Judiciary Committee hears testimony on campus gun bill

Lisa Demer

JUNEAU -- A National Rifle Association lobbyist and other gun rights activists urged a state Senate committee Wednesday to back a bill that would allow people to carry guns on campus, arguing that it would make college safer.

University of Alaska now requires guns to be kept in locked vehicles on its 16 campuses or, for dorm residents, stored in locked areas. UA President Pat Gamble on Monday told the committee the system works well and warned of problems with the legislation filed by Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Coghill, heard plenty from those who support Senate Bill 176 and disagree with the university's approach, including students, a professor and gun rights advocates. No one testified against the bill but the Anchorage NAACP in a written statement called it "radical" and "legislative extremism."

Brian Judy, an NRA lobbyist and the group's liaison to Alaska, told senators the university rule creates an unjustified, arbitrary boundary around its campuses.

"If a person is trusted to own and carry firearms for self defense outside college campuses, why should a person be disarmed and defenseless when he or she crosses the boundary and enters a college campus?" Judy said.

Terrible mass shootings happen on school and college grounds in part because they are designated "gun-free zones," he said.

Arguments that only trained law enforcement should respond to shooters fall short in a crisis "when seconds count and police are just minutes away," Judy said.

Gun owners would act the same on campus as they do off campus, he said. Most don't wear rifles slung over their shoulders in public now, and they wouldn't do that in the classroom, Judy said. Gamble had warned that would be allowed under the bill and would hurt the academic atmosphere.

"The responsible way to carry a firearm for self-protection is in a holster, concealed," Judy said. The bill as written doesn't require that.

Gamble had asserted that under the bill, universities couldn't even go after people who were armed and drunk. But Judy said that's already a crime. Gamble said later that it would be challenging to tell if someone was drunk and that university police rely on city police or troopers to enforce criminal laws.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, asked about the experience of Utah, where firearms are allowed on campus.

Judy said Utah has had no problems with campus gun violence after about 10 years.

Matthew Carberry, who described himself as a lifelong University of Alaska Anchorage student, told senators that several years ago, a UAA open holster protest ended with participants being escorted off campus. He said he contemplated suing but let too much time lapse.

Support also came from Michael Buckland, a UAA tenured professor, who said he didn't feel threatened by law-abiding Alaskans carrying weapons.

After the hearing, Gamble handed Coghill what he said was his only copy of the university system's legal analysis of the issue. Coghill said he needed to read it before sharing it publicly.

Gamble said the measure would create liability for the university system especially with regard to school-age children on campuses.

Coghill said his committee will continue to hear testimony, probably Monday, on the gun bill.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 952-3965.

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