Students enter and exit Sterling Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Tuesday.
While a pair of Republican state lawmakers want to allow students and faculty to carry concealed guns inside public university and college buildings, at least one campus and its police department are warning the measure could have dangerous day-to-day implications.
“Allowing concealed weapons inside a building like Camp Randall Stadium, filled with 80,000 people, creates a major security issue,” said a statement Tuesday from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department.
The evidence “does not support the idea that our campus would be safer if concealed firearms are allowed in our buildings,” the statement said. “In states that allow concealed carry, these mass shooting tragedies have still occurred.”
The training required to obtain a concealed-carry permit is minimal, the statement said, and the university opposes any legislation that would allow citizens to legally carry concealed weapons inside university buildings.
“We urge our legislators not to change the existing law,” UW-Madison police said. “Doing so would put the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and guests at risk.”
The bill proposed by Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) comes less than two weeks after a gunman killed nine people at an Oregon community college.
But Kremer says “the bill itself is not in response to that incident,” adding that he has been working on it for months in response to rising violence near the UW-Milwaukee campus.
Under current law, people can carry guns on the grounds of public colleges and universities, but those schools can ban weapons inside campus buildings.
The bill Kremer introduced would repeal the current UW System gun ban, and prevent UW campuses and campuses of the Wisconsin Technical College System from prohibiting firearms for those who have concealed-carry licenses.
UW-Madison and all other campuses in the UW System have posted signs banning weapons at entrances to every building on campus.
Kremer says current law is not stopping those who want to cause “mayhem” from doing so on and around campus.
“How are we stopping them from carrying guns on campus?” he said. “We’re not.”
Associated Students of Madison Chairwoman Madison Laning said student government leaders were shocked by the bill.
Laning said she would trust campus police more than peers with guns.
“Personally, I think this would create a more unsafe campus with students who have no experience or formal training with guns on them in class,” Laning said. “I think our biggest concern is the gun could be turned on the person who has it.”
Student government leaders at both UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee said they are contacting lawmakers and asking them to oppose the bill.
“The reason the restrictions to concealed-carry laws exist on college campus is not solely to protect students from violence from others,” said Mike Sportiello, UWM’s student body president. “Mental health issues on college campuses continue to increase at a time where financial support for resources to address these issues is being strangled.”
Self-inflicted gun wounds are the No. 1 mode of suicide, according to the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Sportiello said in a letter to lawmakers Tuesday. He also cited research that suggests right-to-carry laws do not reduce crime, and may actually increase it.
“Classrooms and buildings on college campuses are places where students and faculty sometimes engage in emotionally charged discourse and debates. Allowing armed participants in this type of discussion has the potential to lead to serious negative consequences,” said Conor Smyth, spokesman for the Wisconsin Technical College System.
Speaking to reporters near the UW-Madison campus, Gov. Scott Walker declined to say whether he backed allowing concealed carry in university buildings.
“Certainly, we’ll look at that legislation. I mean I think the bottom line is, the biggest fear I have about firearms are people who are not legal to have them in the first place. Those are the criminals,” Walker said.
Walker and Republicans oppose legislation that would extend background checks beyond purchases at federally licensed gun dealers to other transactions such as private sales and those at gun shows.
The UW System released a statement Tuesday on behalf of President Ray Cross and UW System chancellors.
“We have significant concerns and questions with this proposal and cannot currently support it,” the statement said. “We are, however, actively engaged in a dialogue with the legislative authors, Regents, and campus police professionals to ensure our concerns are addressed.”
Kremer said he began working on the bill after seeing reports of increasing numbers of violence targeting UW-Milwaukee students in the areas surrounding campus. Currently, students need to leave their guns in their vehicles or at home, Kremer said, making them vulnerable targets on campus and in the surrounding areas.
“Crime is on the rise around the campus, and there is nothing stopping them because these students walking to campus are disarmed,” Kremer said. “This will allow students the right to protect themselves.”
UWM spokesman Tom Luljak said university officials believe the campus area is safer due to increased patrols by campus and city police. He said he is not aware of Kremer speaking to anyone in the campus administration.
Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), whose legislative district includes the UWM campus, called the proposal “absolutely ridiculous.”
He said the measure is based on a “lie” that shooters target gun-free zones. Most attack places where they have a personal connection, whether it be a school or workplace, Larson said.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he has three kids in college, “and the last thing I want is guns in their classrooms.”
The mayor added that he had never heard from any of his constituents asking for such a proposal, and joked that the bill may have been inspired by a recent Saturday Night Live skit featuring comedian Amy Schumer, which parodied a gun ad.
Barrett called instead for background checks for all gun sales.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said, “I am confident that the same Legislature so unwilling to make common sense changes to keep firearms out the hands of career criminals will figure a way to nuance this proposed legislation so police will still be able to protect students by stopping and questioning armed subjects on campus before another mass murder plays out in the most heavily-armed industrialized nation on the planet.”
But Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. said the proposal is the beginning of a discussion “we have to start to have.”
“Restricting a person’s constitutional right to defend themselves anywhere, I find it to be unconscionable,” Clarke said. “The only person who’s safe in a gun-free zone is the mass murderer.”
“What other constitutional rights do we ask people to check at the schoolhouse gate?” Clarke said.
“Everybody isn’t going to carry anyway … but this is an individual right,” the sheriff said.
Nik Clark, president of Wisconsin Carry Inc., said the gun rights advocacy group supports the bill to allow lawful carry on college and university campuses because “an armed citizen is in the best position to respond to an active shooter because they are there.”
Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) slammed the proposal as “out of far right field.”
“Who asked for this bill? I proudly represent a big chunk of UW-Madison and I know it wasn’t the students, it wasn’t the parents and it definitely wasn’t the majority of staff and faculty,” Taylor said.
She instead called for gun control measures like universal background checks and reinstituting Wisconsin’s 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases.