Paul Jenkins: Guns on campus? Constitution protects what regents would take away

Paul Jenkins

In the early 1990s, as Alaskans were fighting for their Second Amendment rights to carry concealed weapons -- that pesky "bear arms" part the left never wants to talk about -- there was bitter opposition from the usual suspects. Our betters stridently warned of impending mayhem.

You morons will shoot yer eyes out, they said. You are untrained, they said, and untrustworthy and violent. They predicted gunfights after fender-benders, people shooting each other over parking places, and outright slaughter. "High Noon" at the grocery store. "3:10 to Yuma" at the dry cleaners.

The state Department of Public Safety shamelessly cobbled together a tortured white paper on the original concealed-carry legislation, then-Rep. Jeanette James' House Bill 351. It was titled, "To Conceal or Not to Conceal, That is the Question." I am not kidding. It was nifty propaganda, the goofy, anti-gun equivalent of "Reefer Madness."

In state after state, as Second Amendment battles raged over concealed carry, anti-gun zealots trotted out their spaghetti western view of the world. In it, the one thing all law-abiding Americans crave is an opportunity to shoot somebody with a concealed weapon. But in state after state - as in Alaska - none of that happened. Public Safety officials later admitted there were no problems - here or anywhere else. It must have been a bitter pill.

What nobody opposing concealed carry wanted to talk about then was the Constitution. Nothing has changed. The debate continues. This time it is about concealed carry on University of Alaska property, prohibited now by a board of regents' edict. Unsurprisingly, opponents of concealed carry on-campus still do not want to talk about the Constitution.

A gutsy, bright University of Alaska Anchorage political science student, Hans Rodvik, now an intern with Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, wondered about that; wondered about the policy adopted in 1995 that contradicts the rights to bear arms and privacy explicitly acknowledged and protected by the state constitution. Senate Bill 176 was drafted, with Coghill as the sponsor, to bring the university into constitutional compliance. It is making its way through the Legislature to the utter dismay of the university and gun rights opponents.

The measure would restrict regents to adopting and enforcing policies "identical to state law..." and retain to the Legislature the authority to regulate firearms and knives, as it should.

The measure, Coghill says in a recent op-ed piece, "would synch University of Alaska policy to the reality already 'on the ground.' " He believes, as UAF Police Chief Sean McGee also suggested in a recent news story, that there are more guns already on campuses than anybody suspects, but they simply are not being used in crimes.

Coghill argues the Alaska Supreme Court has held that to restrict the rights to bear arms and privacy, the state's action "can only survive review if it advances a compelling state interest using the least restrictive means of achieving that interest." He agrees there is a compelling interest, but banning concealed carry is not the least restrictive means to advance that interest.

University of Alaska President Pat Gamble is unhappy with the measure. He told the Legislature it is unacceptable. He says the regents are happy with the current policy, which allows firearms on campus if they are locked in vehicles. He says students are threatening to leave if the current policy is changed; that he is unsure the campuses will be safer with concealed carry.

When did the university become a sovereign state? Where is it written that law-abiding Alaskans who are 21 years old, and who can legally own a gun and carry concealed in Alaska, must surrender their constitutional rights to ensure the happiness of the regents or Gamble? The bad news for the university is that its campuses are not among the places where the law bars concealed carry -- and the regents, thankfully, are not the Legislature.

The true debate, as always, is not about guns. It is about control. Those who HL. Mencken disdained as "uplifters" need to believe they control their environment, even though nothing could be further from the truth, and they refuse to acknowledge the obvious: Good people do good things; evil people do evil things, and no law, prohibition or restriction will change any of that. In the end, we all are responsible for ourselves.

Lucky for us, we have the Constitution to protect us from our protectors.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the