Ending the ban: Students, faculty weigh in on issue of concealed handguns at Kansas universities

Chance Swaim

Starting July 1, 2017, Wichita State will allow concealed handguns on its campus, in buildings and classrooms.

Peer Moore-Jansen, professor of anthropology and the president of Faculty Senate, said he and a large percentage of the faculty at universities across the state do not want guns on campus. But the reality, he said, is that concealed guns will soon be here.

“It’s no longer a matter of if, and, or but,” Moore-Jansen said. “It’s now a matter of what we will do about it as a university when guns are allowed on campus.”

In 2012, the Kansas legislature passed the Personal and Family Protection Act, which allows concealed-carry permit holders to carry their weapons in almost all public buildings. Last year, the law was changed to allow people to lawfully carry a concealed gun without a permit.

The law granted Kansas universities an exemption until 2017 to prepare for the change.

According to a Kansas Board of Regents survey conducted between December 2015 and January 2016, faculty at all state universities are strongly opposed to guns on campus.

Out of 20,000 surveys sent out, 54 percent of faculty responded. Seventy percent of respondents preferred amending the law so that guns are not allowed on campus.

Out of 20,000 surveys sent out, 54 percent of faculty responded. Seventy percent of respondents preferred amending the law so that guns are not allowed on campus.

Moore-Jansen said the expiration of the exemption will change the dynamic in the classroom.

“Faculty are not cowards,” he said. “Students are not cowards. But when you stand up in front of people and you have to challenge people you sometimes can create very confrontational situations.”

Moore-Jansen has taught classes in human evolution, forensic anthropology and human variation in race — all subjects that challenge some students’ core beliefs.  

“A lot of people feel imposed upon when their core beliefs and worldviews are questioned or challenged,” Moore-Jansen said. “They can become confrontational.”

He said a handful of students in the past have come into his office and made threats, but he never felt as if he was in any true danger.

“I can sit and talk things out with students, thinking we’re in a place where we don’t have guns,” Moore-Jansen said. “But if guns are allowed, I can’t be sure who has a gun and who does not, and it changes the discussion.”

Moore-Jansen’s anxiety is shared by other faculty members across the state.

In the survey, 70 percent of faculty responders indicated allowing guns on campus would negatively impact their course and how they teach. Two-thirds said that allowing guns in the classroom limits their academic freedom to teach material and engage with students in a way that optimizes learning.

Junior Cody Herrin, a veteran who served as an Army ranger and a member of President George W. Bush’s secret security detail, carried a gun daily for 14 years. He said guns can be safely carried on campus.  

“If you read up on mass shootings,” Herrin said, “a lot of times individuals actually target places that prohibit concealed-carry.”

The law states guns “shall not be prohibited in any state or municipal building unless such building has adequate security measures to ensure that no weapons are permitted to be carried into such building.”

Fifty-four percent of faculty responders were in favor of the university expending resources for “adequate security measures,” and 23 percent of responders answered it depended on the cost.

“Adequate security” is defined in the law as personnel and electronic equipment–such as metal detectors–at public entrances to detect and restrict the carrying of any weapons into the building.

“I spent two and a half years in Israel, where everyone is armed,” Herrin said. “I got wanded with a metal detector going into McDonalds and a guy had an uzi (submachine gun) on his side. That is not what I want.”

Herrin said he has been in discussions with university police and the student conduct office to offer his experience and research in preparation for the change in law. He said he has looked at other universities that allow concealed-carry—such as the University of Utah, as models for what Wichita State can expect.

“At Utah, they’ve had concealed carry for about 15 years and there have been no shootings,” Herrin said. “And, interestingly, a reduction in petty crimes.”  

Student reactions to the change have been mixed.

“I’m fine with guns on campus,” upcoming freshman Alexandria Wolken said, “but I think people should have a permit and a mental evaluation before they are allowed to do so.”

Herrin said the novelty of guns on campus will wear off quickly.

“Fall (2017) is going to come, and a lot of people are going to carry,” Herrin said. “It’s going to scare most of the students, but after the novelty of carrying wears away, the number of people carrying will go down.”

Herrin said it’s a huge burden to safely carry a concealed gun.

“It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” Herrin said. “I don’t view it as necessary on the campus. Maybe if I have a night class, and I parked far away I’ll carry, but this is a very safe campus.”