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UAA students rally for right to carry guns on campus

Julia O'Malley
George Hines, a UAA student and representative of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, helped organize a protest of UAA's policy against carrying a gun on campus.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
About 15 people gathered at Lake Otis Parkway and 36th Avenue on Thursday, April 23, 2009, to protest UAA's no-gun policy on campus.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News

George Hines, a UAA student in his 40s, gets nervous sitting in class without his .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

"I don't ever want to be in a small room unprotected," he explains, "when I know there are people in this country that have proven time and time again that they want to cause damage and hurt people."

None of the University of Alaska schools allow people to carry weapons on campus. School is one of the only places Hines goes unarmed, but he thinks everyone would be safer if more people were carrying guns.

That's why he organized a protest Thursday at the corner of Lake Otis and 36th, for the UAA chapter of his newly minted gun rights group, a chapter of the national "Students for Concealed Carry on Campus." Around noon, about 15 people showed up with signs, garnering honks from passing cars. About half of them were students.

"We don't have bullet-proof desks!" one sign read.

"The right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," read another, pinned to the jacket of a four-legged boxer named "Gunner."

"Second amendment, void where prohibited," read a third, held by a 2-year-old in a stroller.

To drive his point home to people who disagree, Hines usually describes an imaginary Virginia Tech-type scenario: You're in a classroom with two doors in the back. Someone starts shooting from the front. Police can't get there for several minutes at least. But with a concealed weapon, a student in class could mortally wound the shooter in a matter of seconds.

"It's insurance," he said

Unlike a lot of states, Alaskans older than 21 may carry a concealed weapon most places without a concealed carry permit. But in the mid-'90s the university board of regents made a policy against guns on campus. Students who own guns and live on campus can turn their weapons over to campus police, where they are kept in a safe.

"I'm sure it was a safety issue," said Kate Ripley, UA spokeswoman.

No one has challenged the policy before now, she said.

"If there were students and citizens interested in having our board policy changed, the most effective thing to do is come to a meeting and make their case."

She's heard that one of the issues with having guns on campus is confusion for emergency responders, she said.

"The problem with everyone packing their own heat is it makes it difficult for campus law enforcement to tell the difference between the good guy and the bad guy," she said.

In the scenario Hines describes, the bad guy will be dead by the time police arrive.

"As soon as the situation comes to a terminal end, you (the person shooting the shooter) will holster your weapon," he said

Hines, an Army veteran and journalism major who had a career as an HVAC installer, never protested in his life until this month, when he participated in the local "tea party" against government bailouts and intrusive government, he said. That's part of what inspired him to organize Thursday's protest.

A month old, Hines' organization has about 30 members. They plan to make a presentation to the regents soon, Hines said.

Joe Rocha, 29, a chemical engineering major, stood on the corner with his sign, smiling into the blaring horns.

"In cities more than rural areas you got a lot of people who are going to take advantage of you," he said, explaining why he carries a .380 semi-automatic pistol when he's not on campus. He agreed to head up the UAA part of Hines' statewide group.

"The people who bring them to campus are the ones who don't abide by the law," he said. "Why should they (bother) about a little sticker that says, "gun-free area?"

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