Students fire back at concealed carry bill

Drew Lemish, University of Alaska Anchorage student body president, testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee against Senate Bill 176 at the Capitol on Monday. The bill would prohibit the university from banning firearms or knives on its campuses with the exception of restricted areas where visitors are screened.

Supporters of a bill that would shoot down the University of Alaska’s ban of guns on campus announced Monday they will be tailoring the proposal to only allow for concealed carry.

That did little to ease opponents’ concerns, as students and the public on both sides struggle to find common ground.

“It was never our intent, nor will it ever be, to have open carry on campus. We have no interest in that,” said Hans Rodvik, an intern for Sen. John Coghill, A Fairbanks Republican and sponsor of SB176.

Rodvik, a junior political science major at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, came to Coghill with the idea for the legislation after consulting with fellow students in Anchorage last fall.

“As we have seen throughout the country, when law abiding citizens are rendered defenseless and prohibited from carrying firearms for self-defense, deranged lunatics wreak havoc upon innocent life,” he said.

Still, opponents who spoke Monday against the bill — which included several student leaders — say knowing Alaskans can legally carry weapons on campus is unnerving and would make campuses more dangerous.

“This bill is fixing something that is not broken, and putting every single student who steps on campus at risk,” said Drew Lemish, president of UAA’s student union. “As a student, I do not feel secure sitting next to somebody with a firearm. This bill is allowing anyone to walk into my office with a gun.”

Courtney Enright, the student representative to the UA Board of Regents, told lawmakers that there has been an “absolute outcry” of student opinion on the issue, and that about 70 percent of those who contacted her oppose allowing guns on campuses.

“The students do not believe it’s necessary,” said Callie Conerton, a student senator at UAS, citing Enright’s number. “They believe this is the place for education — not guns.”

Current university policy allows students to store weapons inside cars parked on campus for those commuting to and from classes.

Tasha Hansen, a freshman at UAS, said that policy doesn’t work for individuals like herself — she’s confined to a wheelchair and keeping a firearm locked inside a car isn’t an option.

“What scares me is I’ve already been stalked on our local campus,” she said. “Who do I have to turn too? I can only go as fast as my wheel chair can run.

“If I don’t have a police department hat has an adequate amount of officers on duty, I only have myself to turn to.”

Out of the 15 people who testified Monday, nine opposed the bill and six supported it.

Lance Roberts, a Fairbanks resident who has earned three degrees from UAF over the past 30 years, told lawmakers that the issue runs deeper than whether to allow guns on campus.

“What (university gun policies have) been effective to do is teach students that it’s ok to take away their constitutional rights,” Roberts said, “... That only the bad guys should be able to do anything, and they should wait for somebody else to come along to defend them rather than defending themselves.”

The new version of the bill focussing solely on concealed carry on campus is expected to be brought up in committee Wednesday.

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