Auburn holsters guns on campus despite new law

Everyone who walks onto Auburn University’s campus must leave behind all shotguns, revolvers, swords, crossbows, brass knuckles, fireworks and anything else that shoots, stabs or explodes.

“Traditionally, Auburn University has not allowed anyone other than law enforcement to have weapons on campus until this year,” said Lieutenant Keith Walton of the University’s Department of Public Safety and Security.

“The state legislature has passed a new gun law, and when they implement the new law it requires that you can have a weapon in your vehicle at all times, as long as you got a permit to carry the gun.”

The law Walton refers to, Senate Bill 286, took effect in Alabama on Aug. 1, clarifying and expanding firearms laws.

Employees may now keep properly secured weapons inside their car at their workplace, although employers may still prohibit firearms within the business itself.

Auburn University plans to comply by the new rules, but has also exercised its right to prohibit all weapons within its buildings.

“So, if you notice all the signs on all the buildings outside when you walk in that are affixed to the buildings, that’s what those signs are for,” Walton said.

“To think that a sticker on a door is going to stop someone from coming and committing violence… just doesn’t make sense.”

The Department of Public Safety and Security’s second response to the new law is a room-sized gun locker for students to store their firearms while on campus.

The locker, which should be completed by January, will require photo identification for use and will be monitored at all times.

Although the new rules allow gun owners more leeway, groups like Auburn University Students for Concealed Carry on Campus are still working for students right to carry firearms everywhere else at Auburn University.

“I think it’s important that we not lose our right to protect ourselves when we come on campus,” said Stephen Gulley, research assistant and faculty adviser for the group.

“As the rules are now, any student or faculty who come on campus with a firearm can be fired or expelled.”

David Shamp, president of Auburn Students for Concealed Carry, said he wants to keep his weapon with him for similar reasons.

“I feel [concealed carry] is really important because Auburn is obviously a very safe campus overall, but there’s no guarantee of student safety,” Shamp said.

“To think that a sticker on a door is going to stop someone from coming and committing violence… just doesn’t make sense.”

Branches of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus have been working to change university policies across the nation since the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007.

Despite its efforts, the group’s Auburn chapter has made little progress with the University.

“Nothing’s really going to change,” Shamp said.

“The administration has been very good about contacting and connecting with us, but changing policy is probably gonna have to be at the state level.”

Shamp’s group is working with Alabama Gun Rights, a Second Amendment advocacy group. It is also looking for more partners.

“It’s kinda hard to get a law passed for something that’s already legal,” Shamp said.

John Merrill, a Republican state representative from Tuscaloosa who voted for the new gun law, did not express support for bringing guns onto college campuses.

“If people are leaving their personal property in their personal vehicles, there shouldn’t be a problem with that,” he said.

“It’s another thing when you start to remove that… any time you’re introducing a weapon in that capacity that could be a problem.”

He suggested students look to alternative, legal security measures, such as the Auburn police.

“This is a great institution,” Merrill said. “It’s not like you’ve got a lot of incidences of violence where people feel like they’re threatened just walking to class or going home.”

The representative said he would be open to changing the law if Alabamians wanted.

“And when the law needs to be changed, people let us know,” Merrill said. “People always let us know.”

Opinion varies on allowing guns on campus.

“If you just went down the concourse and asked every other person, I would say two out of three would support the idea, but you know there are people who are very adamantly against it,” Shamp said.

Auburn College Democrats president Sergio Gallardo disagrees.

“I think it comes ultimately down to the kind of environment we want to produce, and I’m satisfied with the environment we have here,” Gallardo said.

“I would say the vast majority of students are.”

“It’s kinda hard to get a law passed for something that’s already legal.”

Gallorado said instead of using guns for self-defense, Auburn students should focus on solving problems that would cause a crime.

“I think in the long term that would go a long way more than allowing every kid to carry a gun to class,” Gallardo said.

In either case, the University isn’t budging on the issue.

“President Gouge has made clear that he wants to keep this a gun-free campus and to use appropriate measures where they are fit,” Gallardo said.

The University is keeping guns off campus and addressing changing laws with Public Safety’s new locker.

Shamp, however, said he won’t use it.

“That’s definitely a step closer to the direction of firearms on campus, but definitely not something that Students for Concealed Carry on Campus would support since that’s still restricting our individual capacity to defend ourselves,” Shamp said.

“That’s just one more piece of red tape you’d have to go through.”

Why it’s a highlight:

This project shows a remarkable depth of reporting and exploring the issue, if I may sing my own praises. I spent several weeks working on it. It was actually one of the first real stories I wrote.

I also like it because I interviewed John Merrill, the man who is now Alabama Secretary of State. He was running for office, even in the fall of 2013, and the campaign trail didn’t look easy. I spoke with him when he gave a talk to maybe a half-dozen Auburn College Republicans.

I asked him if he thought we should be able to take our guns on campus, if that was not a right. He gave a nice-sounding but bullshit answer. I asked him again and got nice-sounding bullshit. I rephrased the question and got more nice-sounding bullshit. I asked a fourth time and finally got a deep, logical, coherent answer. The man’s smarter than he lets on.

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Original Story

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