Opinion: Mississippi’s gun policy threatens student safety on campus

By Clay Gentry
Oxford Stores

This winter, Ole Miss was tested by several out-of-state pro-Confederate groups who came to campus to protest the university’s possible removal of the school’s 100-year-old Confederate soldier statue.

Although lawfully permitted to protest, the visiting groups were unwanted by most in Oxford, and specifically on the campus. In fact, their actions had the opposite effect of what I am sure they intended. It brought the issue of racism to light for many Ole Miss students for the first time.

image of confederate soldier statue
The statue of the Confederate soldier was where the protest occurred on campus. Photo by Clay Gentry

Having hate groups take over the campus for even 30 minutes was enough for students who had never been exposed to that before to take a position. Even the basketball players knelt in silent protest during the national anthem before a televised game.

The pro-Confederate groups had posted to social media video threats and pictures of weapons they intended to bring with them when they came to Ole Miss. Although no violence erupted during their protest, their actions caused rise in student voice and a unified support for the various school leadership groups to finish the conversation that had been ongoing for many years to move the statue to a more appropriate place on campus, the Confederate cemetery.

However, the protestors also shined a light on the state and university’s policy on guns on campus. According to the University of Mississippi policy, students and employees cannot have a gun on campus, no matter what kind of permit they hold.

Conversely, visitors to the campus – as were the protestors – can carry a gun if they have a valid, unexpired state-enhanced concealed carry firearms permit or the equivalent permit issued by a state with a reciprocity agreement with Mississippi.

It has been exactly 12 years since the shooting massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech, where 35 people were murdered. It is hard to believe that campus gun policies have not gotten more restrictive in the wake of that tragedy.

However, according to Mississippi law (MS Code 45-9-101), a person with an enhanced permit to carry, regardless of signage posted by a state governmental entity, can carry a gun on any elementary or secondary school facility, any junior college, community college, college or university facility.

To not use the lessons of the past to create laws to protect students from very real threats of gun violence is absurd.

picture of Wal-Mart gun counter
Wal-Mart is one of many locations where guns can be purchased in Oxford. Photo by Clay Gentry

Gun-related injuries and deaths happen every day. They happen intentionally and accidentally. On a college campus, there are many incidents and stressors that could cause someone to act erratically enough to use a gun that they have legally carried on campus.

Think of how angry some people get about sports when their team is not performing the way they feel they should. Think of the fans who like to taunt each other in the middle of a hard-fought game.

A 2016 study from the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City found that incidents of gun violence increased from 12 occurrences during the 2010-2011 school year to almost 30 incidents during the 2015-2016 school year.

The researchers discovered 190 incidents at 142 colleges from the 2001-2002 school year through the 2015-2016 school year in which at least one person was intentionally shot (not including the shooter) on two- or four-year college campuses, or incidents that occurred within two miles of a college campus and involved at least one student victim.

Out of these 190 incidents, 437 people were shot, 167 were killed and 270 were wounded. These statistics are alarming and, as the study shows, the incidents are happening more frequently.

What’s more is that the increase in campus shootings was most prevalent on college campuses in states with increased access to guns. Hello, Mississippi.

In advance of the campus gun bill becoming law last spring, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey warned university leaders at Ole Miss and Mississippi State of the negative ramifications of the gun policy and urged them to speak out against it.

Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter did make an official statement to legislators. He warned that the bill would put the campus community, law enforcement, and first responders at great risk by allowing weapons in sensitive places such as classrooms, hospitals, clinics, and athletic and performance venues.

Despite the broad disapproval of law enforcement officials and university leaders, the law was passed, and colleges across Mississippi became less safe.

Regardless of the fact that those who are allowed to carry on campus must have extra training to receive the permit required, there is no way to police that person’s mental health or alcohol and drug consumption prior to their arrival on campus.

picture of front of Oxford Police Department

Oxford Police worked together with Ole Miss Police to ensure only those with the correct enhanced carry permit were able to be on campus with a gun. Photo by Clay Gentry

Even though Oxford Police and Ole Miss Police were prepared for the protestors with a secure site for them to enter and exit, and a process for officers to check for gun permits as the visitors arrived, it required more police, more time, more preparation, and more liability that someone with bad intentions might come through the checkpoint.

In this case, law enforcement knew about these protestors and were able to plan ahead. However, a gunman who intends to shoot up a campus is not going to go to the police department and register their presence on campus and show their enhanced carry permit.

Mississippi legislators have made it easier and legal for the bad guys to arrive on our campus with deadly weapons and the intention to kill. This is a mistake.

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