FAIRBANKS -- In a column published under his name defending a bill to allow guns in University of Alaska dorms, Sen. John Coghill suggested that the murder of a young woman 21 years ago might have been prevented had his gun policy been in effect.
And then Coghill, or a staff member writing on his behalf, had the nerve to conclude his piece by taking issue with opponents of his gun bill: "Emotional arguments, fantasy scenarios and 'scare tactics' should not satisfy the public seeking answers from the university."
Coghill wrote: "Sophie Sergie was murdered in Bartlett Hall on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in 1993. She died via gunshot (evidence that the university’s 'no gun policy' doesn’t work). Would the scenario have been different if Ms. Sergie qualified for lawful concealed carry?"
Coghill will claim that he did not argue that Sergie could have been saved because he posed it as a question, not as a pronouncement. But despite the punctuation mark, this qualifies as the sort of fantasy scenario that Coghill claims to abhor. None of us can say exactly how the 1993 tragedy could have been prevented. It is possible that had she been carrying a gun, she could have saved herself. It is also possible that promoting guns in dorms as an official state policy could lead to accidental shootings.
Investigators never determined the exact circumstances of Sergie's death, only that she was assaulted and shot in Bartlett Hall. She was found in a second-story bathroom. She may have been killed elsewhere in the dorm, investigators said. The unsolved crime remains a black mark on the justice system in Alaska and a low point in the history of the University of Alaska.
Sergie, a bright young woman from Pitkas Point, had attended UAF from 1990 to 1992 and was taking a semester off. Sergie had braces installed the previous December and was working in St. Mary’s to pay off her bills. She was in Fairbanks for a checkup and to take care of some course work, staying with a friend at Bartlett Hall. We will never know might have happened had she been armed.
What we know is that under the terms of Coghill's gun bill, Sergie would not have been eligible to carry a gun in the dorm that night. Coghill's plan would restrict the carrying of concealed weapons to those 21 and older. Sergie was 20. She was not a dorm resident, and she was only in Fairbanks for a short visit. The Coghill plan would require that anyone with a concealed weapon meet three criteria to be in compliance with the law:
• Be a concealed handgun permit holder;
• Provide proof of the permit to a designated university employee; and
• Store the handgun in a lock box when the handgun is not concealed and directly controlled by the owner.
The legislative push behind this bill is in step with the philosophy of the National Rifle Association, whose president recently explained the value of guns to the Conservative Political Action Conference this way: "We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all."
As always, problems face the University of Alaska -- financing problems, academic problems, staffing problems. A shortage of guns in dorms is not among the problems. Still, Coghill has opted to spend his time on emotional arguments, fantasy scenarios and scare tactics -- letting the real issues languish.