, not a group of 21-year-olds who just got permission to keep their guns.

   We at The News do not agree with the flawed reasoning of HB 542. The answer to gun violence is not to flood our college campuses with more guns. 

   This bill was actually used as a shell bill to further the real goal of expanding the rights of gun owners in Kentucky. Shell bills are bills that sound good at first glance, but as soon as the bill is debated in the chambers, the title and body paragraphs are amended to something completely different. Legislators do this to push controversial legislature through with little time for debate or opposition to the bill.

   Gun legislation is the type of legislation that should be carefully reviewed, not rushed through in a selfish attempt to expand Kentuckians’ Second Amendment rights.

  Maddox has since removed HB 542 from the Kentucky House docket because of an executive order made by President Joe Biden regarding mass shootings and the dangers of gun violence. Biden, via executive order, is now recommending background checks for gun owners and exploring the options and benefits of enacting red flag laws. Red flag laws temporarily restrict a person from owning or purchasing a firearm if they are at risk of harming themselves or harming others. 

   This bill has been universally condemned by presidents of Kentucky universities and campus police officers alike. The University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University and Northern Kentucky University have made statements against the bill with worries about the presence of guns endangering the safety of its students. Murray State did not make a statement.

   President of the KentuckyCouncil on Postsecondary Education Aaron Thompson has also spoken out against HB 542. Thompson warned an increased presence of guns on college campuses will lead to increased levels of self-harm among students and the severity of violent acts. We at The News share the same worries. 

   Only 11 states have lifted restrictions placed by college campuses, allowing people over the age of 21 to have a concealed carry firearm. The idea of concealed carry on college campuses is not consistent with the opinions of college presidents and campus police. Opposition to this bill should be bipartisan to protect our college students and this should be obvious to Kentucky’s legislators. 

   Concealed carry for college students also poses a threat to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. The presence of a gun and a state having more lax gun restrictions are more likely to restrict free speech, having a chilling effect on the expression of freedom of speech, according to research conducted by the ACLU. People are less likely to be open with their opinions if they know someone in the crowd who disagrees with them could be carrying a gun and could harm them. 

   HB 542 sets a dangerous precedent for the safety of our college campuses. Our lawmakers should care more about protecting our students from gun violence than carelessly expanding the rights of gun owners. 

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