Gun rights debate enters a new arena: the campus

Wade Millward

This project was produced by News21, a national investigative reporting project involving top college journalism students across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University

POCATELLO, Idaho — Derek Sommer carries a concealed handgun almost everywhere he goes these days, including onto the campus of Idaho State University — an illegal act until recently.

Under an Idaho law that took effect July 1, nearly 3,000 Idaho residents with enhanced concealed carry permits — people like Sommer — can bring their guns on college campuses. Sommer no longer leaves his gun at home or in his car's locked glove compartment.

Idaho became the seventh state to allow "campus carry" in a movement gaining traction across the country, despite the often strenuous opposition of other students, faculty and campus administrators.

Spurred by recent high-profile campus shootings, grassroots groups like Students for Concealed Carry (SCC) are pushing for the right to carry weapons on campus, sometimes with the backing of larger gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.

For Sommer, 23, a computerized machining student who founded Idaho State’s SCC chapter, carrying his handgun means protection for himself, his wife McKinley, and their 7-month-old daughter, Andi.

“It makes me angry; it really does,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that there are places where it’s considered OK to tell somebody, ‘You don’t have the right to protect yourself.’”

For others, like Boise State University student Angel Hernandez, the new law means less focus on learning and more on worrying about who's packing a gun on campus.

“I went to Boise State to get an education; I didn’t go to Boise to go to a gun show,” he said.

Opponents of campus carry laws have saw mixed success of late. Arkansans Against Guns on Campus got state lawmakers to exclude students from a law letting faculty and staff bring concealed guns on campus if their college grants permission. Attempts to start a Colorado referendum to end campus carry there ended in failure.

Groups like SCC, meanwhile, have active chapters in at least 30 states, mobilizing as many as 30,000 students and faculty to support laws and court cases favorable to the cause, said group spokesman Kurt Mueller.

Related: Campus carry

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Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.