By Rachael Parker
Sam Gupta, 22, of Pittsburgh, runs errands like other recent college graduates living in the city. He pumps gas, buys groceries and gets his hair cut. The only difference: He takes his gun with him.
Gupta, who earned a degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh in December 2009, is the former Pennsylvania state coordinator for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus and former president of Pitt’s SCCC chapter. He and SCCC members are working to change current policy statewide and nationwide so college students can carry concealed weapons to class at public universities, including Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is a national group that claims more than 42,000 members who lobby to allow permitted gun owners to carry weapons to class on campuses, according to the SCCC web site. Formed by a University of North Texas political science major in the wake of the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech shootings, the group boasts more than 350 established chapters on college campuses in all 50 states.
More than 20 universities in Pennsylvania have SCCC groups, including Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Slippery Rock University — and IUP.
Pitt’s SCCC chapter includes 80 students — 10 to 20 of whom actively participate in events, Gupta said in a Feb. 25 e-mail interview. The national group’s goals include lobbying state legislatures allow handgun-permit holders to carry concealed weapons to classes at public institutions.
Adam T. Norris, 25, of Delmont, graduated from IUP in May 2009 with a degree in communications media. He said he is still the president of IUP’s chapter of SCCC. It has around 50 members, although the organization has gone dormant, Norris said in a May 25 telephone interview.
Norris said school schootings inspired him to become involved in the group as it formed at IUP in May 2007.
“After the Virginia Tech shooting, I became outraged,” Norris said in a March 1 telephone interview. “If someone can just walk into a classroom and spray bullets at innocent people, someone needs to stand up.”
Students should be permitted to carry concealed firearms on campus because those with a permit to carry a firearm can do so in most anywhere in the state except federal buildings, courthouses, prisons, mental facilities, casinos and the like, Gupta said.
“It could change the odds in case of a campus shooting,” he added.
“I don’t think the police can respond fast enough,” he said. “If I am there directly in the event, I have the best chance of taking down the target.”
IUP student Ben Bolinger supported concealed carry at IUP in an April 20, 2007, op-ed piece in the campus newspaper The Penn titled “Gun ban raises risk.” The piece was published four days after the Virginia Tech incident.
“What we have is an arbitrary area that is designated as ‘gun-free,'” Bolinger wrote. “There is no wall or fence, X-ray machines, security or metal detectors — no way to keep people from carrying in a weapon. There is no magic that makes guns disappear as you cross the invisible line that demarcates the campus. The only thing that prevents it is respect for the law. This means that the only people carrying firearms on a college campus are those who do not care about the law and, potentially, are set on harming others.”
An IUP student announced plans for students to obtain firearms permits at a Student Government Association “Speak Up, IUP!” event held in the HUB Delaware Room on Oct. 9, 2006. The event was held to discuss IUP campus police obtaining firearms, which they did in January 2007.
At the public hearing, October Surprise, a senior sociology major formerly named Cole Hood, read a letter on behalf of Students for a Democratic Society and Indiana Voices for Peace. The letter stated that the groups would contact the National Rifle Association and national media and begin a campaign for students to secure permits.
Surprise said he could not disclose the groups’ end results concerning the campaign. He also said that SDS and VFP have a different set of goals than SCCC.
“Our proposal was about direct action, not about gun rights,” Surprise said in an April 23 e-mail interview.
Campus Police Chief Bill Montgomery said in a May 7 telephone interview that no students have contacted him in an effort to change the student weapons policy.
IUP firearms policy
Student Behavior Regulation No. 12 issued by the IUP Office of Student Conduct prohibits the “possession and/or use of any weapon, which is any object used to inflict a wound or cause injury,” according to the 2009-2010 student policy guide, The Source. These weapons include firearms, ammunition, knives, BB guns and look-alike weapons.
Though no weapons are allowed on campus property — including in vehicles parked on campus property — students may check a weapon, with permission, at the campus police station.
The police station regularly stores firearms for IUP’s ROTC, rifle club and Criminal Justice Training Center. The majority of other weapons kept at the station are hunting rifles and bows students check out once or twice a week during hunting season Montgomery said in a May 7 e-mail interview.
“Once in a while, we may have one or two firearms that are stored for people who use them for target practice off campus,” Montgomery added.
IUP has not experienced any recent shootings, save one incident in September 2008 when two men in a moving vehicle fired shots into the air outside the now-demolished Scranton Hall, according to an article in the Sept. 8, 2008, issue of The Penn. Neither man was an IUP student, and no one was injured. Both men were arrested and charged with reckless endangerment.
Gupta said low crime statistics shouldn’t convince students that a handgun isn’t necessary on college campuses.
“It’s better to have it and not need it than to not have it and need it,” he said. “Just because an area is safe is no reason to get complacent and think nothing bad could happen there.”
Shootings aren’t the only threats that that students need to worry about, Gupta said, citing his own Pittsburgh neighborhood.
“Campus robberies — including armed ones — are not that uncommon in the Oakland area,” Gupta said. “It’s a further deterrent.”
Norris can attest to that. He was robbed at gunpoint in March 2005 in the parking lot of the Carriage House Apartments in Indiana while visiting a friend, he said. Unarmed, Norris handed over his wallet.
“I was very cooperative,” he said. “But had I had my pistol on me, that would have been a different story. My life was in danger, so I would have drawn and fired.”
Norris said he did not report the incident to police.
While nothing indicates that the rules at IUP will change anytime soon, Gupta said universities will allow concealed carry eventually.
“I think it will take at least three years for this idea to be the norm in Pennsylvania,” he said.”Very few states issued permits before the 1990s. Now most states are shall-issue states. It’s just a matter of time before it becomes the norm. But I think it’ll take at least a decade for it to be nationwide.”
Some students, however, aren’t willing to wait. Gupta said he believes students already carry concealed firearms on campuses.
“I wouldn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s college career by saying I know someone who does carry on campus,” he said.
Norris, however, said he doubts that students carry firearms to class at IUP.
“If they did, that’s wrong,” he said. “That’s a violation of state law.”
Though Norris and Gupta said they hope students support their shared goal of allowing concealed carry on college campuses, some students are wary of the idea.
“The privilege would be abused by those not trained or experienced enough to understand how and when to use a gun,” said senior English major Jacqueline D. Trump, 21, of Allentown, in a March 4 interview at IUP’s Hadley Union Building. “It would cause more panic than calm.”
Norris said this problem concern could be eased by placing more restrictions on who can carry on campus. Not every permit-holder could carry a concealed weapon – only those the university deemed appropriate.
“We do not want our group to be represented by a bunch of gun-toting, Wild-West gunslingers stuffing a large-caliber pistol down their jeans and walking around as being invincible,” he said.
Campus police opposition
Police Chief Montgomery said he does not support concealed carry on campus for several reasons. He said campus police can respond to a situation at IUP within minutes, and voiced concern that if students could legally carry weapons, officers may not identify threats as easily.
“If our police responded to the scene and saw a person lying on the ground with a student overtop of them with a gun, the police officer responding would have no idea if that student was the bad person or the good person,” he said. “There could certainly be a tragic mistake involving an innocent student.”
Gaining student and faculty support is difficult, Norris said, because people generally are “not too keen to the idea” of gun-toting students. He’s hoping more publicity for SCCC might help change their minds.
“I’m an avid outdoorsman,” he said. “I own 12 pistols, four rifles, six shotguns and four semi-automatic assault rifles. Some may consider me extreme, but I consider myself a quite normal person. I do not carry a pistol with me everywhere I go — only places where I feel like my life could potentially succumb to threat. A college campus was that place for me.”
Rachael Parker is a senior journalism major from New Stanton.
Sidebar: Colorado court overturns concealed-weapons ban at campuses
On May 13, the Associated Press reported that administrators of Colorado’s community college system repealed a policy banning concealed weapons on campuses. The decision was a response to an April 15 court ruling against a similar ban on University of Colorado campuses.
The story added that Colorado State University decided May 5 to rescind a proposed ban on concealed weapons.
Universities have until June 1 to appeal the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, the AP reported.
In more than a dozen states, firearms advocates have introduced legislation to prohibit college officials from enforcing rules that prohibit guns in college campus dormitories and classrooms, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a non-profit group that favors restrictions on guns. But only one state — Utah — bars college administrators and security professionals from regulating firearms on campus, the Brady campaign reports on its Web site.
Sidebar: Firearms permitting in Indiana County
Applicants for a License to Carry Firearms in Indiana County can fill out a form at the county sheriff’s office at 825 Philadelphia St. in Indiana. Permits are issued Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Applicants must be Indiana County residents at least 21 years old, appear in person and provide two references. References must be at least 21, have lived in Indiana County for at least three years and may not live with or be related to the applicant.
Permits will be mailed within 45 days and are valid for five years, according to the county’s web site.
For more information, contact Indiana County Sheriff Robert E. Fyock’s office at 724-465-3930.
Because Pennsylvania is a “shall-issue” state, anyone requesting a LTCF permit will be granted one within 45 days unless disqualified by the law, according to the Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association web site. Minors, convicted felons, domestic abusers and other criminals are not eligible for a LTCF permit, the sites says.
According to state law, carrying a firearm without such a permit is a third-degree felony.
Sidebar: Firearm deaths — statistics
Firearms are a leading cause of death for Americans ages 15-24, second only to “unintentional injuries” such as car crashes, falls and drowning, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, an offshoot of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Since 1960, firearms have caused the deaths of more than 1 million Americans, either by suicide, homicide or accident. An additional 90,000 people in America are treated for non-fatal injuries involving firearms each year.
The number of firearm-related deaths went up from 16,720 in 1962 to 38,505 in 1994, an increase of 138 percent, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, another subdivision of the CDC.
In 2005, firearms remained the second leading cause of death among American young people 20-24 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control . Firearms accounted for 27 percent of all injury deaths, down from 31 percent in 1999.
Sidebar: For more information
For more information on this story, contact the following sources:
William P. Montgomery
111 University Towers
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: (724) 357-3201
Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association
P.O. Box 40864
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Web site: http://www.pafoa.org