I would like to provide you with a brief window into my life – because it may have relevance to your own. As I write this, it is shortly after midnight on the University of Florida campus. I am a graduate student closing out a fifteen-hour work day in a laboratory. It’s been a long day. While I wish I could have left while the sun was still up, I think we’ve all had days where things don’t quite work out that way. When I power off the computer, turn off the lights, and shut down the lab, I’ll set off on a quarter-mile trek across a darkened campus to reach my car. I am not unique in this; thousands of students across the nation will make similar journeys from late night tests and study sessions . . .
As I walk, I’ll be acutely aware that law enforcement response time under the best circumstances takes place on the order of minutes – and that violent crime happens in a matter of seconds. A 68-year-old man was recently robbed at gun point behind the offices of our campus newspaper, The Alligator. The robbery took less than thirty-five seconds. It occurred less than a thousand yards from the edge of campus.
I’ve been a student in good standing at this University for over seven years. I hold a concealed weapons or firearms license. I am permitted to carry in 98 percent of the rest of the state. And yet, when I make my journey, I will be unarmed.
I’ll be unarmed as I head to my car in the benighted parking facility. I’ll be unarmed as I drive home. Like most students, I cannot afford to live in a gated community; my home is considerably less safe than campus. If need to stop along the way for any reason, I’ll be unarmed then too. I’ll be unarmed when I pull up to my darkened house and go inside to my wife – who I desperately hope is safe and sound inside.
Florida state law and University of Florida policy prohibit non-police from being armed on campus. Neither students, nor faculty, nor staff may bring a firearm onto campus without the express permission of the University Police department. Even with police permission, the firearm would need to be unloaded and taken directly to the police station for storage. This despite the fact that criminals and unstable individuals seem to have no problems bringing firearms on campus at will; there have been gun and knifepoint robberies on campus in the past several years.
My desire to exercise the most fundamental right – the right to keep myself and my loved ones safe from harm – is directly at odds with state law and university policy. This should not be. Students, faculty, and staff all across the nation face a plight similar to my own. In fact, less than one percent of post secondary institutions in the US permit concealed carry on campus. On those handful of campuses that do allow for concealed carry, armed citizens have integrated seamlessly into their communities—just as they have everywhere that allows concealed carry.
This is an issue that has the potential to stretch far beyond the borders of campus. Universities represent a critical and unrecognized battleground for our second amendment rights. According to the Chronicle of Higher education, over 75 percent of legislators hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher. That number can only be expected to rise as time goes on. Tomorrow’s policy makers – future senators, representatives, mayors, governors, and presidents – are, right now, students on today’s campuses. The message they are being taught each and every day on those campuses: if you are disarmed, you are safe.
We’ve made tremendous stride in the struggle to defend our second amendments rights in the past several years. Thirty-nine states are now shall-issue or no-permit states (qualified applicants must be allowed to carry). If we want to keep up the momentum and prevent the pendulum from swinging in the opposite direction, concealed carry on college campuses is a critical next step. This isn’t just the students’ fight. It’s a battle we all have to fight. Failing to do so puts all of our safety in jeopardy.
[Dustin Blanton is the Campus Leader of Students for Concealed Carry at UF. Click here for more information.]