Most students carry book bags and laptops to class. Weston Zentner, a 23-year-old senior in business administration at the University of Utah, also takes along a loaded Springfield .45 compact, carefully tucked into a concealed belt holster. "Our campus is pretty safe," he says, "but you never know what's going to happen. I always feel safer when I'm armed." (Article continued below...)
While most campuses are gun-free, in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois shootings in recent years some students are demanding the right to carry concealed weapons. So far, only a handful of schools in Utah and Colorado allow students to carry firearms, but in more than a dozen states, advocates are pushing for laws compelling schools to allow students with state-issued permits to wear guns. "These students are able to carry everywhere else they go, so why not on campus?" asks Katie Kasprzak, a director of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, an advocacy group that claims more than 30,000 members. "They have a right to defend themselves in the event of an attack." The group has attracted much publicity, including a 2008 protest in which thousands of students across the country wore empty holsters to class to symbolize their "defenselessness."
Not all students like the idea of classmates' packing heat. Megan Meadows, a senior at Virginia Tech who lost her best friend in the 2007 shooting, says she's glad nobody in her class had a gun on the day of the tragedy. "I was in a classroom that day, and everyone's nerves were high," she says. "Someone would have gotten hurt." Meadows, a theater and communications major, says she'd refuse to attend a school that included armed students.
Campus-safety officials echo Meadows's concerns, saying they'd rather deal with a single shooter than a full-blown gun battle. "There's no credible evidence to suggest allowing students to carry concealed weapons makes campuses safer," says Christopher Blake, a director at the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. "We're very much opposed to these initiatives." Gun-control advocates also point to research suggesting student gun owners are more likely to binge-drink and use illegal drugs. "It's a recipe for disaster," says Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "The more guns you bring on to campus, the more gun violence you're going to have."
So far, vocal opposition from university officials has kept the concealed-carry move-ment from gaining legislative traction in several states, though campaigns remain underway across the country. "We're going to keep bringing this up until it passes," says Judson Gwaltney, an engineering senior who heads Louisiana State's Concealed Carry on Campus chapter. The tide may be against them, but concealed-carry advocates are sticking to their guns.