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Carry with Caution

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On June 14, Wisconsin state legislators voted to approve a bill allowing concealed carry of handguns and other weapons throughout the state. There was much debate regarding this legislation and its effects on Marquette’s campus and students are as of yet unclear.

The Facts

Prior to the bill’s passage, Wisconsin was one of two states in the country prohibiting concealed carry. The other was Illinois. The bill becomes effective Nov. 1 – about midway through Marquette’s fall semester – allowing any Wisconsin resident 21-years-old or older and able to clear a criminal background check to apply for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Former governor Jim Doyle vetoed two similar bills in 2003 and 2005. Cullen Werwie, press secretary for Gov. Scott Walker, said the concealed carry issue has “received widespread bipartisan support for years,” and that the passage of the Republican-introduced legislation could not be attributed solely to the recent change in government partisanship. The bill passed with a 25-8 margin that included 19 Republicans and six Democrats.

The Debate

Heated debate has surrounded concealed carry and other gun control issues for practically millennia. Even the Roman constitutionalist Cicero kicked around the idea of arming citizens for self-defense, saying in the first century B.C., “If our lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right.”

Today’s concealed carry advocates, such as David Burnett, director of public relations for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, still employ this self-defense argument. Advocates of concealed carry say criminals will obtain guns and carry them as they please, regardless of whether or not it is legal.

“By banishing lawfully-armed citizens, the college is denying the right to self-defense and creating a defense-free environment which leaves students extremely vulnerable – and attractive – to criminals,” Burnett said in a statement in early August. Although the group focuses primarily on universities’ gun policies, this self-defense argument applies to gun control legislation at large.

Put guns into the hands of a number of these good citizens, Burnett’s argument says, and you have just introduced a huge deterrent to any criminal’s plan: the possibility of encountering an armed citizen.

“This certainly will give the perpetrator something extra to think about,” said Captain Russell Shaw, head of Marquette University’s Department of Public Safety. Shaw acknowledged the deterrence factor, and said “it may actually be enough to scare that perpetrator just enough, so that he doesn’t commit that crime.”

As Shaw then pointed out, however, sufficient training must accompany a permit issued under Wisconsin’s new concealed carry law.

“If the training is inadequate, even owning a gun won’t necessarily make you safer,” he said. “An individual must feel comfortable with a weapon. You certainly don’t want that weapon wrestled away and turned against you.”

The new law’s training requirements are still somewhat unclear. For example, the Department of Justice has not yet defined the exact certifications necessary for a permit. This has drawn criticism from anti-concealed carry activists statewide.

Some concealed carry protesters argue that background checks are often insufficient to guarantee a citizen’s harmless intentions with a weapon. Jared Loughner, for example, passed his background check and was in legal possession of the handgun he used to shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and kill nine others in Tuscon, Ariz., January 2011.

Senator Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee, voted against the legislation, arguing that increasing guns only increases tragedies.

“It is an ill-conceived piece of legislation,” Coggs said. “The answer to too many guns is not more guns, even if they are in the hands of people who have good intentions.”

And, Cogg said, imagine being a police officer going to a domestic dispute where both parties are “packing.”

“That is an invitation to disaster—for the police officer and for the civilians involved,” he said.

Tuscon bystander Joseph Zamudio explains his own decision to carry a gun and how it could have affected events differently. The video makes the argument that the tragedy could have been prevented by someone carrying a concealed weapon, however, Zamudio states he made a split-second decision not to shoot the innocent bystander who happened to be holding a gun. Does Zamudio’s story provide an argument for or against the concealed carry of weapons? Share your thoughts below in the comments.


The Response

In questioning 50 Marquette students at random, the Tribune found that 43 said they would never consider owning a concealed handgun. Comments varied from “I’ve never been around guns; they scare me,” to “Get some pepper spray,” to “Too much could happen,” and “Guns breed violence.”

Only seven students replied that yes, they would consider it.

Steven Snowden, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, was one of these seven. He plans on applying for a concealed carry permit on Nov. 1.

“I see it as a right – a protection for myself, my family, my fellow citizens – that I’m fully capable of taking advantage of,” Snowden said. With a large part of his family in law enforcement, Snowden said he grew up feeling comfortable around guns, and that he has passed a hunter’s safety training course.

He does not think he will take a weapon with him everywhere he goes.

“I think that’s an abuse,” he said. “I’ll carry it if I’m walking alone at night or somewhere where DPS does not protect. Not to the grocery store, not to the gym, not to class.”

Snowden said that anyone afraid of guns should also fear, for example, people with knives and people driving above the speed limit. “Anything can be a dangerous situation in the hands of the wrong people,” he said.

When asked whether he would feel as protected with a can of pepper spray rather than a weapon as life-threatening as a gun, Snowden said: “A gun is something I feel comfortable using. If there are other options out there that others feel more comfortable with, then absolutely they should use those. But I feel more accurate and more defended with a gun. I’ll use that instead.”

Snowden said he hopes Marquette students will educate themselves about the new legislation. He said he will be proactive by owning a concealed weapon, and will be upfront with his friends about it.

“If you’re not comfortable with the fact that there is a gun in my apartment, we will have lunch somewhere else,” he said.

Much is yet to be determined regarding the law’s effects: Management at Sobelman’s, Murphy’s and Caffrey’s said they have not decided whether concealed weapons will be prohibited inside their taverns. Marquette is still debating whether any additions to the current University gun policy will be made.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is reviewing training requirements for the new permit system.

But as Shaw said, “It’s ultimately a student’s choice. Every student must look at it hard before deciding whether to apply, and think about the huge responsibility of deciding to carry a concealed weapon.”

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