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University's gun restrictions are fair

  • Author: Mark Hamilton
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published May 6, 2010

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has a gun policy for our campuses that doesn't violate the Second Amendment and doesn't break state law.

I served 30 years in the Army, retired as a major general and had my share of military-issued weapons. In addition to that, I'm an avid hunter. I own firearms and like them. But I also know something about college campuses.

Let me clear up a few misconceptions. No. 1: Guns aren't banned on our campuses. Dorm residents may indeed have firearms on campus, but they must use secure storage, which is provided to them. Most people who've ever walked onto a floor of a dormitory know what crazy places these can be, considering the communal nature of campus life, open doors, friends in and out of rooms, plus the fact that many residents are under 21 and some even under 18.

Misconception No. 2: Visitors to campus may have guns, so long as they are kept in a locked vehicle while on campus. A person who carries, open or concealed, need not run home to stash their gun before driving onto one of our campuses to attend class, a concert, play or other event.

State law gives the Board of Regents authority to govern its premises. The board has chosen to adopt reasonable firearms restrictions because our university campuses are complex, with many of the features of places in which firearms are outright illegal.

Take K-12 schools, where Alaska law bans guns outright. We have K-12 students on our campuses all the time, taking advance placement courses, dual credit, tech-prep, attending bridging or skill-building programs, attending I'm Going to College events, field trips and many other activities such as music, science and sports camps.

How about day care centers? State law bans guns in day care centers. We have two day care centers on our campuses -- one in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks.

State law bans guns in places where liquor is served. Students over 21 consume liquor in their dorms and on-campus apartments, and consumption by minors is, unfortunately, an ongoing challenge. The Fairbanks campus has an on- campus pub, a tradition started many years ago. College campuses across the nation battle underage drinking and other risky behaviors, and the University of Alaska is no exception. Guns and alcohol, first-time freedom and decision-making skills that haven't yet matured don't mix.

State law bans guns in court system facilities. We don't have courthouses at our campuses, but we frequently adjudicate serious issues related to student code of conduct and employee matters, including faculty tenure review. These situations can be pressure cookers, similar to judicial proceedings that affect lives.

It's ridiculous to say the Board of Regents can't regulate its own premises. You can't get arrested for cheating on a final exam under Alaska law, but you sure would face sanctions under Regents' policy.

Some argue that armed students or staff could save lives in a Virginia Tech-type massacre. Law enforcement professionals generally don't support this argument. The level of training required to use deadly force against another person is intense. I know this from personal experience.

Let's face it -- focusing on the unlikely event that the weapon you carry will save dozens of people from a mass murderer is like carrying a chain saw and shovel every day to work, just in case there's an earthquake. You're more likely to smash a toe or hurt a co-worker; the benefit is not worth the risk.

Mark Hamilton has served the past 12 years as president of the University of Alaska system, which has 15 campuses from Ketchikan to Kotzebue.