Last year, it was nearly impossible to escape media coverage of gun violence. In the wake of the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent mass shootings in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn., a robust national and campus debate rages over gun rights. Recent judicial rulings and state laws have changed America’s gun landscape, with the possibility of federal action to come.
But how does all of this affect Northwestern? The short answer is that right now, it doesn’t. NU prohibits weapons of all kinds on campus. But the possibility of future changes in state and federal law may result in a modified campus gun policy.
Northwestern gun policy
According to Daniel McAleer, deputy chief of police, the University does not allow weapons of any kind on campus. He said that this policy applies to guns as well as "knives, air rifles and stuff of that nature."
If a student is found in posession of a weapon, NUPD may press criminal charges. Absent a criminal charge, students may be subject to disciplinary action by the school.
Concealed carry in Illinois
Until the U.S. Court of Appeals struck it down in December, Illinois had an overarching concealed carry ban dating back to the 1960s. As per Illinois state code, the law made it illegal to carry or possess a gun outside the presence of one’s home. The Dec. 11 ruling held that it violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but as part of their opinion, the judges allowed for the Illinois state legislature to “craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public.” The legislature has until June to ratify a bill. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced that she will appeal the decision to a full hearing of the Appellate Court.
McAleer said that if the changes to Illinois concealed carry laws are fully implemented Northwestern may be required to update its policy. However, it is too soon to tell what those changes might be.
Gun-holders in Illinois are subject to additional regulations. Residents must obtain a Firearm Owner’s Identification card to acquire guns. Certain populations, including felons, the mental ill and residents under 21, cannot acquire an FOID.
The other 49 states permit its residents to carry concealed handguns, with certain restrictions.
Guns on other campuses
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, five states – Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin – allow students to carry concealed handguns on campus. Another 23 states leave the decision to individual colleges and universities.
The other 21 states that permit concealed handguns specifically prohibit guns on college campuses. This category includes Illinois, where few schools have lobbied for increased gun presence. Officials at Southern Illinois University have even said that allowing guns on campus could raise the cost of security and lead to dangerous situations on campus.
In many other parts of the country, university campuses face looser restrictions on guns. At the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, the March 2012 overturn of a statewide concealed carry ban has left teachers and students with mixed reactions. Meanwhile, at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., concealed weapons on campus have been the norm for over a year.
A 2011 survey of American college students by Sam Houston State University found that a majority of students are uncomfortable with the presence of guns on campus. Additionally, questionnaires of the broader American population have suggested that catastrophes like the Newtown shooting have increased public support for gun control.