Who wants to weaponize the college campus?

A Civic Project story

Dakota E. Rossmiller, IUP criminology and English major, has a concealed-carry permit but chooses not to carry her firearm on campus. Photographed in Stapleton Library at Indiana University of Pennsylvania on April 25. Photo by Samantha Kahle.

By Samantha Kahle

INDIANA — Dakota E. Rossmiller, 22, a senior criminology and English major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, supports the Second Amendment, and she exercises that right with her own concealed-carry license. However, when it comes to carrying a concealed weapon on college campuses, she said she is an “iffy” advocate.

“I lean towards not supporting it,” Rossmiller said in an interview April 19 at Stapleton Library. “Certain people are responsible, but not enough people are.”

Rossmiller said she obtained her permit in Pittsburgh, but she doesn’t bring a firearm to IUP. She said the university’s party atmosphere is why she does not support guns on campus.

“Putting guns with drinking is a bad idea,” she said. “I think with IUP having a lot of partying, things could go wrong easily.”

Rossmiller said she is a responsible gun owner. But strong opinions others have about guns deter her from carrying.

“There’s too much conflict on college campuses,” she said. “I don’t want to pick a fight with anyone who’s against it.”

THAT CONFLICT HAS become a focus in national news after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14 left 17 people dead. The incident sparked the “Never Again” movement, led by student survivors of the Parkland shooting who are pushing for tighter regulations of firearms in the United States.

In response, many pro-gun groups, including the National Rifle Association, argue against gun control and advocate for measures such as arming teachers in high schools to enhance security.

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, said that “schools must be the most hardened targets” in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 22.

The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 made it legal to prohibit the possession of a firearm within K-12 school zones, which were defined as “sensitive places” in the U.S. Supreme Court opinion of the case District of Columbia v. Heller.

Some organizations, such as the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argue that higher education classrooms should also fall into the category of sensitive places, and that “guns can impede the candid discourse that is critical to the collegiate experience.”

Matthew R. Hassett, IUP criminology professor, conducted survey research at IUP and nation-wide regarding the concealed carry of firearms on college campuses. Photographed in his Wilson Hall office April 25. Photo by Samantha Kahle.

Matthew R. Hassett, criminology professor at IUP, conducted survey research at IUP and across the country on campus-carry for his May 2018 dissertation, “Attitudes Regarding the Concealed Carry of Firearms on University Campuses.” He said people who support campus-carry argue that colleges should not be defined as “sensitive places,” because students are adults.

The big push for concealed-carry at colleges came after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, but the idea is “continuing to evolve,” Hassett said in an interview at his Wilson Hall office April 13.

Since the Parkland shooting in February, many states across the nation are pushing for new gun policies on college campuses, according to a Feb. 22 article from the Student Affairs Administrators of Higher Education, or NASPA.

Most of the proposed policies in 2018 intend to remove restrictions on carrying concealed guns for students and teachers, the article said.

 

HOWEVER, John W. Lowery, chair of IUP’s Student Affairs in Higher Education Department, said states are considering more restrictions on firearms at college campuses, not fewer.

John W. Lowery, chair of the Student Affairs in Higher Education Department. Photographed in his Stouffer hall office April 25. Photo by Samantha Kahle.

“The momentum after the Parkland shooting was more in the direction of rolling back provisions than implementing new ones,” he said in an interview at his Stouffer Hall office April 12.

Pennsylvania is one of 23 states that allow each college or university to make its own policies regarding guns on campus, according to a 2017 article from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Kenn Marshall, media relations manager for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said PASSHE drafted a system-wide policy to prohibit weapons in PASSHE buildings in 2013 following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, but the policy was never fully developed.

“The long-standing practice of allowing the individual universities to design their own policies remains,” he wrote in an April 9 email.

 

IUP POLICIES on weapons, however, remain vague. While a firearms/weapons section in the residential housing agreement prohibits them from being carried in those buildings, IUP’s website does not provide a clear policy stating where guns can or cannot be carried.

The 2015 Annual Security Report provided by IUP University Police contains a clause within the student conduct policies section which prohibits “possession and/or use of any weapon, which is any object used to inflict a wound or cause injury. This includes but is not limited to: possession and/or use of firearms, ammunition, knives, swords, nun chucks, stun guns, BB guns, look‐alike weapons, or explosives, such as fireworks, unsecured compressed air cylinders, or dangerous chemicals, except as authorized for use in class, in connection with university‐sponsored research, or in another approved activity (provisions may be made to store firearms with the University Police).”

However, the 2017 report omits such a clause.

Kevin E. Thelen, chief of IUP University Police, did not respond to an April 19 email requesting clarification of the policy.

Michelle S. Fryling, executive director of communications and media relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Photographed in her Sutton Hall office on April 26. Photo by Samantha Kahle

Michelle S. Fryling, executive director of communications and media relations, said she is not aware of any change in the policy despite the omission of the weapons clause in the most recent annual security report.

“Students are prohibited from having any kind of weapons on campus,” Fryling said in an interview at her office April 26. “However, we do have to follow state laws.”

Pennsylvania state law allows any licensed owner to conceal-carry a loaded firearm on public property. As a public university, IUP’s campus is considered public property.

Faculty and staff are permitted to conceal-carry if they have a license, Fryling said.

 

AN UNSCIENTIFIC SURVEY of students was posted to Twitter and Facebook to collect data on student perceptions of gun policies and safety on IUP’s campus. Of 1,898 possible respondents, who either viewed the tweet or were part of the Facebook group within which the survey was posted, 55 students took the survey, a response rate of 2.9 percent.

A separate unscientific survey of faculty was emailed to 525 IUP faculty members. Of 525 possible respondents, who were identified in a 2017 faculty list from PASSHE, 93 took the survey, a response rate of 17.7 percent.

Two of 55 student respondents – 3.6 percent – said they carry a concealed handgun on IUP’s campus.

If 3.6 percent of the 12,316 students enrolled at IUP during the 2017 fall term carried firearms, then 444 students may have carried guns to class or elsewhere on campus.

Five of 93 faculty respondents said they carried a concealed firearm on campus, or 5.4 percent. Approximately 770 faculty members are currently employed at IUP, a number calculated from the 16:1 faculty-to-student ratio presented on IUP’s website.

If 5.4 percent of 770 faculty members carried weapons, then 42 faculty members may have been armed in classrooms or elsewhere on campus.

Meanwhile, violations of the campus weapons policy have increased over five years, according to IUP Annual Security and Fire Safety Reports. Between the years of 2012 and 2016, the number of referrals to University Police regarding firearms possession on-campus increased from one to 15.

Hassett, the IUP criminology professor, said that before implementing concealed carry policies on campuses, it’s important to know how the public feels.

“The majority of people weren’t in favor of adopting a concealed carry policy at their home institutions,” he said, referencing his doctoral research.

The unscientific student survey showed that there is divide between IUP students about carrying guns on campus.

— 29.1 percent of students said they would feel very safe on campus if students were permitted to carry concealed handguns; 36.4 percent said they would feel very unsafe.

— For the idea of faculty carrying concealed handguns on campus, 32.7 percent of students said they would feel very safe; 29.1 percent said they would feel very unsafe.

 

THE FACULTY SURVEY showed that a divide is not as prominent between faculty members.

Most faculty members — 65.6 percent — said they would feel very unsafe if students were permitted to carry concealed handguns on campus; 47.3 percent said they would also feel very unsafe if other faculty members were permitted to carry.

Hassett said his research showed that many faculty members, at IUP and nationwide, worry about how allowing concealed-carry would affect the integrity of higher education. They believe the knowledge that some students or professors may have guns can create a tense classroom atmosphere, he said.

Those who support campus-carry believe in deterrence, or the idea that someone having the intent to hurt others won’t do it where they know people carry guns, Hassett said. Campus-carry supporters also believe that return fire from a civilian could stop an active shooter situation, he said.

ABC News conducted an experiment in 2009 to test the effectiveness of return fire in the event of an active shooter. College students, ranging from novices to experienced gun users, were provided with basic firearms training and a gun (loaded with paint bullets), then were immersed in a realistic surprise active shooter scenario.

The experiment showed that civilians are not effective in helping during the event of an active shooter. Freezing from fear, slow reaction times and becoming a target were the main issues that related to civilian shooter response.

Most people are also ill-equipped to handle a gun, the ABC News article said.

A map shows states that do and do not require training to obtain a concealed carry permit. Graphic from The Trace, published April 17, 2017.

Only six states require some type of training before acquiring a concealed carry permit, according to a 2017 article from The Trace, a nonprofit news organization that provides coverage on guns in the United States. Pennsylvania is one of 26 states that does not require such training, the article said.

Lowery, department chair of IUP’s Department of Student Affairs in Higher Education, said most police agree on the ineffectiveness of return fire.

“I think it’s worth noting that, by and large, law enforcement on- and off-campus express real concern about this notion that someone with concealed carry can intervene in active-shooter situations,” Lowery said. “When police respond, they don’t want to have to decide between who’s the shooter and who’s the good Samaritan.”

Samantha Kahle, a sophomore journalism and public relations major, is from Clarion.

 

Sidebar: The local market for firearms training

Kelly Ann Pidgeon, owner and trainer at Armed and Feminine in Indiana, Pa. Photographed at The Artists Hand Gallery and Espresso Bar on Philadelphia Street on March 22. Photo by Samantha Kahle.

INDIANA — Kelly Ann Pidgeon, 51, noticed a demand five years ago among women in the Indiana area for resources on self-defense from fellow women. That’s why she started Armed and Feminine, a business with a “mission to educate, equip and empower women” through firearms training and self-defense education.

Only a few Indiana University of Pennsylvania students have taken her classes, she said. Same for faculty members.

But people who hold permits should have the right to carry their weapons anywhere on college campuses, including Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she said.

“Why can’t I protect my life everywhere?” Pidgeon said in an interview March 22 at a Philadelphia Street coffee bar.  “Responsible people are the ones who get hurt.”

Pidgeon cited the story of Amanda Collins, an activist for campus carry, as an example.

Collins was raped at gunpoint in 2007 during her senior year at University of Nevada – Reno in an on-campus parking garage. Although she had a concealed carry permit, Collins was not carrying her gun with her the night of her attack due to the university’s policies against concealed carry.

“The current law effectively legislated me into being a victim by stripping me of the equalizer I choose to defend my body and my life,” Collins wrote in an article for Help Me Help Her, an organization that educates self-defense strategie

However, studies on return fire, such as the one conducted in 2009 by ABC News, show that armed civilians are ineffective in stopping active shooters.

In an article for Charlotte Five, Army veteran Matt Martin reflects on how even trained military members can freeze up when facing gunfire.

“Regardless of training, you don’t know how people will respond in life and death situations until the moment comes,” Martin wrote in his Feb. 20 article. “You don’t know how people will react when they hear gunshots. You don’t know how people will react when the person next to them is shot. You don’t know how a person will respond when their task is shooting someone they know or taught. You just don’t know.”

Pidgeon said creating more laws and policies avoids the deeper issue of gun-related violence.

“We have more than enough laws in place,” Pidgeon said. “It comes down to enforcement of laws. You can put in a million laws, but evil will do what it wants.”

She attributed the ability for those with ill-intent to buy guns to a broken mental healthcare system. She said that mental health information is not always reported to background check systems, such as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System  and the Pennsylvania Instant Check System.

The gunman of the Virginia Tech shooting was able to buy a gun despite his disqualifying mental health record because his information was not transferred to the NICS system, according to an article from The Washington Examiner.

However, it “seems to be that states with stricter gun regulation have fewer firearms deaths — in some cases dramatically fewer — than those that don’t,” according to a 2018 article from CNBC.

Reflecting on data obtained from a project conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health, the article said that states with fewer gun regulations have rates of death by firearms that are four times higher than those in states where guns are highly regulated.

A graph which shows that overall, fewer firearms deaths occurred in 2016 in states with more gun laws. Pennsylvania (PA) lies on the regression line with just under 40 laws. Graphic obtained from Feb. 27 CNBC article. Click to enlarge.

However, researchers at Boston University note that a cause-and-effect relationship between tougher gun laws and fewer gun-related deaths cannot yet be determined, the article said.

Pidgeon said that there are steps that could be taken to ensure better safety through concealed carry.

“For concealed carry, I believe in training,” Pidgeon said. “A lot of states already require that, but Pennsylvania does not.”

Pennsylvania laws require only that an individual be 21 years old, pay a fee and undergo an instant background check, according to the Pennsylvania State Police website.

The fee for the permit is usually around $20, Pidgeon said.

“The more people learn and practice, the better we are protected,” Pidgeon said.

Armed and Feminine offers firearms training and safety seminars for women, men and children at the Indiana County Bow & Gun Club in Shelocta, Pa. Adult classes range in price from $135 to $159, and children’s courses are $99.

Firearms training in Indiana is also offered through Armed and Feminine’s partner, Six Star Tactical Training. Founded by former police officer Paul Haines, Six Star Tactical offers classroom and range training, ranging in price from $130 to $200.

 

Sidebar: The student survey

INDIANA — Two surveys, one for students and one for faculty, were conducted during April through SurveyMonkey.com to examine perceptions of gun policies and safety on Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s campus.

The link to a nine-question, unscientific student survey was posted to Twitter on April 6 and was shared by three IUP student groups on their Twitter pages.  These accounts were IUPPRSSA, IUPWomenGender and IUPngar, a link to a literary-arts magazine. The text of the tweet read, “Attention #IUP students! I am conducting a survey of student perceptions of guns and safety on campus for a news story on the same topic. If you would like to participate, please follow the link.”

The link was also posted on April 10 to the Facebook page IUP Class of 2021, which is open only to IUP students. The text of the post was copied verbatim from the text within the survey.

The Twitter post received 1,510 views, and the Facebook group has 388 members, making the total number of people to receive the survey 1,898. However, due to the unscientific nature of the survey, it cannot be determined that every viewer of the survey was an IUP student.

The survey closed on April 24.

Of 1,898 possible responses, 55 IUP students took the survey, a response rate of 2.9 percent.

Survey results:

— slightly more than half — 51 percent — of students said they are familiar with IUP’s weapons policy.

— 85.4 percent of students said they feel either very safe or somewhat safe.

— 29.1 percent of students said they would feel very safe if students were permitted to conceal-carry on campus, however 36.4 percent said they would feel very unsafe.

— 32.7 percent said they would feel very safe if faculty were permitted to carry, while 29.1 percent said they would feel very unsafe.

— In an active shooter situation, 52.7 percent of students said they would know what to do, and 76.4 percent expect faculty to know how to respond.

 

Following is the text of the survey:

My name is Samantha Kahle, and I am a sophomore journalism and public relations major at IUP. I am conducting a survey for a news story about gun policies and safety at IUP for publication in The HawkEye, an online newspaper published by journalism professor, David Loomis.

Individual survey responses will be anonymous. Aggregated anonymous responses to this survey will be used to analyze student perceptions of safety on campus following the Parkland, Fla. shooting in February.
If you would like to be interviewed for this article, please contact me at S.L.Kahle@iup.edu.

 

The questions:

  1. What year are you?
    1. Freshman
    2. Sophomore
    3. Junior
    4. Senior
  2. What gender do you identify as?
    1. Female
    2. Male
  3. Are you aware of IUP’s current policies regarding possession of guns on campus?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  4. How safe do you currently feel on campus?
    1. Very safe
    2. Somewhat safe
    3. Somewhat unsafe
    4. Very unsafe
  5. How safe would you feel if students were permitted to carry concealed handguns on campus?
    1. Very safe
    2. Somewhat safe
    3. Somewhat unsafe
    4. Very unsafe
  6. How safe would you feel if faculty/staff were permitted to carry concealed handguns anywhere on campus?
    1. Very safe
    2. Somewhat safe
    3. Somewhat unsafe
    4. Very unsafe
  7. Do you carry a concealed handgun on campus?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  8. Would you know what to do in the event of an active shooter on campus?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  9. Would you expect faculty to know what to do in the event of an active shooter on campus?
    1. Yes
    2. No

 

Sidebar: Faculty survey

INDIANA — A second opinion survey – of Indiana University of Pennsylvania faculty members – was conducted through SurveyMonkey.com to examine perceptions of gun policies and safety on campus.

The link to a nine-question, unscientific faculty survey was sent in an April 6 email by 525 Indiana University of Pennsylvania faculty members, whose email addresses were on a 2017 list provided by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The survey closed April 19.

Of 525 possible responses, 93 people took the survey, a response rate of 17.7 percent.

 

Survey responses included:

— 61.3 percent of faculty said they are familiar with IUP’s weapons policy.

— 5.4 percent said they carry a concealed handgun on campus.

— 79.6 percent said they currently feel very safe or somewhat safe on campus.

— 65.6 percent of faculty said they would feel very unsafe if students were permitted to carry concealed weapons on campus; 47.3 percent said they would feel unsafe if faculty were permitted to carry.

— In the event of an active shooter on campus, 68.1 percent of faculty said they would know how to respond, but only 21.5 percent expect students to know what to do.

 

Following is the text of the survey:

My name is Samantha Kahle, and I am a sophomore journalism and public relations major at IUP. I am conducting a survey for a news story about gun policies and safety at IUP for publication in The HawkEye, an online newspaper published by journalism professor, David Loomis.

Individual survey responses will be anonymous. Aggregated anonymous responses to this survey will be used to analyze faculty/staff perceptions of safety on campus following the Parkland, Fla. shooting in February.

If you would like to be interviewed for this article, please contact me at S.L.Kahle@iup.edu.

 

The questions:

  1. What is your age?
    1. >30
    2. 30-39
    3. 40-49
    4. 50-59
    5. 60+
  2. What gender do you identify as?
    1. Female
    2. Male
  3. Are you aware of IUP’s current policies regarding possession of guns on campus?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  4. How safe do you currently feel on campus?
    1. Very safe
    2. Somewhat safe
    3. Somewhat unsafe
    4. Very unsafe
  5. How safe would you feel if students were permitted to carry concealed handguns on campus?
    1. Very safe
    2. Somewhat safe
    3. Somewhat unsafe
    4. Very unsafe
  6. How safe would you feel if faculty/staff were permitted to carry concealed handguns anywhere on campus?
    1. Very safe
    2. Somewhat safe
    3. Somewhat unsafe
    4. Very unsafe
  7. Do you carry a concealed handgun on campus?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  8. Would you know what to do in the event of an active shooter on campus?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  9. Would you expect students to know what to do in the event of an active shooter on campus?
    1. Yes
    2. No

 

Sidebar: For more information or to get involved

For more information or to get involved in the issue of firearms on campus, contact the following sources:

Kevin E. Thelen
Chief
University Police
University Towers 850 Maple St.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: (724) 357-3201
Fax: (724) 357-2104
Email: kthelen@iup.edu
Web: https://www.iup.edu/police/

Michelle S. Fryling
Executive director
Office of Communications and Marketing
Sutton Hall, Room 314
1011 South Drive
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: (724) 357-3062
Fax: (724) 357-7993
Email: michelle.fryling@iup.edu

Matthew R. Hassett
Adjunct professor
Criminology and Criminal Justice Department
Wilson Hall, Room 110
411 North Walk
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: (724) 357-2720
Fax: (724) 357-4018
Email: m.r.hassett@iup.edu

John W. Lowery
Department chair
Department of Student Affairs in Higher Education
Stouffer Hall, Room 226
1175 Maple Street
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Phone: (724) 357-4535, (724) 357-1251
Fax: (724) 357-7821
Email: john.lowery@iup.edu

Kenn Marshall
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
Public Affairs
2986 N. 2nd St.
Harrisburg, Pa. 17110
Phone: (717) 720-4054
Email: kmarshall@passhe.edu

 

 

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